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Horton Wins a Prize

From the Scrapbook.

Jun 6, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 36 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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In the Old Harvard, .  .  . reticence was assured arrogance trying not to be condescending; now, it’s truly embarrassed and apologetic, humility fighting with pride. The pride comes from consciousness of merit. It’s a reasonable pride. Respect for merit gives confidence that the inequalities resident in our democracy are the source of progress, rather than reaction and superstition. Call it meritocracy if you will, but it is better than

any lack-of-meritocracy. This was the confidence of the Old Harvard, really not so old; it was the former, liberal Harvard that reigned before the late sixties. It reflected an acute case of the contradiction in our democracy: between the demand for ever more equality and the progress that results from the desire to make oneself better than others by competing with them.

Confidence in progress has now been replaced by postulation of change. Progress is achieved and can be welcomed, but change just happens and must be adjusted to. “Adjusting to change” is now the unofficial motto of Harvard, mutabilitas instead of veritas. To adjust, the new Harvard must avoid adherence to any principle that does not change, even liberal principle. Yet in fact it has three principles: diversity, choice, and equality. To respect change, diversity must serve to overcome stereotypes, though stereotypes are necessary to diversity. How else is a Midwesterner diverse if he is not a hayseed? And diversity of opinion cannot be tolerated when it might hinder change. .  .  .

When there is no basis for what we agree to, it becomes mandatory that we agree. The very fragility of change as a principle makes us hold on to it with insistence and tenacity. Having nothing to conform to, we conform to conformism—hence political correctness. Political correctness makes a moral principle of opposing, and excluding, those of us who believe in principles that don’t change.

This would have gotten us depressed about Harvard, if we hadn’t already had low expectations. But then we came across last week’s commencement issue of the university-produced Harvard Gazette. It cheered us up! The Gazette featured a long article, “Harvard in the military,” proudly detailing the military service and achievements of several of the ROTC Harvard grads of 2009 and 2010 (who had chosen to do ROTC at MIT, with no help and little recognition from their own university), and hailing the agreement earlier this year to reestablish an ROTC formal presence on campus for the first time in nearly 40 years.

Could an appreciation of some of the principles that don’t change be set for a comeback at Harvard?

Sentences We Didn’t Finish: Special Oprah Edition

"I’ve got to say, I bow before cultural icons like Oprah, who take things that can be as minor and goofy as an hour worth of TV and turn it into something that is actually something everybody can be talking about. You know what’s going to be missing now from the vernacular? ‘Did you see Oprah yesterday? Did you see that girl .  .  .’ ” (Tom Hanks).

“When I think about the Oprah legacy it’s humbling. She’s changed the lives of millions of people. She brought important issues to the dinner table that never would have been there otherwise. She leaves behind a body of work .  .  .” (Ellen DeGeneres).

“Oprah has set the bar so high that no one touches her. She redefined the genre. .  .  . The thing I respect most about her is her absolute authenticity. She is genuinely curious about everyone she meets, expresses a genuine gratitude to all who cross her path and has a zest for life that is second to none. She is a seeker of the truth .  .  .” (Hugh Jackman). 

“[Oprah has] made a difference in really fun things and she’s made a difference in really serious things and she’s told us stories that .  .  .” (Stevie Nicks). (Associated Press, May 24)

The Low-Profile Candidate

You’ve likely never heard of Dan Adler, an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Congress. Neither had many of the voters in California’s 36th district, apparently. Adler, a former Hollywood agent and Disney executive, ran a quixotic campaign in a recent special election to replace Jane Harman in the House of Representatives. Actor Sean Astin (of Rudy and Lord of the Rings fame) was his campaign manager.

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