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What passes for learning on campus


It may not be easy being green, but it's a riot for the lovelorn.

"We live in an age in which it is no longer possible to be funny.  There is nothing you can imagine, no matter how ludicrous, that will not promptly be enacted before your very eyes, probably by someone well known." — Malcolm Muggeridge
emin British artist Tracey Emin's
iconic art installation, "My Bed"

Besides being a journalist of courage and insight — he was one of the few who in the 1930s wrote the truth about Stalin's savage purges, mock trials, and the Ukrainian famine — Malcolm Muggeridge was prescient to an almost alarming degree about the absurdities and ever more extravagant follies of modern times.  But there was no way even his seer's eye could have foreseen how far the frontiers of the ludicrous, the inane and the idiotic have expanded.

To pluck but one ready example from an over-blossoming tree, there is the news that Tracey Emin, who pleases herself with the notion her thoughts and deeds are "art," recently married a rock.  They — she, the artist, and it, the stone — were wed last summer in France.  (No word on whether there was a pre-nup, and there's speculation over whether the rock gave consent or it was an "arranged marriage.")

A Guardian art critic went full Hosanna, noting the "spiritual dimensions" of the ceremony and dragging in Michelangelo, whom, it was considerately noted for those who were unaware, "did not marry a rock," as a worthy precursor to the lithophilic Emin.  Michelangelo, says the critic, only enjoyed a "vivid relationship" with stone.

It's one thing for artists, who are a notoriously unstable lot, to supply the world with ever-fresh nonsense, but for the trump cards in the deck of utter silliness, it's necessary to visit a university campus.  A few days ago, a philosophy professor at California's Santa Monica College led a group of students to the beach, where they — it was polyamorous — performed a group marriage to the sea.

It was a traditional wedding — rings were distributed, vows were made — "We stand upon this holy earth and in this sacred space to witness the rite of matrimony between the sea and us all."  The ceremony was given the sober designation of an "Eco-Sexual Extravaganza" and they were not kidding around on the carnal aspects.  Ministrants urged the maritime newlyweds to "make love to the water" and the less inhibited "dipped their toes" and "any other body part" they wanted into the waves.

Keeping in mind all this was under the aegis of a credentialed philosophy professor in a modern university, we can see how limited poor Muggeridge's premonitions were.  The professor, Amber Katherine, put a stamp on the service, pontificating that the purpose of the wedding was to bring about a deeper love for the planet through "eco-centric passion and even lust."  It may not be easy being green, but it's a riot for the lovelorn.

It's one thing for artists, who are a notoriously unstable lot, to supply the world with ever-fresh nonsense, but for the trump cards in the deck of utter silliness, it's necessary to visit a university campus.

This box of Fruit Loops was funded by several of the university's organizations and the main sponsor was "a chapter of the Public Policy Institute."  One of the newlyweds, called — how could it be otherwise? — Serenity, expounded on her personal relations with bits of landscape, with wise "safe-sex and sensitivity" tips, on those times when under the canopy, the moon glimmering, a blossom or a bough brings the erotic juices to near-boil.  She insisted on the importance of "gaining consent from the earth" before proceeding with a physical relationship and, walking the talk, told how "back when I would hug trees in Santa Cruz, I would sort of ask the tree if it was OK if I hugged it."  I am woebegone she did not supply the tree's reply.

Finally, lest should you think Prof. Katherine's university courses lack the point and rigour of traditional academic undertakings, a few comments from her "ratings page" make it clear eco-philosophy has a rigour compared to which quantum physics is an intellectual relaxant; Hegel and Kant, mere Wodehousian triflers.  Noted one student, wearied from the course grind: "You write a full page of words every day!"  Another, clearly a post-Wittgensteinian: "I was a vegetarian years ago and her class transformed me into a vegetarian again, after watching a movie."  There's also this lamentation from a dark night of the philosophy-apprentice soul: "Tests are open book, but you will need to have read and highlighted the important stuff to have time to look it up if you don't know answers."  And, for me, the coup de main: "Wrote a few papers but the movies we had to base them off of were very interesting."

Should any reader be daring enough or sufficiently masochistic to plunge more expansively into these shallow, morbid waters, read the much-referenced New Yorker piece "The Big Uneasy.  What's Roiling the Liberal Arts Campus?", which will add to your tears on what passes for learning in some of the prestige universities of the West.

As Wordsworth said of Milton, of Muggeridge we can also pray: Malcolm thou shoulds't be living at this hour.



murphy Rex Murphy, "What passes for learning on campus." National Post (May 28, 2016).

Reprinted with permission of the National Post.

The Author

Murphysmmurphy Rex Murphy was host of CBC Radio One's Cross-Country Checkup, a nation wide call-in show, for 21 years before stepping down in September 2015. Murphy is a frequent presence on the various branches of the CBC. He has regular commentary segments entitled "Point of View" on The National, the CBC's flagship nightly news program.  See Rex's TV commentaries. In addition, he writes book reviews, commentaries, and a weekly column for the National Post. He is the author of Canada and Other Matters of Opinion and Points of View.

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