Third Culture:Reply to Tomaso

John Mcreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Tue, 5 Sep 1995 00:28:05 +0900

Matt Tomaso asks, 'Personally, I have to
wonder why the oppositional imagination is still so firmly entrenched in our

I hazard the speculation (which I owe to John Roberts when he was my teacher
at Cornell) that the answer is economic. When serious assets (grants and
office space) are at stake, the academic entrepreneur is quick to denigrate
competitors. Those who do the best job survive and pass on their habits to
new generations of students. Generosity prevails when there are ample
resources for everyone to find a niche with no great struggle, but when
times are tight, the rhetoric escalates.

Returning to Brockman: his point is much more important than mere name-calling
and posturing. Historically, the humanities were the gentlemen's education. Science was something eccentrics added to languages, literature, philosophy, etc.
By C.P.Snow's time the sciences had become sufficiently specialized that what
scientists were talking about was largely incomprehensible without
scientific training. To scholars in the humanities who lacked such training,
the sciences had become an alien world. In a self-justifying way humanities
types were quick to seize on the fact-value distinction to seize the "higher"
realm of values for themselves. So long as they controlled the core of
"higher" education, they were able to get away with this. Now, while the
humanities have plunged themselves into confusion and have little to say
but "commentaries spiraling on commentaries" and no commentary more valuable
than any other--because, after all, all voices are equal, a group of literate
scientists has emerged who write directly for the educated lay public. They
address what the great classical problems: the origins and nature of the
universe, mind and humanity. Anthropologists could, and should, be among
them, but more and more we tend to perversely narrow specialization and
intramural squabbling. Our "critiques
" are typically little more than invective, driven by a sense that we know
appalling things, but have little to offer in the way of solutions. Like two
year-olds on a playground, we are left with tantrums, screaming and moaning,
"They (the big, bad oppressors) did it! Somebody should make them stop!"
The claim is, alas, too often valid. But the serious intellectual and political
work remains undone. Or, perhaps, others are doing it. And we, too absorbed
in our bickering, have failed to notice.

John McCreery