September 10, 2020

"The episode... signaled the repudiation of an honored and admired intellectual archetype – the curmudgeon."

"I'm not a close friend, but, as a book writer and former critic myself, I've encountered [Carlin] Romano over the years, and I'd describe him as something of a throwback to an earlier era, when a crusty, Socratic, erudite style carried with it a certain charm. But that's one of the ways Romano seems no longer to fit in. One critics circle board member, Columbia University professor John McWhorter, an African American, agreed with him on the substance of the anti-racism pledge, but told the website Vulture that Romano's way of expressing his dissent was a bit tone-deaf. He 'was not being a modern person in the way he responded' to the anti-racism pledge, McWhorter said, perhaps referring to Romano’s charge that some of the arguments of the anti-racism pledge were 'absolute nonsense.'"

From "Inside an Elite Cancel Culture Session, Where Leftists Met the Enemy and It Was ... One of Them" by Richard Bernstein (RealClearInvestigations).

I'm most fascinated by the question what it means to be "a modern person" these days. The meaning of "modern" is changing!

I googled the phrase and quickly got to Carl Jung's "Modern Man in Search of a Soul":
[T]he man we call modern, the man who is aware of the immediate present, is by no means the average man. He is rather the man who stands upon a peak, or at the very edge of the world, the abyss of the future before him, above him the heavens, and below him the whole of mankind with a history that disappears in primeval mists. The modern man—or, let us say again, the man of the immediate present—is rarely met with. There are few who live up to the name, for they must be conscious to a superlative degree. Since to be wholly of the present means to be fully conscious of one's existence as a man, it requires the most intensive and extensive consciousness, with a minimum of unconsciousness. It must be clearly understood that the mere fact of living in the present does not make a man modern, for in that case everyone at present alive would be so. He alone is modern who is fully conscious of the present.

The man whom we can with justice call "modern" is solitary. He is so of necessity and at all times, for every step towards a fuller consciousness of the present removes him further from his original "participation mystique" with the mass of men—from submersion in a common unconsciousness. Every step forward means an act of tearing himself loose from that all-embracing, pristine unconsciousness which claims the bulk of mankind almost entirely. Even in our civilizations the people who form, psychologically speaking, the lowest stratum, live almost as unconsciously as primitive races. Those of the succeeding stratum manifest a level of consciousness which corresponds to the beginnings of human culture, while those of the highest stratum have a consciousness capable of keeping step with the life of the last few centuries. Only the man who is modern in our meaning of the term really lives in the present; he alone has a present-day consciousness, and he alone finds that the ways of life which correspond to earlier levels pall upon him. The values and strivings of those past worlds no longer interest him save from the historical standpoint. Thus he has become "unhistorical" in the deepest sense and has estranged himself from the mass of men who live entirely within the bounds of tradition. Indeed, he is completely modern only when he has come to the very edge of the world, leaving behind him all that has been discarded and outgrown, and acknowledging that he stands before a void out of which all things may grow.

These words may be thought to be but empty sound, and their meaning reduced to mere banality. Nothing is easier than to affect a consciousness of the present. As a matter of fact, a great horde of worthless people give themselves the air of being modern by overleaping the various stages of development and the tasks of life they represent.
ADDED: Here is the Vulture article with the McWhorter quote, "The National Book Critics Circle Has Imploded" (June 16, 2020):
A week ago, as protesters rallied around the world against systemic racism and police brutality, 12 board members of the National Book Critics Circle, an organization of some 800 critics that gives out a number of annual awards, began to draft a statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Noting that the publishing industry has long been overwhelmingly white from top to bottom, they wrote of their “culpability in this system of erasure” of black and indigenous voices from the cultural conversation and outlined a series of steps that their organization could take to support critics of color and amplify their voices, such as expanding the organization’s mentorship program and establishing a diversity committee. Just 30 percent of last year’s winners and finalists were writers of color, they wrote: “We can and must do better.”...

Just as the group was about to share the statement with the world, their organization began to fracture and then implode.... Over the past several days, more than half of the National Book Critics Circle’s 24 board members, which had included six people of color, have resigned in a flurry of recriminations over racism, privacy concerns, and political correctness.....

One board member, Carlin Romano, said he disagreed with some of the claims in the letter but didn’t want to “distract the great majority of the Board from its mission.” Nevertheless, he went on to detail his objections to a number of those claims, dismissing the statement’s fundamental premise as “absolute nonsense.”...

When Hope Wabuke, a Ugandan-American author who had suggested writing the statement in the first place, read this exchange between Romano and Hertzel, she was outraged.... A wave of resignations followed, which in turn unleashed a second wave, and a third....

Romano, who once made headlines for writing a review in which he imagined raping the author of the book, has intermittently sat on the board since the mid-’90s. According to nearly a dozen current and former members, he has developed a reputation in the organization as a bully. ...

Over the weekend, as the board continued to disintegrate, some members hoped they could salvage the situation by removing Romano....

Each of the black board members who stepped down did so for different reasons. John McWhorter, an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, stressed that he did not support Wabuke. Like Romano, he disputed the idea that the publishing industry is plagued by racism. “The way he said it was an unideal,” McWhorter said. “He was not being a modern person in the way he responded.” Still, McWhorter added, “all racial disparities are not due to bigotry or even structural barriers.”

He left, he said, because he felt like he no longer fit into the culture of the board. “There’s an idea that we’re supposed to subscribe to these days. That to disagree with a black person’s views about something having to do with race is racist,” he told me. “I don’t subscribe to that.”

46 comments:

Mr Wibble said...

Jung would have a field day with these nutters.

The reality is that social justice, "woke" culture, and the like are merely a means for activists to demonstrate their power and thus rise to a higher position in the hierarchy of the left. You also have the sadists and nihilists who just like the idea of smashing shit and hurting people. Finally, you have the lost people who are desperately seeking a religious movement to be part of.

Michael K said...

What did the a"modern person" use for light before candles ? Electricity.

Skeptical Voter said...

I'll ignore the Jungian bafflegab I think the criticism of Mr. Romano as not being "modern" when he refers to something as "absolute nonsense" is that Mr. Romano retains the old fashioned virture of being able to call bull dust bull dust. These days one can not do that for fear of causeing a snowflake to faint.

MikeR said...

Our pathetic betters.

Kate said...

For some reason I think of "The Bishop's Wife" (with Loretta Young). She and Cary Grant visit an old guy, a curmudgeon, who is an atheist in a time of Christianity saturation. Whatever he believes, he is not rude or argumentative with them, and they are polite back. He is behaving in a way McWhorter calls modern, I would say. He's conscious of prevailing opinion, disagrees with it, but exhibits good manners and humor.

rcocean said...

Its rather a shock to read books from the 1920s and see people labeled as "Modern women" or "A modern thinker" or how their "modern way of doing things" has completely superseded the old-fashioned "turn of the century" way. Advertisers even got into the act, making everyone want to be "Modern" and use their product. Only "old-fogies" were against booze and cigarettes.

Jupiter said...

"... perhaps referring to Romano’s charge that some of the arguments of the anti-racism pledge were 'absolute nonsense.'"

I offer no opinion about the "modern person", but what McWhorter is referring to is the fact that the "modern academic" must be willing to refrain from pointing out that the insufferable maggots the academic bureaucracy has chosen to call his intellectual "peers" are spouting nonsense, and, indeed, are clearly incapable of doing otherwise.

Nonapod said...

I can't say what a "modern person" even is. It just seems too reductive. Perhaps a "modern person" is more exclusive and tribal than a person of just a few years ago? Because these days it seems like the only thing that all modern humans have in common is divisiveness and identitarianism, wanting to break down everyone into different groups based on race, gender, sexual identity, religion, political beliefs, deniers, believers, and a dozens of other categorizations. We're united by disagreement.

Deevs said...

I wish there were a link to John McWhorter's comments. I get the impression that John's somewhat condemning Romano on how he objected to the anti-racism pledge, but I have a hard time seeing John McWhorter having a problem with Romano's objection approach per se. More likely he was just providing an explanation for the furor directed at Romano. Or he was just saying Romano walked into a clearly woke minefield and he should have seen it coming.

gerry said...

Jung's common unconsciousness is really false unconsciousnes. The Party can fix that with a simple extended-trip to a re-education camp.

William said...

He seems more like a heretic than a non-believer. Heretics were far more likely to be burnt at the stake.....Why this compulsive need for conformity among people who like to celebrate their diversity....The early Bolsheviks liked to celebrate the primacy of the working class. When members of working class griped about them, they were re-assigned to the "petit bourgeois" class and sent to the Gulags...Welcome to the KKK, Mr. Romano.

Ambrose said...

"I am the very model of a modern major-general."

Kevin said...

Today it's people who use charges of systemic racism to drag us backward into Marxism who consider themselves most modern.

Ann Althouse said...

"I wish there were a link to John McWhorter's comments...."

You ask, I give. Check the addition to the post.

mikee said...

The criticism, "He is not being a (fill in blank) person," can be made in a number of ways. The only intent is to censor that speech and dehumanize that person. The only intent! Replace "modern" with almost any other adjective and the intent remains the same: censorship and dehumanization.

He is not being a modern person.
He is not being an admirable person.
He is not being a beneficial person.
He is not being a compassionate person.
He is not being a dependable person.
He is not being an elegant person.
He is not being a friendly, good, honorable, illuminating, joining, knowledgeable, magnanimous, nonaggressive, open-minded, persuasive, quality, respectable, significant, tolerant, upstanding, validating, warmhearted, xenodochial (yeah, yeah, I looked that one up), youthful, zealous person.

All the speaker is doing is cancelling the humanity of the professor, and censoring his speech.

Birkel said...

First against the wall are those without enough revolutionary zeal.

Has it ever happened otherwise?

Cassandra said...

He's not a Sensitive New Age Man. How refreshing.

Joe Smith said...

A bunch of elitist eggheads being elitist eggheads...stop the press.

If these people are so smart, how come they can't distinguish between black lives matter as a concept, and Black Lives Matter as a Marxist insurrectionist group?

For that matter, why can't politicians? Average Americans? The media?

Big Mike said...

You ask, I give.

@Althouse, the winning numbers in next week’s MegaMillions lottery? Asking for a friend.

NorthOfTheOneOhOne said...

Kate said...

He's conscious of prevailing opinion, disagrees with it, but exhibits good manners and humor.

I would say this is what McWhorter's talking about. And, truth be told, if we as a society had been behaving this way over the past couple of decades we wouldn't be in the position we are in now vis a vis politics.

That said; I have no doubt that Romano's opponents would NOT have accorded him the same courtesy.

As far as McWhorter goes, he's not helping the situation by virtue signaling over Romano's language.

Leora said...

So Jung's modern person is by his nature alienated from the rest of mankind. I wouldn't have thought Jung would have favored that as a mode of life though i haven't read him for at least 40 years.

MacMacConnell said...

Carlin Romano isn't a coward.

n.n said...

Diversity (i.e. color judgments), not limited to racism, breeds adversity. Progress is an unqualified monotonic function that is conventionally one step forward, two steps backwards, often forcing catastrophic dislocations.

Sebastian said...

"The meaning of "modern" is changing!"

It now means post-postmodern.

Sebastian said...

McWhorter saying someone is not a modern person is like Althouse saying someone is not a helpful person.

Discuss.

Whiskeybum said...

The concept of being "modern" has always been straightforward for me. It's the relating to current ideas/practices or zeitgeist as opposed to past ideas/practices. Therefore, McWhorter basically is diplomatically calling Romano an old fart.

Howard said...

Jungk science

Greg The Class Traitor said...

One critics circle board member, Columbia University professor John McWhorter, an African American, agreed with him on the substance of the anti-racism pledge, but told the website Vulture that Romano's way of expressing his dissent was a bit tone-deaf. He 'was not being a modern person in the way he responded' to the anti-racism pledge, McWhorter said, perhaps referring to Romano’s charge that some of the arguments of the anti-racism pledge were 'absolute nonsense.'"

1: "John McWhorter, an African American". Because we can't understand your opinions and beliefs unless we know what your skin color is? Modern day racism at its finest.

2: But they ARE absolute nonsense.' So your objection is that he's telling a truth you don't want to hear


I'm most fascinated by the question what it means to be "a modern person" these days.

It means to be a pathetic anti-intellectual racist loser who privileges feelings above thought, reason, and reality.

eddie willers said...

From the article:

while others stepped down because they felt that those members were more concerned about confidentiality than about racism.

Scott Adams spent some time on his podcast yesterday adding a new rule to his previous two on proper internet conduct. The previous two:

1. You have 48 hours with which to clarify, or apologize for, a contentious remark. If done within the 48 hours, it must be accepted.

2. Anything that surfaces from twenty years ago is to be dismiss out of hand.

The one he added last night:

3. Anything said in private that is made public will reflect on the person who made the private, public, not the original speaker.

eddie willers said...

PS. If the above is double posted, it is because I got the "WHOOPS" page and, being moderated, I have no way of knowing if it originally posted until Althouse gets back.

Freeman Hunt said...

I saw McWhorter discuss this with Glenn Loury, and he did not throw Romano over.

Greg The Class Traitor said...

He's conscious of prevailing opinion, disagrees with it, but exhibits good manners and humor.

Let me know when the people who brought us BusHitler, "Teabaggers", "Trump is literally Hitler", Deplorables, and "Reblicans are supporting Hitler", as well as riots to celebrate people who are violently resisting arrest, start displaying "good manners and humor."

Until then? They can all FOAD.

Greg The Class Traitor said...

I'm most fascinated by the question what it means to be "a modern person" these days.

Short answer: It means talking about the fine weave fo the Emperor's new clothes

Greg The Class Traitor said...

You ask, I give.

@Althouse, the winning numbers in next week’s MegaMillions lottery? Asking for a friend.

She can have them for you, in about 8 days.

Note: she didn't say she'd give it to you as soon as you want it. :-)

n.n said...

a crusty irascible cantankerous old person full of stubborn ideas

How people are colored and society is framed.

Can Of Cheese for Hunter said...

Speech-crime, Cancel and ruin = This is the modern left.

Lem said...

I can think of two men fitting that modern man description "The modern man—or, let us say again, the man of the immediate present—is rarely met with. There are few who live up to the name, for they must be conscious to a superlative degree. Since to be wholly of the present means to be fully conscious of one's existence as a man, it requires the most intensive and extensive consciousness, with a minimum of unconsciousness."

Donald Trump and Bill Murray

Bill Murray is asked what he wants that he doesn't yet have

Fernandinande said...

Modern:

We gotta install microwave ovens
Custom kitchen deliveries
We gotta move these refrigerators
We gotta move these colour TV's

See the little faggot with the earring and the makeup
Yeah buddy that's his own hair
That little faggot got his own jet airplane
That little faggot he's a millionaire

mikee said...

The article is a wonderful description of a power play within a small organization, where Conquests Rules can be seen in operation so very clearly. The use of BLM to increase a subgroup's power was thwarted by the traditional authortarian means of pointing out that their proposal was nonsense. Well played.

Rosalyn C. said...

Romano lacks savoir faire. That's an old fashioned term meaning he was offensive to those who can not be offended. What McWhorter said is that you have to keep up with knowing whom not to offend. That is very moderne, trendy, not modern in the sense of what Jung was discussing. A modern man doesn't belong to social groups to gain acceptance or legitimacy.

bagoh20 said...

The "modern man" values "truth" over facts. The "modern man" can also be very ancient.

Krumhorn said...

Being a modern person means understanding, as Andrew McCarthy recently put it, that "It’s not on you to control yourself; it’s on me to factor in your instability before opening my mouth. That I’m playing with fire is the offense; that you are the fire is to be overlooked, because you’re on fire over all the right things."

Unless this gets stopped quick fast and in a hurry, we are destined for re-edukation kamps and struggle sessions. Discussion is impossible with those filled to the snout with Moral Clarity and holding a monopoly on virtue.

My Woke Idiots bingo card fills up fast when any such conversation starts. One line that completes quickly is “condescending Marxist”, “morally superior pseudo-intellectual”, Systemic Racism”, “Fascist”, and “I’m exhausted”.

- Krumhorn

Jupiter said...

"1: "John McWhorter, an African American". Because we can't understand your opinions and beliefs unless we know what your skin color is? Modern day racism at its finest."

I think it is correct to say, that one cannot understand McWhorter's moves in the game without understanding the cards (or at least, the card) he holds. The author is merely providing helpful context.

boatbuilder said...

It is far from clear that McWhorter is using the term "modern" in a complimentary sense, and that his reference to Romano not responding as a "modern person" is a criticism. While the writer of the article couches his quotes to make it seem that McWhorter was criticizing, I question whether he was in fact supporting Romano as not being prey to the "modern"--i.e., woke--idiocy. "Unideal" suggests criticism, but is entirely subject to context.

Deevs said...

@Althouse Thanks for adding that! I was too busy at the time to track it down (but not too busy to post a comment apparently). I'll have to track down John McWhorter discussing this with Glenn Loury as mentioned by Freeman Hunt, but I get the impression John is using "modern person" a bit sarcastically.

Ann Althouse said...

If modern is a jocose term now, that is the change. It used to be very serious.