Category Archives: Western Civilization

Digital sages | WORLD News Group

Digital Sages

Interesting article in World Magazine – which I do recommend.
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Aug 18, 2018
The first time Youp Timmer heard Jordan Peterson speak in a YouTube video, he thought his voice sounded like Kermit the Frog’s. And like Kermit, this 56-year-old University of Toronto psychology professor was a skilled communicator, hands gesticulating and brows furrowing as he spoke about personal responsibility and bearing one’s suffering.

At the time, Timmer, a 30-year-old data analyst in Nijkerk, Netherlands, was battling suicidal thoughts, desperately clicking through streams of motivational videos for inspiration to live on—and he says he found it in Peterson. In that video, Peterson was unpacking the meanings behind the Biblical story of Noah and the Flood. Be prepared, he warned, because storms of tragedies are coming. Life, he declared, is “really complex, short, finite, full of suffering, and beyond you.” It doesn’t take much effort to suffer, but if you lie around merely suffering, “then it accumulates. … It turns into the dragon of chaos. It waits until you’re not at your best, and then it eats you.” Timmer was transfixed. Every word from Peterson struck close to heart: He had been doing exactly that—lying depressed, mulling over how he had gotten the job he wanted but still couldn’t find meaning in it. He was struggling with marriage and financial issues, tension with his parents. He felt unhappy and directionless—until he heard Peterson’s challenge: “Pick up your [profanity] cross and walk up the hill.” Yes, life is painful and unjust—“So what are you gonna do about it? Accept it voluntarily and try to transform as a consequence.”

It’s a message that falls far short of the gospel, but it spoke to Timmer. Nobody had been able to reach him in his darkness, not even psychologists or his baby daughter, but for some reason, Peterson did. The way Peterson used Biblical stories to illustrate his points made sense to him: “It felt as though he told me what I knew for a long time, but couldn’t phrase correctly.” Something about the way the man spoke—that straightforward, unapologetic manner, like a stern father to a delinquent son, spiced with a thick Albertan accent and old-fashioned swear words, shook Timmer awake: “I realized I was only making things worse by my own choice.”

From then on, Timmer listened to every Peterson lecture, some more than 10 times. He credits Peterson for saving him from suicide twice, once under suicide watch at the hospital. He set up specific life goals, starting with cleaning up his room. His parents told him he became a more pleasant presence. After being a “very earnest” Muslim for 10 years, he now concludes that Islam is “not the right tool.” He estimates having spent 600 hours poring through Peterson’s materials. And he wonders, “Why didn’t anyone tell me this before?”

Timmer is one of thousands of young people tuning in to Peterson’s lectures, podcasts, interviews, and books. When Peterson went on a global speaking tour across North America and the United Kingdom, many venues (1,000- to 2,000-seat auditoriums; cheapest ticket in Los Angeles was $55) sold out weeks ahead. His new self-help book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, a string of essays on how to live one’s life, has already sold more than 700,000 copies in the United States. The book reigns as the No. 1 best-read book on Amazon in North America. He now has more than 790,000 Twitter followers, 340,000 followers on Facebook, more than 1.3 million subscribers on YouTube—and many are willing to support his work financially: Peterson earns about $80,000 a month on Patreon, a crowdfunding platform where “patrons” fund influencers to create content.

Why is a middle-aged guy like Peterson commanding such influence on young minds? To understand the larger movement, I listened to hours of Peterson’s work, read his book, and spoke to about a dozen of his followers ages 22 to 35. I also met with two other influential thinkers, Dennis Prager and Ben Shapiro. What I found is that neither Peterson, Prager, nor Shapiro is hawking new truths. Nothing they say is a smack-the-head revelation. Instead, they seek to help people understand what they already know deep within their souls—timeless, elementary, common-grace truths and values that are embedded into our very being, nature, and substrata of consciousness. Their messages won’t save a single soul, but they appeal to people because of the law of God written on the listeners’ hearts.

People have hailed Jordan Peterson as a father figure, a modern-day prophet, a free speech warrior. Stripping all those fancy titles aside, Peterson is a grim-looking Canadian scholar who lectures in a quaint three-piece suit. He was an obscure professor until he criticized a bill in Canada that proposed banning discrimination based on gender identity and expression. He said the bill threatened free speech and was a slippery slope toward totalitarianism. Student activists heckled Peterson on campus, and a video of that confrontation gained millions of views and comments.

Then in January, journalist Cathy Newman attempted to paint Peterson as a misogynist during an interview with him on Channel 4 News. That video attracted more than 10 million views on YouTube, and Peterson’s book soon topped the bestseller charts.

Peterson is obsessed with Jung, Nietzsche, and Dostoevsky, and his house is reportedly a showroom of 20th-century horrors: A massive collection of original USSR propaganda art hangs on every wall, even ceilings and bathrooms—a solemn, grotesque self-reminder of what devastation the pursuit of utopia can wreak.

Peterson’s three-hour lectures center on ideas such as: (1) All human beings are capable of unspeakable evil, especially in the name of good. (2) Change starts with the individual. (3) Ancient stories, from the Bible to Egyptian mythology, hold profound, still-applicable truths about human nature and life. He weaves together social science, neuroscience, his own clinical experiences, Biblical literature, and evolution to present a systematic understanding of the world and us in it. But his theories are not ivory-tower abstractions. He drills those ideas down to practical, traditional values: hard work, personal responsibility, and virtue—hardly the most endearing or sexy subject matters.

Yet those ideas are captivating thousands of fans, mostly young men. They’re flocking into Facebook groups, Reddit chatrooms, and Meetup gatherings to discuss all things Peterson, often spouting “Petersonisms” to encourage and motivate each other, like Bible study group members quoting Scriptures. That’s extraordinary, given this age of postmodernism, ever-chirping 280-character commentaries, and pursuit of instant gratification.

To hear the media describe them, Peterson’s fans are mostly right-wing white males shaking their fists at a new social stratum that no longer benefits them. But the people I spoke to were diverse: They were male and female; white and Asian and Latino and Jewish; self-defined conservatives, moderates, liberals, and apoliticals. They work in fashion, tech, construction, film, music.

Meet Irina Hernandez, for example. Hernandez is a 22-year-old fashion design assistant in Brooklyn who grew up nonreligious. She calls herself “left-leaning” and has a brother with whom she shared a close relationship until they began debating politics. When her brother argued that the wage gap between men and women isn’t a gender issue, “I really started to see him as a bad person,” Hernandez recalled.

Then she watched a YouTube video in which Peterson explains the many variables such as personality, interests, and skills that lead to wage gap. For the first time, Hernandez saw someone “bluntly questioning these ideas and doing it in such a mature and empirical way”—without resorting to ideology. She clicked on more of Peterson’s videos, and spent 50-plus hours listening to him outline the biological and psychological differences between men and women using history, psychoanalysis, neuropsychology, and storytelling. Those videos taught her more than all her classes in college combined, she said, and that made her angry: “I felt like before, I was consuming a lot of misinformation.”

A career-driven, “super independent” woman who cared deeply about gender equality, Hernandez said Peterson’s lectures provoked questions about her future: “Do I want marriage? Kids? Women my age, we’re so caught up in being equal … but do I really want to be a CEO in a Fortune 500 company?” Those thoughts changed the way Hernandez dated her then-boyfriend, and now they’re engaged.

But whenever Hernandez tried to talk about Peterson with her more liberal friends, she felt shut down. In the last several months, Peterson has become the No. 1 person the media loves to hate. (When I requested an interview with Peterson, his publicist told me they’re cutting down on media interviews.) Forward magazine published an article titled, “Is Jordan Peterson Enabling Jew Hatred?” Vox stated that Peterson’s views “weaponize the grievances of the kind of young men attracted to the alt-right.” Current Affairs called Peterson a “tedious crackpot,” and several publications suggested that Peterson is “dangerous.”

Perhaps that’s also why Peterson is so popular: People don’t like being told what to think. They recognize that what Peterson is saying is not only important but makes sense, and when a dominant culture so strongly denounces him as a sexist racist transphobic charlatan, they start to wonder what’s missing in modern society.

 

THE SAME HOLDS TRUE for former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro. He also saw an uptick in Twitter followers and podcast downloads with each big controversy. When he came out as a Never Trumper and castigated the alt-right movement, he became the No. 1 target of anti-Semitic tweets aimed at a journalist. Each time protesters tried to shut down his speech on college campuses (UC Berkeley spent $600,000 on security for Shapiro’s visit), he earned more fans.

When Shapiro first started his news site The Daily Wire, he had five employees. Now he employs 50. The Ben Shapiro Show, a conservative daily talk show program, gets about 350,000 downloads per day on SoundCloud and YouTube each, and up to a million views on Facebook Live—and about 70 percent of the audience is under 35 years old.

I joined the 34-year-old Shapiro at his Sherman Oaks office where he films his show. He was in a rampage mood that day over the media’s “nonsense” coverage of Trump’s comments on MS-13 and stormed into the studio joking about bringing a sledgehammer next time.

He needs no sledgehammer: Once the camera began rolling, Shapiro raged out an hourlong impromptu monologue—with nary a stutter or pause for air—about media bias, the Mueller investigation, and the Israel-Gaza clash, then signed off with a Bible talk segment on Joshua 2:8-11. He did this completely unscripted, letting me peek at his notes: a single page with little more than links to video clips.

Even off-air, Shapiro is constantly interacting with his audience, mostly on Twitter. In between penning articles, visiting his personal trainer, and writing his new book, his thumbs are ever-scrolling through his iPhone, retweeting things he finds interesting, mic-dropping snarky remarks, and responding to both fans and haters. Whatever he’s doing, it’s working: Three years ago, Shapiro had about 100,000 followers on Twitter; now he has 1.4 million.

Part of Shapiro’s appeal is his willingness to buck his own conservative party if it violates his principles: “I’m not going to be sucked into your tribal mentality, even if you think I’m part of your tribe. I’m not.” Taking an anti-Trump stance was “a risky move,” but he gained respect from millennials who saw him holding his ground based on values and virtue, not ideology or politics.

Even as a pundit, he presents other people’s arguments against his own views, then explains why he disagrees with them. He says he’s interested in what certain current events imply about society’s deeper values. To explain anti-Israel sentiments, for example, he reviewed the evolution of nationalism over the last 400 years. He recommends highbrow books such as The Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnas and The Russian Revolution by Richard Pipes, plays compositions by Bach and Brahms, and provides weekly commentary on the Bible and the Federalist Papers.

That sort of honest intellectualism is attractive to his young audience members, who tell me they’re sick of surface-level political jabberers who saturate the media. Joshua Charles, a 30-year-old writer and historian in Sacramento, said he doesn’t see many “intellectually serious” media personalities in the spotlight. Many pundits “throw out applause lines that their particular audience wants to hear, but they don’t challenge their audience.”

Like Peterson, Shapiro appeals to many millennials because his approach seems less drivel and more brains, less red meat tossing and more enlightenment. In a generation ravaged by divorce and sexual misconduct, he also seems like a clean family guy—the kind who’s notorious for jettisoning men’s poker night for family time. He’s an Orthodox Jew who says he remained a virgin until marriage, and he prays every day, observes Shabbat, and is devoted to his wife and two children.

Though some modern folks might call his values old-fashioned, Shapiro says they should have never become outdated in the first place: “There are eternal, unchanging values that are important to human life, and if we don’t return to these eternal, unchanging human values, we’re destined to be rolling around in the mud.”

BEFORE ANYONE EVER HEARD of Peterson or Shapiro, there was Dennis Prager, a conservative talk show host who kick-started his public speaking life as a 21-year-old Jew from Brooklyn. Today, at age 69, he may be the longest-lasting public intellectual. In a time of blustery political talk, Prager rarely raises his voice, preferring to speak in a calm baritone, crack jokes that make even himself chortle, and pontificate about relationships and happiness.

Prager is a large man with a full presence at 6-foot-4. He has a belly-shaking laugh and the kind of genial social adroitness that’s just as comfortable smoking cigars alone in his study humming Brahms as he is asking an immigrant which language she cusses with when she stubs her toe. He has a bad hip and snowy-white hair but also floor-to-ceiling bookcases overflowing with books that keep his mind sharp, expansive, and curious.

Prager, like Peterson, is obsessed with human evil and suffering. Ever since as a 10-year-old he watched a Walter Cronkite program on Hitler, Prager hated evil—and he determined to “influence as many people to do good as possible.” His lifelong goal, then, is to convince as many people as possible to take seriously the Torah, which he calls “the greatest repository of goodness and wisdom in human history.” In fact, Shapiro was a little boy when Prager inspired his parents to attend an Orthodox synagogue and become more religious Jews.

Prager might not be as hip and technologically savvy as Shapiro—he barely uses Twitter and had to ask a 19-year-old production assistant what “LMAO” means—but he’s constantly gazing into the future. He’s the co-founder of PragerU, an online media portal that condenses complex ideas such as racism and climate change into five-minute videos with nifty graphics and diverse presenters such as comedian Adam Carolla, MIT meteorology professor Richard Lindzen, and economics scholar Walter Williams. PragerU’s 300-plus videos have collected more than 1 billion views since its founding in 2009, and about 65 percent of its viewers are under age 35.

Like Shapiro, Prager says day-to-day news doesn’t interest him, and he realized most young people don’t care much for it, either. Rather, they’re interested in “the big issues”—What is good? What is evil? What is true, what is false? What is the meaning of life? “My task is to communicate very old ideas in a fresh way. You have to make it relevant”—and young people respond with hunger “because they don’t hear this elsewhere. They don’t get wisdom, and they don’t know that they even want wisdom, but everyone wants wisdom.”

Prager and Shapiro say wisdom comes from divine revelation, while Peterson prefers to stick to scientific and symbolic language, but all three share a common message: Traditional values exist for a reason. We cannot invent our own values, and we do so at our own peril. Read the Bible, because it reveals important and relevant truths. And people are listening.

Still, when Prager’s new book The Rational Bible: Exodus, a 559-page line-by-line commentary on the Torah, became the second-best-selling book on Amazon for weeks, he called it “the best shock of my life.” He said that with a delighted grin and bright eyes: There’s hope for our civilization yet.
Sophia Lee
Sophia Lee

Sophia is a features reporter for WORLD Magazine. She graduated from the University of Southern California with degrees in print journalism and East Asian language and culture. She lives in Los Angeles with her cat, Shalom. Follow Sophia on Twitter @SophiaLeeHyun.
Digital sages | WORLD News Group.

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The Crucifix in Every Building?

I am thinking through this one. I appreciate that a country is certainly shaped by it’s culture and religious history, but is this the best way to present it? But why should a people not want to retain their heritage? Hmm.

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BY FRANCIS X. ROCCA AND DREW HINSHAW
WSJ 9/10/2018

ROME—Lawmakers in Italy’s new parliamentary majority want a crucifix to hang in every government building as a “permanent reminder” of the country’s Christian identity.

Across Europe, nationalists and upstart politicians are promoting the use of Christian imagery as they seek to change the Continent’s established politics and define Europe as Christian in reaction to recent Muslim immigration.

Christian symbols have long been a visible part of public life in much of Europe, but the new efforts reflect a more emphatic embrace of Christianity as central to Europe’s identity.

The moves are stoking disagreement among Christian leaders and drawing criticism from allies of Pope Francis, who says that Christianity mandates generosity toward immigrants.

“The cross is a sign of protest against sin, violence, injustice and death,” the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, a close adviser to the pope and editor of a Vatican-vetted magazine, La Civiltà Cattolica (Catholic Civilization), said on Twitter last month, in response to the legislative proposal by lawmakers with the League, an anti-immigration party. He called the use of the crucifix for political purposes “blasphemous.” And he warned: “Hands off!”

Many antiestablishment parties, a rising force in European politics, say preserving their countries’ Christian identity requires sealing Europe off to Muslim immigrants. They are pulling voters from mainstream parties that favor a more secular style of politics.

For decades after World War II, parties that identified as “Christian Democrats” were a mainstay of center-right politics in Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. But the decline of that tradition has opened up an opportunity for nationalists and far-right parties to claim the cross as theirs.

“The Christian Democratic parties saw Christian identity as a way to unite their nations, not divide them,” said Rocco Buttiglione, a former Italian cabinet minister and lawmaker with a series of such parties. “But they weren’t strong enough in defending that identity. They watered it down in order to attract votes on the left, and that left an enormous void.”

In Eastern Europe, Catholic leaders have responded more favorably than in Western Europe to efforts by politicians to link Christian identity to nationalist ideas.

In Poland, where government offices are frequently decorated with 2-foot-tall crucifixes, many Catholic bishops openly sympathize with the ruling nationalist party’s restrictive policies on refugees. In October, church leaders supported a mass prayer called “Rosaries at the Border” that implicitly opposed Muslim immigration.

Few Hungarian bishops have objected as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán recasts Hungary as an explicitly Christian country, closed to non-Europeans and battling what he calls “Muslim invaders.”

Mr. Orbán uses the term “Christian democracy” in a new sense: to describe the “illiberal” governance he is ushering in—a model he has said was inspired by more autocratic nations like Russia and Turkey.

Many church leaders express support for Mr. Orbán’s priorities, including the anti-migration fence Mr. Orbán had built along Hungary’s southern border in 2015.

“I’m in total agreement with the prime minister,” Hungarian Bishop Laszlo Kiss-Rigo said at the height of Europe’s migration crisis in 2015, saying the pope “doesn’t know the situation….They’re not refugees. This is an invasion.”

Mr. Orbán, a Protestant, showers the Catholic Church and other denominations with millions of dollars in direct subsidies, and ends many speeches with the Latin expression “soli Deo Gloria” (“to God alone the glory”).

“It is not good, not healthy, and dangerous,” said Bishop Miklós Beer of Vác, one of the few Hungarian bishops to oppose Mr. Orbán’s adoption of Christian language for nationalist ends. “Separation of church and state is a very important basic principle.”

The picture is different in Western Europe. The leader of the southern German state of Bavaria recently mandated that all state buildings display a cross. Markus Söder, the Bavarian premier and a member of the Christian Social Union, said on Twitter in April that the requirement shows a “clear commitment to our Bavarian identity and Christian values.”

The move hasn’t reversed the CSU’s slide in opinion polls ahead of regional elections in October, or dented support for the far-right Alternative for Germany. But it has drawn fire from Germany’s leading Catholic prelate, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, another of Pope Francis’ top advisers, who accused the CSU of “expropriating the cross.”

“You don’t understand the cross if you only see it as a cultural symbol,” Cardinal Marx said.

In Italy, the idea of defining Christianity as a part of the national identity drew support from much of Italian society not so long ago. In 2009, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that crucifixes in Italian classrooms, where they have hung under legislation dating back to the 19th century, violated the “right of parents to educate their children according to their convictions.”

The ruling drew protests from the Vatican and from politicians across the spectrum who said the crucifix exemplified universal values such as human rights. The court reversed its decision two years later, reasoning that the Italian policy didn’t amount to a “process of indoctrination,” since a “crucifix on a wall is an essentially passive symbol.”

Mixing church and state has become more divisive in Italy as antiimmigration politicians advance and clash with Pope Francis.

Several of Italy’s high-profile church leaders have criticized Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-immigration League, for brandishing the Bible and a rosary at political events.

The bill that would mandate the display of crucifixes in Italian government buildings was introduced by lawmakers from the League in March. It would cover “all offices of public administration,” including polling places, prisons, hospitals and airports, though it isn’t specific about where in the buildings the crucifix would need to be displayed.

The League’s embrace of Christian symbols is opportunistic, said the Rev. Rocco D’Ambrosio, a professor of political philosophy at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University. “It’s a kind of attempt to defend itself, to say ‘we are Christians, we want the crucifix in all public spaces, so you can’t accuse us of not being Christians.’ ” —Anita Komuves contributed to this article.

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The Concentration Camp Choir

WSJ 8/4/2018 by Bryony Clarke

In the summer of 1944 a delegation of Nazi officials, including Adolf Eichmann, hosted representatives from the International Red Cross at Terezin concentration camp. The visit had been meticulously planned: gardens planted, barracks renovated, streets cleared. Thousands of prisoners were deported eastward to reduce overcrowding. The elaborately staged tour, held on June 23, culminated with a performance by Terezin’s inmate choir. Conductor Rafael Schächter chose to perform Giuseppe Verdi’s “Requiem.”

“When the music stopped, the Nazis sat there in silence,” recalls Zdenka Fantlova, 96, a survivor of Terezin. “Then Eichmann murmured, ‘Interesting, very interesting.’ ” Following his cue, nervous applause trickled through the hall. Ms. Fantlova adds, “The Nazis thought, why would Jews perform a Christian prayer for the dead? But Schächter had his reasons.”

Verdi’s nearly 90-minute masterpiece features a fearsome evocation of fire and fury, promises of posthumous punishment, and dire warnings of God’s wrath. While other settings of the Latin text omit the unsettling sequences and emphasize only eternal rest and serenity, Verdi accentuates the themes of judgment, justice and vengeance.

The apocalyptic hymn “Dies Irae” is repeated throughout. “Therefore when the Judge takes his seat, whatever is hidden will be revealed: Nothing shall remain unavenged.”

“Rafael said we would sing to the Nazis what we couldn’t say to them,” says Marianka May, 95, a Terezin survivor who sang in Schächter’s choir. “The Latin words remind them that there is a judge, and one day they will answer to that judge.”

Terezin was a ghetto and transit camp in German-occupied Czechoslovakia. It usually housed around 60,000 inmates, most of whom would in time be deported to extermination camps such as Treblinka and Auschwitz. Terezin became a hub for the Jewish intellectual elite—titans in politics, music and academia. A vibrant cultural scene flourished amid the desperation, with lectures, concerts and plays performed within the barracks.

In the spring of 1943, Schächter, a Czech conductor who led the camp’s choir, decided to teach his singers Verdi’s “Requiem.” Ms. May says, “At one rehearsal, Schächter made an announcement. He said, ‘I have a dream to put on some very special music by Verdi, that has never been sung in such a place as this before.’ ” It was no easy task, and the choir faced many challenges. A transport to Auschwitz in September 1943 wiped out nearly all 150 members. Schächter had to start from scratch with new singers. Music was learned by rote from

Its performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s ‘Requiem’ left Nazi officials speechless.

a single score sheet, smuggled in by Schächter. They had only a piano for accompaniment. After long days of hard labor, beset with exhaustion and malnutrition, singers had to grapple with one of Verdi’s most demanding compositions.

Murry Sidlin, a professor of conducting at the Catholic University of America, says he was in disbelief when he discovered what Schächter had done. “I have conducted the ‘Requiem’ all over the world. There are passages that are treacherously difficult. It is enough of an achievement even in optimum conditions— where the singers are experienced, well-rested and healthy. The ‘Requiem’ demands all your concentration and energy. To come to rehearsals after a cup of gruel and a day of slave labor—I don’t know how they did it.”

Ms. May’s answer: “Being in the choir gave us the wonderful ability to think about the next rehearsal, the next performance—it reminded us we come from a normal world. It was soul-saving. I survived the war and I still have a soul.”

They gave 16 performances between September 1943 and June 1944. On Oct. 17, 1944, a transport took almost the entire choir, and its conductor, to Auschwitz. Ms. Fantlova sat opposite Schächter on the way to the camp. “There were about 130 of us locked in the same truck,” she says. “The doors were bolted, there was no air. The journey took three days, and no one knew where we were going.”

She recalls Schächter pulling a tin of sardines from his sock and asking her to mix it up. “This will be my last supper,” he told her. “I thought he was being a bit of a pessimist,” says Ms. Fantlova. “After all, we didn’t know what was going to happen—it might not be so bad.”

Schächter perished on a death march in the spring of 1945—only one month before the liberation of Czechoslovakia. Of the more than 150,000 Jews sent to Terezin, only about 17,000 survived the war.

For the choir of Terezin, singing the “Requiem” was an act of moral resistance. The condemned sang in defiance of their captors and the fate that awaited them. “We rehearsed without sufficient food, clothing or sleep,” says Ms. May. “But those in the choir had a reason to stay alive.”

Ms. Clarke is a copy editor at the Guardian.

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Jane Austen and Sexual Harassment

As a late Jane Austen fan… this is very good.
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WSJ 1/2/2018

If you’re struggling to make sense of the sexual-harassment issues swirling around us, you could do worse than read Jane Austen. I was struck by this recently while teaching what she called her “rather too light and bright and sparkling” novel, “Pride and Prejudice.”

Consider the portion of the novel in which Elizabeth Bennet is proposed to by the egregiously foolish and self-important Mr. Collins. A refresher: Elizabeth is one of five sisters living on a small estate, which, in accordance with English law of the period, was “entailed” through the male line. This means when her father dies, his property will pass to his closest male relative, leaving Elizabeth, her sisters and their mother (should Mrs. Bennet survive her husband) homeless.

Mr. Collins is the distant cousin to whom the Bennet estate is entailed, and he assumes that Elizabeth will accept his proposal based on her vulnerable position. He further assumes that she will be grateful for his “condescension.” When she says no, he explains to her why: “I shall choose to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females.’’

The scene caricatures a familiar dynamic in recent news: A powerful man believes that a vulnerable woman will succumb to him. He equates his power with attractiveness and confuses her resistance with playful seductiveness.

The heroine’s response is an example of clarity and decisiveness: “I am very sensible of the honor of your proposals,” pronounces Elizabeth, “but it is impossible for me to do otherwise than decline them.’’ Her refusal might serve as a guide to women on how to answer an unwanted proposition: politely but firmly. In some cases, harassment can be stopped by a forceful “no” or a decisive pushing away of a hand.

But it is also true that some men do not take the hint—or are even incited by the resistance, as Mr. Collins initially appears to be. Again, the novel is a helpful guide to next steps. When Mr. Collins suspects, based on something Mrs. Bennet says, that Elizabeth is “a very headstrong foolish girl,” he immediately pulls back. It is one thing to have one’s way with a pliant woman, something else to contend with a difficult one. Figuring out how

In ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ Elizabeth Bennet has to refuse the advances of a powerful man.

to relay to someone in power that you have the capacity to make his life miserable may be an effective way to stop him in his tracks.

To be sure, Elizabeth Bennet’s triumph happens within a work of fiction. If we compare Elizabeth with her creator, we see a salient difference. Jane Austen and her sister, Cassandra, had brothers with whom they could live after their father died; Elizabeth had only sisters. As my students noted, in real life she might have been obliged to accept Mr. Collins or end up as a governess where the abuse might have been worse. In marrying, she would at least have her own establishment. That is the rationale of her friend Charlotte Lucas, who accepts Mr. Collins’ subsequent proposal.

We must therefore note that Elizabeth Bennet’s success is a function of her creator’s will to shape her destiny in a positive manner. Austen provides her with Mr. Darcy, a supremely worthy partner, who alleviates the possibility that she will be left with nothing.

Moving back and forth between fiction and real life, one realizes that Jane Austen is showing us the ideal scenario while urging us to imagine the reality likely to alter it. If one had sisters and no brothers, living in a home entailed to a distant male relation like Mr. Collins, what would be the responsible route to take? Would Elizabeth be right under such circumstances to refuse a distasteful proposal, when not only her future but that of her sisters might be at issue? Mrs. Bennet’s fixation on marrying her daughters, generally ridiculed by readers, makes sense in the grim context.

Some final lessons derive from this: One can sometimes know what is the right thing to do but not be able to do it. Thus we ought not to judge others harshly when circumstances curtail their ability to act freely. That said, even Jane Austen, writing more than 200 years ago, knew what the right behavior looked like in the face of a harasser. Elizabeth was decisive and clear in rejecting Mr. Collins. Austen represented this in her fictional world; in 2018, we should hope to be able to imitate it in our real one.

Ms. Cohen is a professor of Eng-lish at Drexel University, where she is dean of the Pennoni Honors College.

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