The NYT runs the interesting opinion piece from time to time. See here.
To much of which I say a firm AMEN. And everything hereafter is my nattering on, as is my untrammeled right, and you might find not one original thought. So take away my "Amen" and find something more interesting to read while I shake out my writing fidgets.
a student in one of my English classes was chastened for his preference for Shakespeare over that of the Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat. The professor challenged the student to apply a more “disinterested” analysis to his reading so as to avoid entangling himself in a misinformed gesture of “postcolonial oppression.”
This right here is how literature profs earn themselves a bad name. I've no idea who Danticat is, and he might be a stellar writer, but the whole point is I don't know--whereas I do know that Shakespeare (or another man by the same name)(joke) was a hugely influential writer whose work had a profound formative effect on our very language and continues to inspire and awe us today.
All of which is beside the point that instead of taking the student to task for "postcolonial oppression," whatever that might be, the professor could have encouraged thoughtful discussion of how we form our preferences and why, and what it was, specifically, that the student preferred in Shakespeare's work. And with that, the professor would have taught, perhaps, a little bit about critical thinking and how to develop and hold one's opinion. And *that* seems to be much lacking in today's world. "I like [current pop star]." "Why?" :::crickets::: That's one of the points the author makes, yes?
In the end, though, whether one prefers Shakespeare to a modern writer of any stripe is just a matter of taste, for which there is, famously, no accounting; but whether one prefers, just for example, candidate X or Y should be far more than a matter of taste.
It should be a matter of fact, to the greatest extent possible. This is the candidate's positions on a, b, and c. This is the candidate's history with respect to women, minorities, difficult questions from the press. This is when the candidate has lied, or has refused to lie. And while at a certain point one might resort to instinct or whathaveyou when making a decision as to a candidate's character, and how that character is likely to influence future decisions and actions, a great deal of fact should go into all of that.
In this regard, I see a major difference between waffling, mal-formed opinions on art or music or food or even, dare I say, yarn, and moral judgments.
Because morals, I would argue, apply to facts; and while we might fuss and fight around the edges, there are certain moral standards on which most of humanity agrees most of the time. Murder (however defined) is wrong. Abusing the helpless. Piracy. Theft. Plaids with stripes. Like I said, we might fuss and fight around the edges (who is really helpless? what's the difference between piracy and privateering under letters of marque?) and, sadly, human history is rife with blood spilled over questions people consider central, mostly related to religion but sometimes also greed (borders and such), but we all make moral judgments all the time and a startling number of them are probably not really hard calls.
Or they shouldn't be. If every point of view deserves equal weight, including that of the thief, well, we have got problems.
... we millennials labor to relish those differences and distances separating individuals, exalting difference at all costs. We anxiously avoid casting moral judgment. Because with absolute truths elusive, what claims do we have to insist that our moral positions are better than those of someone from a different nation or culture?
If we want to turn our backs on the predominating theme of historical judgments, that different means inferior if not simply bad, great. GREAT. As someone who would generally be very much on the wrong end of such judgments, I'm all in favor of not automatically judging something as bad because it's different. But I think what the author is getting at--and I could be wrong, but hey at least I'm forming an opinion--is that we can't throw out that old paradigm and not substitute something new. Perhaps the new paradigm needs to be one of questions rather than assumptions (good luck with that because, psychologically speaking, assumptions are how we manage daily life without going around the bend). What it cannot be, however, is a wholesale acceptance of what anyone puts forth.
Because at the fringes (if not at the heart of everything), there's some weird stuff going on, and some of it is just bad. Morally, profoundly, simply bad. If we accept evil (to use a loaded word) because someone else likes it, where will we be? And if we can't form and express an opinion that it is bad, how can we stop it? And who will suffer as a result?
Moral truths may be elusive (some of you may disagree), but that is not the same as nonexistent. Forming an opinion about certain things may be hard--and, frankly, we don't all need to have opinions on every single thing so it's sometimes unnecessary--but lauding a position because it's different is no better than denigrating it just because it's different. In both instances, judgment and discernment are abandoned.
Well. I always did like Diogenes. That troublemaker.