[ by Charles Cameron — can’t think why you’d need three stunners, or two six-shooters for that matter — stun once and done, sez I ]
My first stunner is from an LRB piece about Margaret Atwood, it’s opening paragraph invoking PD James instead, and what a powerful description of what I think I’ll call a Falling Curtain Event — an event such as climate change which offers so great a threat that arguably we should drop all other activities to attend to it.
For a quick dystopia, then — this:
In P.D. James’s strangest novel, The Children of Men (1992), humans stop being able to get pregnant, and no one can figure out why. Scientific research comes to nothing. Years pass without a newborn child. All the nurseries close, then all the schools. With no hope of posterity, landowners let their estates rot; scholars take up golf. Only the richest or best-connected are able to get a place in one of the increasingly rare care homes, run by increasingly senescent carers. Without children or grandchildren, people dote on their pets, and envy them for still being able to reproduce. When a small deer wanders into an Oxford chapel, the chaplain rushes at it, hurling prayerbooks: ‘Christ, why can’t they wait? Bloody animals. They’ll have it all soon enough. Why can’t they wait?’
Second, a no less stunning foretaste of our current actual situation politically, from the dialog of episode 7 of the TV series, The People v. O.J. Simpson:
I mean, we have hard evidence, and they razzle-dazzle a bunch of conspiracy nonsense into big moments. Now, we need to make our own big moments that land with the jury. That is how we beat the nonsense. Now, can we focus on that?
Do I hear a prophecy here, life about to imitate art? Beware the Jabberwock, my son..
Let me close with another stunning Falling Curtain Event, this one from a Dylan live performance:
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there — how’s that for a curtain falling?
On the one hand, it’s night falling, any night. But that’s the lyrics, the musical delivery is fatigued, so, so very weary: as the lyrics say, Time is running away.
More lines that, in their diverse ways, tell you of that fatigue, that flesh, bone, mind, soul weariness:
There’s not even room enough to be anywhere
I ain’t looking for nothing in anyone’s eyes
Sometimes my burden seems more than I can bear
I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still
I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain<
So many ways, running down..
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there
Superb performance of a great song– and to m=y mind, apocalyptic without ever saying so explicitly — just that sense of thr curtain, falling .
[ by Charles Cameron — Universities hither and yon, illustrating Matthew 25:29 and it clearly still is news ]
Celebrated cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and acclaimed astronomer Professor Andrea Ghez were among the recipients of honorary degrees at Encaenia..
News below from my alma mater, the University of Oxford
It’s worth noting that the gift to the humanities (top panel, above), though smaller than that to the sciences (lower panel), is to the University of Oxford itself, whereas the gift to the sciences, though larger, is to the city of Oxford.
But Oxford — city with university, town and gown — benefits in both cases.
Contrast that with the University of Alaska:
My hope here would be for the university to prioritize the full continuation of its unique services – the indigenous language and arctic climate change programs — all else is covered elsewhere..
A Biblical explanation:
For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
Famed founder of the Office of Net Assessment, Andrew Marshall passed away today at the age of 97, having retired only in 2015 from the Pentagon job he held continuously since his appointment by President Richard Nixon in 1973. Marshall, affectionately known as “Yoda”, was nearly the last of a generation of deeply influential of Cold War strategists who shaped American national security, a group including Albert Wohlstetter, Herman Kahn, Fritz G.A. Kraemer, James Schlesinger and Henry Kissinger.
The subject of a recent biography and the occasional academic study, the highly secretive Marshall, over the course of decades sponsored the careers of hundreds of civilian policy makers, academics and military officers, many of whom went on to hold responsible government posts, including some of the highest appointive and elected positions in the United States, the vast bulk of Marshall’s work at the Office of Net Assessment remains classified. Nevertheless, both the Soviet KGB and later China’s military leadership estimated Marshall’s contributions to American defense thinking and posture to be of paramount importance.
RAND, the think tank where Marshall had worked on questions of American nuclear strategy prior to joining the Nixon administration, released this obituary:
The RAND Corporation notes with profound regret the passing of Andrew W. Marshall, 97, a RAND researcher who went on to serve for more than four decades as director of the Department of Defense’s Office of Net Assessment, which contemplates military strategy decades into the future. He held the position from 1973 to 2015, retiring at age 93.
Andrew Marshall/RAND Corporation photo After studying economics at the University of Chicago, Marshall joined RAND in 1949 when the nonprofit research organization based in Santa Monica, California, was barely a year old. During his 23-year affiliation with RAND, he researched Soviet military programs, nuclear targeting, organizational behavior theory and strategic-planning, among other concepts. “Andrew Marshall was one of the nation’s most respected and far-sighted defense experts,” said Michael D. Rich, president and CEO of RAND. “He was a gifted futurist and strategist who had mentored generations of researchers, both at RAND and beyond. His influence will be felt for years to come.” Marshall was the founding director of the Office of Net Assessment, which is referred to as the Department of Defense’s “internal think-tank.” It provides the secretary of defense with assessments of the military balance in major geographic theaters, with an emphasis on long-term trends, asymmetries, and opportunities to improve the future U.S. position in the continuing military-economic-political competition. In 2007, the first Andrew Marshall Scholarship was awarded by the Pardee RAND Graduate School, which offers a doctorate in policy analysis and is part of RAND. The scholarship is funded by a $150,000 endowment donated by former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, who had known Marshall for decades. Marshall said he was honored by Rumsfeld’s generous gesture and “proud to be associated with a RAND scholarship that will help some of the best and brightest young minds prepare for a career in public service.”
Here is a tribute to Marshall by one of his students, Sinologist Andrew S. Erickson:
….Mr. Marshall kept the distribution of his assessments extremely limited. Few people have read more than one or two of them. Even secretaries of defense were not allowed to keep copies. The best of the assessments, according to people who have read them, compared Russian and Chinese strategies against American war plans, finding the weaknesses of the Pentagon’s approach and pushing for improvements. He urged the Pentagon to develop not single war plans but ones that would cover myriad scenarios. Mr. Marshall began focusing on China in the mid-1990s. He was the first Pentagon official to talk about an emerging great power competition with Beijing, an idea now embraced by Pentagon leadership. “His view was that because of the sheer size and potential economic weight” of China, it “could become a competitor over time,” General Selva said. “That proved to be a good question to ask, and that has started to play out.” In 2009, Robert M. Gates, the defense secretary at the time, asked Mr. Marshall to write a classified strategy on China with Gen. Jim Mattis, the future defense secretary. Mr. Marshall believed that American military planners had little understanding of what Chinese regional or global ambitions were. Deterring conflict in the future would be impossible if strategists were blind to the competition, he maintained.
Bryan, lately of Vermont and now at Georgetown, is our keenest observer of the higher educational future. He coined the term peak higher education in 2013 — like peak oil, but for education, right? — and has been tracking it since then. At some point, he added the notion of queen sacrifice — “A queen sacrifice is when a college or university cuts faculty, especially full-time professors, usually as part of shrinking or ending certain academic programs” — and has made at least sixty posts in which queens are sacrificed, and one on a knight or rook sacrifice? (sports). Bryan‘s latest post is Casualties of the future. In it, he writes:
That academic phase hasn’t been clearly replaced yet. The new phase’s nature isn’t fully evident. Perhaps its outlines will become apparent after several years of change. I’ve speculated on what that next higher education phase might look like here and elsewhere. But for now, let’s consider the present as a moment in between those two phases. That’s our time, right in the midst of a switching period, a liminal space, marked by uncertainty and instability. We’re in a boundary zone.
Okay: a gentleman scholar as wise as he is bearded — and that’s a considerable double-barreled compliment — sees fit to emphasize the liminal in his latest broadside on higher education and its current obsession with cutting arts and humanities programs and various faculty members — ahem, bringing new and far broader meaning, in fact, to the concept of cutting classes. And why?
Why provide a graphic of brick wall(s) unless, somehow, the idea of breaks, gaps, thresholds, borders, leaps, in short the liminal, is of intrinsic importance?
Is citizenship a kind of subscription service, to be suspended and resumed as our needs change? Are countries competing service providers, their terms and conditions subject to the ebbs and flows of consumer preference? Edmund Burke long ago articulated an ambitious vision of society as a “partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” Does any of that still resonate? Or is it a bygone idea of a vanished age, dissolved in a globalized world?
We can consider the cases of women from the US, UK and elsewhere who volunteered for ISIS and now wish to return home.
Here’s a paragraph to transition us smoothly:
How easy should it be to give up your citizenship? In the era of Oswald, it could be difficult—like joining an especially selective monastic order that turns away aspirants until they kneel in the snow for a few days outside the monastery or consulate’s doors. Now a U.S. citizen can stop being American with a single visit to a consulate. (Most renounce not for ideological reasons but to avoid the complications of living as an American expatriate, subject to dual taxation and bureaucratic requirements far more onerous than for expatriates of almost any other country.)
That’s a liminalissue, questions of citizenship and borders are liminal. And Bryan is talking liminality when he talks education.
Here’s a quick liminal zing from Abigail Tracy, in the title and subtitle of here Atlantic piece:
I’d have been happy to include this in my chyrons and headers collection, but between the lines is too nicely liminal to miss.
A limen is a <threshold: it ‘s neither one thing nor the other, it’s in-between. And in-between is a time or state of transition, often tricky — think of the interregnum between the election of a President and his or her Inauguration — and often deeply human — we’re stuck with human nature, every one of us, which as Solzhenitsyn noted has a fault line in it more significant perhaps than even the fissure that separates our left and right cerebral hemispheres. Stunning us, he wrote:
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
There’s liminality for you.
Here’s how Bryan ends his post:
There is a greater darkness than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way. The war we fight is not against powers and principalities, it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender. The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.
The war we fight is not against powers and principalities — see my earlier post today on spiritual warfare. And The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation — the horror, the blessing of liminality.
SEAL training is the great equalizer: If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart — and that deep sense of being equalized by sand. tide, and fatigue, brings with it fine-grained humility and profound bonding with ones’ fellows.
Victor Turner was the anthropologist who made liminality the corner-stone of his great work, The Ritual Process — see how closely his ideas correspond with McRaven‘s SEAL training. Back in my early post on the topic here on ZP, I wrote:
Basing his own work on van Gennep‘s account of rites of passage, Turner sees such rites as involving three phases: before, liminal, and after.
Before, you’re a civilian, after, you’re a Marine — but during, there’s an extraordinary moment when you’ve lost your civilian privileges, not yet earned your Marine status, and are less than nothing — as the drill sergeant constantly reminds you — and yet feel an intense solidarity with your fellows.
Before, you’re a novice, not yet “professed”, after, you’re a monk — but during, you lie prostrate on the paving stones of the abbey nave as you transition into lifelong vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
There are two things to note here. One is that liminality is a *humility* device, the other is that is creates a strong sense of bonding which Turner calls *communitas*: in one case, the Marine’s esprit de corps, in the other quite literally a monastic community. Part of what is so fascinating here is the (otherwise not necessarily obvious) insight that humility and community are closely related.
earlier Zenpundit posts on liminality and borders, among them:
Zenpundit is a blog dedicated to exploring the intersections of foreign policy, history, military theory, national security,strategic thinking, futurism, cognition and a number of other esoteric pursuits.