Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Becoming Truly Literate

Dutch fashion house Byborre creates a basic wardrobe based around the principles of the Dominican habit.
Byborre plans to make the patterns for each garment open-source, so that each piece can be produced with local materials – also making them suitable for the climate they're worn in. 
...Byborre plans to make the patterns for each garment open-source, so that each piece can be produced with local materials – also making them suitable for the climate they're worn in.
This is an interesting project, and the clothes have the simple elegance of well-constructed streetwear. And that is what they are: streetwear. This is not an actual redesign of the Dominican habit, nor does the order have anything to do with the project. (In this sense, it's reminiscent of an article we linked to some time ago, about a designer who created a fashion collection based on her habit design for an order of Anglican nuns. The designs are not the actual habit.)

It's dangerous to fully gauge the mind of the reading public by the comments on an article, and yet it was rather startling to see how many people were up in arms because they thought that Byborre was actually redesigning the Dominican habit for the order.

In The Mind of the Maker, Dorothy Sayers bemoaned this inability of many people to actually interpret what they read:
The education that we have so far succeeded in giving to the bulk of our citizens has produced a generation of mental slatterns. They are literate in the merely formal sense -- that is, they are capable of putting the symbols C, A, T together to produce the word CAT. But they are not literate in the sense of deriving from those letters any clear mental concept of the animal. Literacy in the formal sense is dangerous, since it lays the mind open to receive any mischievous nonsense about cats that an irresponsible writer may choose to print -- nonsense which could never have entered the heads of plain illiterates who were familiar with an actual cat, even if unable to spell its name. And particularly in the matter of Christian doctrine, a great part of the nation subsists in an ignorance more barbarous that that of the dark ages, owing to this slatternly habit of illiterate reading. Words are understood in a wholly mistaken sense, statements of fact and opinion are misread and distorted in repetition, arguments founded in misapprehension are accepted without examination, expressions of individual preference are construed as occumenical doctrine, disciplinary regulations founded on consent are confused with claims to interpret universal law, and vice versa; with the result that the logical and historical structure of Christina philosophy is transformed in the popular mind to a confused jumble of mythological and pathological absurdity.
I sit beside my eight-year-old son as he reads aloud, in part to listen for and correct technical errors like skipping letters in words or guessing at a word based on the beginning, but also to discuss with him the meaning of what he reads. My job would be poorly done if I ensured that he could interpret phonemes without giving him the mental resources and training necessary to interpret the sense of the words put together. (Indeed, sometimes I find that he can accurately recount to me the story he's working on even though he gets some of the individual words wrong -- something akin, I guess, to those mind games in which 5-10% of the letters in a paragraph are scrambled, but you can still make sense of it.) Without being able to understand and engage with ideas, to confront them and refute them if necessary, an education in literacy prepares children for little more than a lifetime of reading Dan Brown novels and outrage "news" sites.

This kind of education is necessary, critical even, to prepare children to become adults, and to prepare adults to fulfill their duty of participating in the political life of the country. Without being able to interpret what is read, a person can not engage in the basic discussion necessary to maintaining the polis. This election cycle and administration have moved us several giant leaps for mankind away from any standard of reasoned discourse, but it isn't unique in enthroning rhetoric. Even Socrates, back in times BC, was calling out rhetoric as a form of flattery, a fine content-free smorgasbord of words mimicking reason and virtue in politics just as "health food" and fad diets and artificial sweeteners mimic actual healthful practices in eating.

  Brandon Watson puts it elegantly
The first and most basic and most essential form of politics is reasoned discourse. This follows directly from the fact that human beings are rational and therefore social creatures; it is the actual structure of functional civilization; and it is a requirement for any just society. If you have any political view -- and I mean any political view, however clever the sophistry and rhetoric with which you fancy it up -- that does not treat reasoned discourse as the heart of civilization, then your view is a politics of coercion and violence, based on a principle that might makes right. At this level there is no third option: either politics is, in its foundations, by reason or it is by force.
...It is by interacting rationally that we receive common good as a legacy; it is by interacting rationally that we form common good as moral progress; it is by interacting rationally that we protect and preserve common good against political corruption. If you have any political view, if you perform any political act, that does not recognize rational communication as the fundamental kind of politics, you are not on the side of justice, no matter how loudly you insist that you are. Indeed, you are not on the side of justice even if you are advocating a thing that happens to be just; you are simply a snake in the grass. In anything and everything, the just will give shared reason its due. Anything else is sophistry -- literally, in fact.


BenK said...

Brandon Watson puts politics at the heart of civilization. That ironic logical leap occurs in the first paragraph. This slight of hand then puts reasoned discourse on an assumed pedestal.

It suggests that the remainder of his statement requires cautious reexamination.

mrsdarwin said...

I'm not sure I follow you. Isn't politics the art of dealing with the polis, the people and the groups they form? Brandon speaks of the necessity of having a political view that puts reasoned discourse at the heart of civilization. If we cannot have reasoned discourse at the heart of our attempts to organize people into the best way to live -- if we can't even agree on ideas or discourse in the same language, if we can't even agree on what is good -- what else is the right way to maintain civilization?

Brandon said...

This slight of hand then puts reasoned discourse on an assumed pedestal.

'Politics' is literally just the Greek-derived word for 'what structurally organizes people into civilization', so if you are going to make this argument, you will need to be more precise about what you mean. Also, the actual flow of thought is the opposite direction of what you are claiming; that reasoned discourse is the structure of functional civilization is one of the three distinct reasons given for the most basic form of politics being reasoned discourse, not vice versa.

Like MrsD, I'm not sure what you have in mind in suggesting that we can have civilization without structuring it through rational discourse. Reasoned discourse is not being put 'on a pedestal' here; it's as if you claimed that saying breathing was necessary for life was putting breathing on a pedestal. It doesn't matter whether it is on a pedestal or not; it's a requirement for a just and coherent society and treating it as such is the only way to avoid having a political view that makes society a matter of force and violence.

mandamum said...

Actually, to be fair to the mis-readers, I think their confusion is reasonable. The designer is collaborating with the Dominicans, "to create an updated unisex version of the friar's habit." And after noting, "'When the Dominicans walked the streets, they wanted to be normal not drawing attention to themselves,'... 'Ironically, this is how they get noticed nowadays.'" he says, " 'We wanted to go back to the essence of the piece of clothing: showing that you are one with the people around you.' "

If you hadn't told me otherwise, I would have read it to be an updated habit FOR (at least some) Dominicans, rather than a collection only INSPIREd by the habit. And having read it forwarned, I still don't see it in the text.

BUT I run into this all the time on the web (and in my home).

Joseph Moore said...

Three thing: You really think Trump is making public discourse worse? Than it already was? He's loathsome, sure - but worse than what we've seen for the last 8 (or 16, or 24) years? I don't think so. If anything, he's only making apparent how bad it had already gotten in that the hair-trigger hysteria of his opponents reveals how little thought was going on.

2nd, Brandon's comment (with which I heartily agree) reminded of a comment attributed to St. Louis of France by Chesterton: there are only two ways to deal with barbarians - reason with them, or run them through with the sword. If you can't talk things over in a reasonable way, all that's left is violence. Unfortunately, having a saint to wield that violence is rare.

3rd, just wrote a note about Paulo Freire's "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" and how it is assigned reading in education schools around the country - assigned to young people who have been ill-prepared to deal with attractive claptrap. That's the difference between the goals of a classical education - to prepare a student to think for himself, and mere training, which is what sheep get.

Agnes said...

I'm afraid I have to agree with mandamum - the text does suggest that the garments are for Dominicans. They say they wanted to make garments that would change the fact that the Domincans now stand out in their habit, contrary to the original intention. The clothes "create their unique Dominican form language", the garments are described as "an updated unisex version of the friar's habit". The don't say it explicitly, and even mention "followers" but followers who wear the habit are actually friars and nuns, not sympathizers. Whether the garments become an updated version for habit depends on the Dominicans, of course, and whether they intend to decide so is not mentioned, but the possibility is implied.