My low opinion of commencement speeches was confirmed recently when I read a summary of them in The New York Times. Yes, of course, most of the speakers' truths were hackneyed and dubious. America was widely compared to Imperial Rome in its last days. It is a tired thought that has been reverberating through the Republic for decades. Exhortations to do good were monotonous. Gandhi, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., and Mother Teresa are frequently held up to the graduates as role models, albeit without menacing the division between church and state. Yet what struck me was how passe and anti-intellectual the speakers were.
There was the aforementioned electric violinist and the popular novelist. Both were sufficiently trite to make it into the Times's summary. Angela Davis and Gloria Steinem also made the cut. Davis, renowned for being the third women ever to appear on the FBI's Most Wanted List, was once a communist and perhaps still is. Could the faculty at Grinnell College where she spoke not also find a flat-earther to complement her antique views? She droned on with the utmost smugness, saying things that were at once incomprehensible and clearly stupid. Quoth Comrade Davis, "For you will never discover a scarcity of facts, and these facts will be presented in such a way as to veil the ways of thinking embedded in them." It got worse, but my space is limited. Steinem complained about typing requirements imposed on her when she was a student at Smith College back in the 1400s or whenever she matriculated there. Such requirements were not imposed on her contemporaries at all-male Harvard. Steinem is the same feminist famed for such lines as, "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle," and "In my own mind, I am still a fat brunette from Toledo, and I always will be."
Over the past three decades the politics of our democratic republic have changed. So far have the values of libertarian conservatives permeated the land and replaced the ideas of the welfare state and of the social engineers that we can say America's right has won the political battle. But the old liberal left won the battle for the culture. The social and intellectual culture of the country is polluted by ideas that are antagonistic to market economics, deferred gratification and civic responsibility -- all being the values necessary for a prospering middle class. This (SET ITAL) Kultursmog (END ITAL) broods over commencement speeches as it broods over the campus itself. It is very old-fashioned, but I think we can all agree it is enormously amusing. An "electric violinist" sending graduates off to the adult world of a global economy -- ha ha ha.
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