Monday, October 22, 2018

The Crisis of the Humanities (III): Am I a Better Person?

Are the humanities in crisis? And, if so, what can -- or, should -- be done about it? I have to admit that I don't really know the answer to either question. Instead, I've been trying to address some of the internal self-criticism generated by the humanities themselves. In particular, I tried to argue that supposed defenders of the humanities who assert limited "my way or the highway" definitions of the humanities as the practice of pure contemplation and who poo-poo the digital humanities and other skill-based pro-humanities arguments are off track. They are, in fact, making claims based on their own limited and, often, unsupported views about what they happen to think is best, rather than what is actually going on in the humanities. Their view, I have implied, has some measure of irresponsibility to it because: (a) they ignore legitimate merits of a humanities based education, (b) to argue that they should be paid to contemplate with the taxpayers who fund their contemplating having no say at all. Worse, yet, (c) these supposed defenders of the humanities are contributing to the very crisis of the humanities that they decry. They are, to be sure, not the only factor involved but the tendency of the humanities to attack itself does not help its cause.

In this blog I want to begin to address another line of argument raised by Stanley Fish: there is nothing inherent to a humanities based education that makes one a better person. This is part of Fish's general rejection of arguments put forward in support of humanities education. Fish argues that any self improvement that occurs in the humanities not the result of design but incidental to the general process of education itself. Hence, he contends, any arguments that the humanities might make for support based on the idea that they help people develop as people (what we might call self-actualize) is misplaced and non-operative from the get go. Let's begin this discussion by thinking about the overall merits of education and what we might mean by being a "better" person. In the next blog, I'll try to continue this discussion and move to a social level.

I think Fish is wrong but he raises a good point. There are merits to education, regardless of what form and focus that education takes. Here, I am using the word "education" to refer to a series of processes that involve both the accumulation of knowledge, information literacy skills, critical analytic skills, self reflection, and the like. In other words, I am differentiating education from propaganda. I've blogged on this before and so will not repeat arguments I have already made. Just assume the difference.

What the studies we have show us is that education --formal, informal -- at higher levels has a range of benefits: it seems to improve voter turnout, civic activism and volunteering, for instance. Higher education also seems to lower crime rates and improve life-long earning potential. And, it does seem to make people happier. Now this is not perfect. You will notice the word "seem" in this discussion. The interpretation of the data requires more nuance than I can (and will) devote to it hear and, to be sure, there are problems. For instance, gender is an important factor contributing to earning potential as well. But, the point is this: the data that we have points in one direction: more education is better than less education.

This makes sense. If given the choice, would you rather be more educated or less educated? If you were making decisions for someone's life, would you help them get more education or less education? When we think about different countries and societies and places to live around the world, which do we think are better: those with higher levels of education or lower levels of education? In fact, levels of higher educational attainment are now often used as one of the features that differentiate cities. When we study universities to assess whether or not they are doing their job, one of the metrics we use is completion rates: what percent of students are actually getting the education for which they paid. Thus, while I know this issue is complicated, the general point is nonetheless true. Education has its merits and we can empirically demonstrate this.

What of the humanities? Can we demonstrate their merits? Sort of.  The answers are less clear when we start to break down different types of education because the studies don't usually do this. They usually look at educational attainment, rather than History or Philosophy graduates verses, say, Commerce or Psychology or Physics grads. Such data is available in different ways but the general studies -- say, of crime rates and educational attainment -- don't query whether or not a History grad is more likely to become a criminal than a Biology grad but whether or not a grad is more more likely to become a criminal than a non-grad. See what I mean?

But, this does not mean that we have no evidence and we cannot make some arguments. First, there is nothing in the evidence that shows that humanities graduates are dramatically worse off than other grads. There is, as far as I can tell, some earning differences but these don't strike me as too significant (and really merit a discussion of their own). And, there are interesting trends in the anecdotal evidence. It shows that a broad range of employers like humanities graduates and, in fact, find them preferable to grads in other disciplines. This does not make you a better person but it does suggest that there are merits to the humanities. I'm not at all certain that I would agree with Fish -- that these merits are incidental. Instead, I would put it differently: education is beneficial and the humanities provide education.

What about being a better person? This is an even more difficult issue to address because it forces us to venture into a subjective ground: what makes someone better? My intention is not to enter into this discussion but to suggest that we should accept some level of subjective perspective and to argue that self-actualization is one ground on which we might rest claims to "better." Why? Because self-actualization (becoming better at being yourself and meeting your own objectives) does not require me to impose my thinking about what is better on someone else. Said differently, better does not equal, for example, thinking like me or knowing more of what I know or reading the books I read or looking at movies the way I look at movies. Instead, it takes advantage of subjective perspectives to ask "does the humanities help people be better?" and leaves the definition of better up to them.

Why would anyone be concerned about being better? Or, at least someone might ask this. Is not the whole idea elitist? Who are you, Andrew Nurse, someone might ask, to tell me (say, a person reading this blog) that I need to be a better version of myself?

That is a good question. I am sure that there are bunch of people out there who are really just plain old happy with themselves. Good. I am not arguing that you should be unhappy with yourself. Indeed, I would likely resent it if someone came by -- particularly someone I did not know -- and told me that I should do something to improve myself.

And ... yet ... does not the idea of self-improvement haunt our society? Go into any Chapters outlet and you'll find an entire section of self-help books: habits of successful people, how to win friends and influence people, how to lose weight, the secret of happiness, but it does not end there. One can find books of remaking one's space, on succeeding in athletics or business or the best places to travel and nifty things to see. One of the odd things about supposedly elitist suggestions with regard to self improvement is that the suggestions for self improvement (being a better self) rarely come from people like me: academics. Academics talk about all kinds of things all the time. How to fix the democratic deficit (better public policy), policies that will address unemployment (better economy), ways to make molecules do nifty things (better, say, medicine), or how to use a telescope to see a star (better research). But, most of the suggestions for being better come not from academics but from mass media. Daytime TV is populated with shows that focus on this but so is speciality programming (one show I watched the other day showed car wreck of a bar transformed -- in a way that helped a community heal after a hurricane -- into a new and snazzy bar that remade self confidence and community).

Said differently, I am not actually claiming to tell anyone how they can be better. I'll ask some more pointed questions in my next blog, but those people suggesting that we can be better and they know the secret of how to do it are legion. They are just not, by and large, in the academy.

What is more important, however, is that no one seems to object to what these people are doing. Whereas some folks will get hot under the collar of an academic says something about self improvement, no one seems to mind at all that there are quite literally hundreds of books out there on the subject, motivational speakers that charge an arm and a leg to come to your company or school to talk about how we can all be better, tv shows that focus endlessly on the theme.

Why? Well, the issue is not better nor who says it. I'm not particularly interested in the disjuncture between something being bad *if I do it* and good if some guy on TV does it. I am interested in what all this tells us about culture and the thing it tells us is that people are interested in better. They may not be interested in what I have to say, and they don't have to be, but they are interested in finding ways to self-actualize: to meet their own objectives, to live a better and, I dare say, richer life. Our society watches these TV shows, buys these books, goes to the talk and pays a premium for the seminar to find out the secrets of life and the way to lead a better, more full-filling and deeper, more meaningful life.

It is not me, I hasten to add, saying that this is a good thing. It is ordinary people (ordinary Canadians) out there watching these shows, going to the talks, buying the books. For a variety reasons about which I am not going to write, there is a desire for something more. Once we establish that fact, then I think we can start to have a discussion of the role the humanities might play in it. That, at least, is the subject of my next blog.

Monday, September 17, 2018

And ... you already forgot about it: Canada and Saudi Arabia

In the world of international diplomacy and foreign policy, there are certain unwritten rules. One of them is that mild criticism is to be expected and is to be either ignored or politely refuted if it is meaningless in practical terms, as was Canada's criticism of Saudi Arabia. For those who missed it, and I can actually see why you would, a number of weeks ago the Government of Canada issued a tweet critical of Saudi Arabia's human rights record. It was the mildest form of international criticism that one could have -- sort of like a cap and trade is the mildest form of environment protection policy one can have other than not protecting the environment or encouraging pollution, but that is another story to which I will circle around again. It is not intended as a point of international dispute, nor to disrupt relations, nor even to elicit a response. It may, as I suggested in my previous post, even be intended for domestic consumption. To be clear: Canada was going to do nothing with regard to Saudi Arabia. What upset the Saudis -- what triggered their effort to construct a one-country hard power-based boycott of Canada -- was a tweet suggesting that human rights were good.

What I want to do in this blog is further explore the fallout from this tweet in order to think about what it tells us about contemporary public life. I'll conclude by thinking a bit about how Canada should respond to this. But, and this is the key point I want to emphasize, it is fair enough to ask: what bad happened? Despite some prognostications of really bad stuff happening ... well, nothing did. The Canadian economy did not collapse; Canada's relations with the rest of the world were not harmed; the supposed mass withdraw of Saudi medical students and residents that would cripple the health care system did not come to pass and the journalists who reported these things as if they were true have now moved on to other matters.

This is important and ties into a series of other developments related to Canadian public life. The first and most obvious is the power of social media. But, to be clear, I think this is, in fact, the least important element of this story. Social media allows this story to happen in "real time" ... well, sort of .... but what happened here sped up developments that were occurring anyway. To be clear again, I think social media does have an effect on public life. I recommend Angela Nagle's book _Kill All Normies_ for a good study. But, in this case, the issue was not social media per se, but a government that was not interested in "taking" what it saw as criticism and which it construed as "meddling" in its internal affairs.  Social media makes statements -- like the one made by the Government of Canada --easy and, potentially, gratuitous, and that is a problem. But if we were to prioritize issues, the issue here is an unwillingness to accept criticism.

What is important in this regard -- and what is telling -- is the shockingly limited and mild character of the criticism. The Canadian government, in fact, issued the mildest possible tweet that carried with it no practical consequences.  That is a problem for the supporters of human rights, but it is not a problem for the Saudi government. I'd guess that the Canadian government was shocked by the Saudi response. This is a sign of how much times have changed. In the past, one might have expected the Saudi's to ignore the criticism or to register some sort of diplomatic response.

What this shows us, I previously argued, is the degree to which Saudi Arabia lacks serious soft power mechanisms of foreign policy and so must "go for the jugular," as it were, of hard power right away. But, what it also illustrates is the degree to which governments are unwilling to bridge any criticism and reject even the mildest form of progressive politics.  The Trump detainment of children in the US is an example. The that the proper response to gun violence is more guns is another. In Canada, the Ford government's rejection of cap and trade (the mildest most capitalistic form of environmental protection) is another example.

What this illustrates is not simply limited capacity to take other actions but an unwillingness to meet even the mildest of progressive concerns about human rights, families, safety in schools, or the environment.

I know my language is loaded, but in the US polls demonstrate among Republicans a marked decline in empathy. In other words, people are having a harder time putting themselves in others shoes and thinking through public life from that perspective. In the past, even opponents of environmental protection would have recognized that something needed to be done. They would have low-balled it. What is going on now is something different. In effect, the government of Saudi Arabia is saying not only do we reject the idea of gender of equality but we will do everything we can to shut down anyone who  thinks they can promote it. What Ford is saying with the end of cap and trade is not simply "I'm skeptical about global warming" but "I feel that the off chance that cap and trade might end up costing the average Ontarian a few bucks is too much."  What is Ford's plan to deal with environmental change? Well ... he has none because he has just ditched the mildest possible form of environmental protection.

What has gone on here, then, is another sign of the changes in politics and changes in public life. In the US, the opponents of immigration and no longer willing to say "yes, children should be protected" but now see children as an enemy. In Canada, the opponents of environmental protection see even the simplest and least intrusive mechanisms of trying to protect the earth as too costly. The opponents of gender equality in Saudi Arabia, see even soft, mild, and meaningless criticism as a step worthy of as much vindictive as one could possibly mount.

What should we do about this? Well, it changes politics and there is a broader issue that needs to be addressed in that regard. I have no intention of crapping on progressive politics. Instead, I will argue that I think progressive politics needs to re-evaluate its approach to public life. How that is done is another story.

Right now, I don't think Canada should back down before Saudi Arabia or Doug Ford. There are good signs still out there. Ford's campaign against the carbon tax went nowhere (although I am worried about the time it is taking the Liberals to get the ball rolling on this). He will lose whatever constitutional challenge he thinks he can mount (although I suspect that he knows that and whatever challenges are coming are intended to delay implementation as long as possible, hoping for more provincial political winds to change). But, backing down is not the solution. He has had to resort to extreme means to reduce the size of Toronto City Council.

Let's look at Saudi Arabia. The issue is not Canada versus Saudi Arabia. In fact, if we accept that logic and buy into that discourse, we are buying into the discourse that Saudi Arabia wants us to buy into.  Many Saudis support expanding human rights. Their government is among the least democratic on the face of the earth (which is why many people argued against military truck and trade with them). Frankly, I could care less what an undemocratic militarized government thinks of my government. It makes no difference to me and to anyone who thinks seriously about this issue. But, I think, as well, that we can and should refuse the discourse they want us to accept because it makes it look like everything in Saudi Arabia is just peachy but for those nasty meddling Canadians and if you think that is the case ... well ... I happen to own a bridge to PEI that I'll sell you cheap.

Instead what is at issue is two things:

1. Is Canada good to its word? If the Canadian government -- any government -- backs down before hard power threats (in effect, what the Saudi government is saying is "we will do all we can to hurt you") ... they will be backing down on ... well ... just about everything else. And, the things that Canada supposedly stands for will be lost.  Don't read what I am not writing. I am not arguing that Canada is perfect, that Canada's human rights record is good, that there is not a great deal that Canada needs to do.  What I am asking is this: what is the price of our morals? Or, personalize it, what is the price or your morals, values, and ethics?

The truth of the matter is that there is little Saudi Arabia can do to hurt Canada. It can sell off some government bonds but someone else will buy them. It can cut flights but ... so what? That won't stop transit. It can send the ambassador home but that is purely political theatre without any meaningful effect. And it can recall some students but those are Saudi students anyway. Messing up the education and careers of Saudi students is kind of silly and sort of like shooting one's self in the foot but, hey, if they want to do it ... go ahead.

The issue is nationally, what is our morality worth to us? If we back down, when there is nothing significant on the line, we say ... gee, even the smallest price is something that we are not willing to pay. We become, in other words, the progressive version of Doug Ford.  I'd like to believe that, as a people, we stand for something more than a few extra pennies in our pocket at the end of the fiscal year.

2. The second issue is whether or not we accept the shifting parameters of political discourse. Mild and meaningless criticism is not meddling in another country's internal affairs. If it were, Donald Trump -- whose criticism of Canada is far from mild and might not be meaningless -- would be the world's biggest meddler. Speaking only for myself, I am concerned about a political environment where even the mildest form of progressive politics -- politics intended to improve people's lives, to get them out of jail, say -- is viewed as a bridge too far.

Canada may not be able to go to traditional allies and partners in this new world of more extreme discourse and response but, in my view, that should not stop Canada from trying to be a positive force in the world. That is hypocritical. I know. Canada has much too look after and one's morality is not license to mess around in other countries.  Explaining how the two can be melded is another blog that I'll write sometime. But, I suspect that Canada will find that there are partners with which we can work to promote positive change.  It might not be the US or Saudi Arabia, but it might include some nifty countries and might provide a change to create some non-traditional relations. Working with those partners is Canada's next step in foreign policy.

Finally, the point I made at the start of this blog, one needs to avoid over-reacting. If some of the critics of the current government were to be believed, Canada should have retreated right then and there and/or never offered even the mildest of support for human rights. Yet, a few weeks later, the storm has blow over, other issues have become more pressing, and disaster has not occurred. I have no doubt opposition politicians will, later, try to "make hay" on this event: the government screwed up relations with .... But, if nothing significant has happened, how actually could that case be made? In this day and age of social media, evidence does not seem to really need to be in supply. All one seems to need to do make a vague assertion that can strike a memory.  It is up to those of us who support human rights to correct this vague assertion and memory.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Saudi Foreign Policy and Canada

It is easy to speculate about others actions when you don't know much about a country. This is the Canadian dilemma with regard to Saudi Arabia. While I suspect most Canadians could find the country on a map and are aware that it is a major oil producer with a state religion ... that is likely about it. For one reason or another, Saudi Arabia has made Canada the brunt of its vindictive and it is pulling out all the stops ... or, at least all the stops it can. It is sending the Canadian ambassador home, selling off Canadian state investment it owns (and perhaps private investments as well), stopping flights back and forth to Canada, and recalling a whole bunch of its students (perhaps up to 16 000) studying at Canadian universities.

By Canadian standards this is big stuff. Canadian knowledge of foreign policy often begins and ends with whatever has been on the news of late and the United States. And, these are often the same thing. Canadians are aware of things going on in other parts of the world, to be sure, and they often have deep -- and conflicting -- views on those subjects (say, Israel and Palestine, nuclear disarmament and North Korea, Russian intervention in other parts of the world, etc.) But ... Saudi Arabia ... in a spat with Canada and ... over a tweet .... seriously ... a tweet ...  that was, well, more or less the mildest form of criticism that the Canadian government could possibly have offered. You can find an assessment here.

What is going on -- that is, what should we learn from this -- and what should Canada do about it? This is a two part question, but a potentially important one for the development of Canadian foreign policy. So far, the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau has stuck to its guns but what is also clear is that this government does not know a great deal about foreign policy and is having a very difficult time navigating international waters. In large measure, I want to argue, this is because the world is different and IR theories that developed and were designed for past times -- even the recent past -- won't work. Canada needs, in other words, a foreign policy -- even a foreign policy of criticism -- that is conscious of its historical moment. So far, at least from what I can tell, neither the current government nor its critics have really demonstrated that. Instead, they are recycling the debates of the Harper era and that will not get Canada where it wants to go.

What is going on is several things. First, there are things specific to Saudi Arabia. It has established a particularly aggressive foreign policy of late: supporting rebels in Syria, attempting to internationally isolate Qatar, and conducting a destructive civil war in Yemen. It is embroiled in a three way fight for influence in its region of the world (with Iran and Turkey) and beyond. At home, it has cracked down on peaceful dissent, which includes (among others) women's rights activists. What are the wider implications of this?

Several inter-related factors are important to consider: the world of the Middle East, in which Saudi Arabia was a repressive but internationally peaceful and predictable client state of the US has now passed. Saudi Arabia will not step on US toes, because of US power, but otherwise it will follow what it perceives to be in its own interests and it will use hard power mechanisms to accomplish its aims. This has occurred, again, for a couple of reasons:

(A) Saudi Arabia lacks soft power options. It shouldn't. Its oil-based bankroll should allow it to develop a fuller range of foreign policy options, including effective diplomacy. For whatever reason, the Saudi government has chosen not to take that course but to instead focus on hard power options. Or, in the case of Canada, as hard a power as they can muster. The neglect of soft power foreign policy options, in other words, has left Saudi Arabia with few alternatives to a bellicose -- and potentially irrational --  foreign policy that seems intended to force other states into its line.

Canada is a good example. While the Canadian government would likely continue mild criticism of Saudi Arabia (as it does with a range of other states), that criticism is meaningless and, in the case of the current government, more or less intended for domestic consumption. In other words, these kind of tweets appeal to soft-centre-left Canadians who support human rights, were horrified by their almost complete irrelevance to the Harper government, and want to see their government saying the "right things." In point of fact, this is the kind of international human rights engagement against which supporters of human rights in Canada have been quick to argue. Talk that really does little.

And, make no bones about it, Canada was not actually going to do anything serious about the Saudi human rights record. It didn't want to because the current government does not really know what it is is doing on the world stage and the Conservative opposition is more interested in potential military sales than anything else.

What this means, of course, is that the Saudi effort to create a one-state embargo of Canada was meaningless. In fact, I'd guess that a lot more Canadians are aware of Saudi Arabia's human rights record today than they were a week ago. I'd guess a lot more people are scratching their head about the Saudi government and wondering about the political rationality of its policies now than a week ago. Not only has Saudi Arabia drawn more international attention to its own bad record, but it can't cause Canada to back down.

Why? Because whether we like it or not, the discourse of human rights is a selling issue with Liberals and long has been. Trudeau's father was, of course, a huge supporter of rights (think Charter) but so are people like Foreign Affairs Minister Freeland and so are the people who vote Liberal or whom the Liberals want to vote Liberal. The Liberals have no monopoly on human rights, of, but the issue seems to resonate with significant sections of the Canadian population and those are the sections where the Liberals are looking for votes. Put in different terms, if Canada misjudged Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia has misjudged Canada.

In terms of realpolitik, Saudi Arabia is playing a losing game here too and this is a key point. Saudi economic interchange with Canada is simply not great enough to have any effect. Imagine, for instance, that the highest estimate of Saudi students in Canada is true and 16 000 university students disappear. This is a tiny number. According to Universities Canada there are 1.7 million students in Canadian universities. The CBC this morning made much of the 700 or 800 Saudi medical students in Canada, but ... are we  to believe that there are no students, say in Canada, who might like those spots in medical school?  Sending an ambassador home is a big diplomatic move (that is why most countries never do it) but it is largely meaningless in terms of policy. Cancelling flights inconveniences people who fly but it does not stop transit between Canada and Saudi Arabia. It just inconveniences ordinary people looking to make the flight, perhaps university students who now have to look for a new school that will accept their credits less than a month before school starts (less than a few weeks before the US fall semester begins).

(B) This is not, however, just an instance of Saudi Arabia looking to exert its authority on the world stage. It illustrates a transition in world power away from the US/USSR binary of the Cold War era or the single super-power of the post-Cold War age and toward a more multi-centered international power system in which different countries compete internationally with each other and with "the west" for international influence and authority. In this regard, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran, among others, are all engaged in the same international politics. The issue, in other words, is only Canada a little bit. It is really about other things and this is what the current Canadian government might have misjudged.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think Canada should be silent in the face of international human rights abuses and I don't think that Canadians should back down in front of aggressive hard power politics ... when they are in the right. I'll get to this in my next post.

What we are seeing, however, is what a multi-polar world looks like. The increased US evacuation of international politics under Trump is facilitating this development. While the previous US government, for instance, would almost certainly have "sided with Canada" (at least in terms of public statements), the current one has not and likely will not. Their approach is this: "this is none of our business and we wish both sides well. We hope they solve their problems." Likewise the EU -- preoccupied with its own issues -- took basically the same stance.

What does this mean? Well, it means that Canadians should not look to the US or the EU for support for our actions on the international stage. I watched CBC this AM and there was mild surprise that others -- our traditional allies -- have not sided up with us. But, the fact that our media at least were looking for this illustrates how much they have misjudged the world.

Not only is easy and ready support for an "international consensus" on human rights at hand, but it is not clear that there is an international consensus on human rights.

Again, don't get me wrong. I think the ordinary person -- the ordinary Canadian, American, Briton, German, South African, etc. -- is completely in favour of human rights. But, exactly how much political capital their governments are prepared to spend on it is not clear. We know from polling in the US that there is a decline in empathy, particularly among Republican supporters. Put in other words, things that we all could have previously assumed ... might not be easy to assume.  The new right in Europe, for instance, seems simply to not care about the lives of refugees. And, we have all see the problems with child-parent reunification in the US. Lots of people care, to be sure, and show that care every day. But, lots of others ... don't and this is giving, I think, their governments pause.

The influence of the decline of empathy on domestic politics, then, has the interesting and important effect of emboldening human-rights violating regimes. They were violating human rights before, that is clear, but they did so in different ways. Now, criticism of the violation of human rights is construed as "meddling" in another state's internal affairs. And, the declining international power of the US and indifference of European states facilitates that process.

For Canada, this means -- and Canadians should note this -- there is cavalry riding the rescue.  Canada needs to be deliberate in its actions and secure in its ability to stand on its own feet. (Again, more on this in the next post.)

The wider picture is this: this is what the post-New World Order -- the post-global age --  looks like.  It is not necessarily pretty. Rather than regionalized economic power blocks figuring out how to collaborate with each other under the umbrella of the WTO, what we have is militarized quests of influence based in little else than hard power. It is not pretty at all. But, perhaps even because of this, now is the time to rethink Canadian foreign policy. We should not abandon a commitment to human rights but we need to figure out exactly how to meet that aim in changing circumstances.

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Practical Humanities Failure? The Critique of the Digital Humanities

In my previous post, I tried to argue that limited definitions of the humanities may make those who use who practice them feel good -- à la Stanley Fish, we can say "I engage in a life of pure contemplation" -- but that is a minimal, one-sided, and impoverished conception of what the humanities are and why they are important. My point here is specific: I am not trying to say that Stanley Fish is wrong when he asserts that contemplation (whatever this might mean in practice) is a key part of the humanities. I am trying to say that it is not the only part and, hence, Fish's contention that anything that diverges from pure contemplation is somehow debased relies on an artificial distinction that he himself has, in fact, created. Fish's conception of the humanities is, in other words, not inherent to the humanities themselves. Indeed, I tried to argue that Fish's conception of pure contemplation relies on the very skills -- the very practical values -- that he abhors. Feel free to disagree with me.

In this post, I want to turn away from the humanities in general to what is called the "digital humanities," which are a particularly target of Fish's vindictive. His argument is that the digital humanities are not, in fact, humanistic. And, that they really don't work. They are tools that are used -- to helps with analysis, at best -- but they cannot run by themselves. They require someone to analyse the patterns they discover or someone, in different words, to program the computer. For this reason, they fail.

My problem with this argument is this: who ever said that the digital humanities functioned as a form of AI? Fish is hunting a paper tiger because he is arguing that the digital humanities fail because they have not fulfilled a promise that they, in fact, never made. I don't work in the digital humanities myself -- although I have some ideas that I might start to implement sometime in the future -- but no one who I know ever argued that they living human beings were not part of the process of analysis. I edit a journal called Acadiensis and we have published a couple of pieces in the digital humanities in the past little while in which historians have used computer-assisted analytic tools (specifically with regard to social network analysis). These are good pieces but none of the historians who conducted this analysis ever said that a human being did not actually conduct the analysis. To argue that analysis still requires human thought is not a discover or a damning criticism. It is, in fact, to miss what the digital humanities are, in fact, all about.

There is a lot of this going around, at least in my neck of the woods. I've heard colleagues reject the digital humanities as little more than web page development, where a bunch of primary sources are posted. It does not, in their view, promote any useful skill. I don't believe that the digital humanities are necessarily the future of the humanities. There will always be scholars who reject the very idea of digital humanities and take a measure of pride in their rejection. They might even claim -- like Fish implies -- that they alone are staying true to the inherent and fundamental basis of the humanities.

I'm not at all certain that that perspective is correct. I want to contest it by making several points:

First, think about how much of our lives as scholars has changed in terms of how we conduct our work. I am writing this post, for instance, on computer. It will never see a hard copy.  It will never be written in cursive. I communicate with my students using various means, which include good old fashioned sitting down and talking, but I also semi-look after a Facebook page and I write a lot of emails. Colleagues text me. Acadiensis maintains a vibrant social media engagement connected to other social media institutions in our field. So, whether we like to admit it or not, shifting communications technologies have changed the way we work and how communicate to students, colleagues, and the broader public.

Second, digital humanities is not about simply creating web sites that archive or list primary documents or sources, but these are useful. The ability to access sources more easily should not be something that we shoot down. Indeed, judging from my own experiences (always a dangerous thing, I admit), many of my colleague and a great many of my students become frustrated when they cannot relatively easily access sources. It is a different technology but is this now part of what libraries and archives and museums were (and continue to be!) about. My town has a local library that is well used.  It does a bunch of things (including a children's summer programme), but one of the things that it does it make it easier for people to get hard covers of books that they otherwise would not have access to in Sackville. (Indeed, the digital world of new communications technologies is so prevalent that many people might not remember a day before Amazon and Indigo online sales. Some towns had a local bookstore. Some didn't.) While using the internet as an archival space is not the be-all-and-end-all of digital humanities (and, again, to the best of my knowledge no one ever actually said it was), there is nothing particularly wrong with this use.

In fact, one might go further, some of the larger projects (online exhibitions developed by archives, early Canadiana.org, the CBC's online archive, material made accessible via the NFB, along with a bunch of others), is really useful. A paper recently published in Acadiensis made really effective use of online genealogy sources. The author told me that he could not have written this paper -- at least in its current form -- without these sources.

This ability to store and access information is, then, not a bad thing. It is something we, as a society, have, in fact, been doing for a long time. It is one of the functions of libraries, archives, and museums, and is something that, as with those institutions, requires specialized skills. One does not just pop a bunch of stuff up on a web page and call it a day. There need to be standard approaches, for instance, to searching for materials.

Moreover, the skill needed for such things as a search (if it is not to become a completely over-the-top time consuming type of thing) is something that those of us who teaching in the humanities know about first hand because many of our students often do a pretty poor job of conducting online searches and so end up with weak sources and weaker papers than they could have otherwise written. Learning something about digital literacy does not replace other forms of literacy -- knowing about culture, history, information in general -- because it is consistent with it. It aids what we do and what we are asking our students to do.

This is my point: even in its most basic form -- providing access to information -- the digital humanities are useful, are consistent with what we generally do in the humanities, and can facilitate the very types of skills (assessing information) that is part of what we seek to do in our classes.

Third, this is important because we cannot stick our heads in the sand. Much of the information we access today as a society comes via new communications technologies: aka, the internet. Is the medium the message? I don't know and I don't tend to make that argument. Content, I usually argue, is important regardless of the medium in which it is conveyed. But, more and more of our content comes to use via the internet and so an ability to grasp what that is, search it, assess it, and engage it is important for our jobs. We can, and will, use more traditional technologies. I still go to historic sites and art galleries, libraries and archives and museums. I still read hard cover books. I don't see that changing and no one in the digital humanities is asking for that.

But, are we to ignore the fact that more and more of our journals are online? A good one here in New Brunswick (NB Studies) is online only and I've read about others contemplating going precisely in that direction as well. Conferences are streamed. I still want to be there in person but I do watch the streams (particularly archived versions when I can't make it.) Web archives are also being made accessible by a range of scholars. Should we ignore this information? Would you council a history student to ignore an accessible primary source? Would a student in literature be told to ignore a short story by an author who was central to their honours thesis? Would we suggest that one could study world music and ignore an easy way to hear what that music actually sounded like? And ... well ... you get the point.

Finally, digital humanities, I should say, are not a singular thing. I've focused on one particular type -- archiving -- because it struck me that much of the discussion I hear about it is misguided. Again: it is not the answer to the future of the humanities but it is not inconsistent with what we are doing in the humanities either. Other forms of digital humanities, as I've indicated above, use tools to help conduct analysis. These tools -- say, specific software packages or search analytics -- don't work by themselves. But, learning how to use them can help with the data we will have in our times, with data that is already being and has been digitized, it can help ask questions that we might otherwise ask of sources.

I read a piece a couple of years ago that made use of qualitative analysis software to assess the frequency with which certain key words were used in federal publications for newcomers who wanted to become citizens (or, more simply, in citizenship guides). To be sure, the analysis did not tell me anything that I did not already suspect, but it caught a few things -- say, inconsistencies in the use of certain words -- that I might otherwise have missed. The authors still had to do the analysis but the tools they used enriched and that has been my experience in history. Digital tools don't replace historical research but they can facilitate it. And, looked at in this light, the digital humanities are something other than a failure.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Future of the Humanities, or why there is none is not really a good answer Stanley Fish

I just finished reading Stanley Fish's latest admonition in the Chronicle of Higher Education: "Stop Trying to Sell the Humanities, Arguments that they're useful are wrong, anti-humanistic, and sure to backfire." A friend sent it to me, not because he liked it but because we were exchanging links about the humanities and post-secondary education. Fish has always been a bit of an odd analytic bird but this piece is so far over the top that it goes no where. In it, Fish attempts to refute all current arguments about the practical utility of the humanities, singling out the digital humanities for special condemnation. He recognizes that the humanities are in the midst of something some people are calling a crisis and also that his own arguments against the humanities' usefulness leave it no place to stand. In fact, if the humanities were on trial, Fish, one of its better-known authorities, recognizes that he has just written a brief for the prosecution. Other than forcing students to take humanities courses, he writes, something that he implies will not go over well, he "can't think of a plan that would return the humanities to the prominence they once enjoyed. If my fellow humanists can come up with something, they should speak now, or they may be forever holding their peace whether they want to or not. If things proceed as they have been, in the end we'll all go the way of Stevens Point," where the humanities have been, more or less, axed.

This is an odd conclusion for someone to reach after they have concluded that they reject every argument that has been made in support of the humanities and the very oddness of it captures something of the dilemma in which the humanities now find themselves.  What is clear is that Fish thinks "selling" the humanities is just plain bad and that they need to be accepted on their own terms or, in his view, not at all. He has, in this sense, issued this statement: my way or the highway. I find it odd that he is surprised that some people have said "OK,  the highway" and quietly shown him the way to the road and helped hike his thumb in the air. Fish's answer -- that any concession to practicality compromises the fundamental and foundational principles of the humanities - is, in fact, wrong. There is, to be sure, something unseemly about grubbing for money, but explaining to people who fund universities (whether the state, private donors, or students through their tuition) why the humanities are good, and good for you, and can even help you get a job, is not a bad thing. And, to think that it is, is the worst type of ivory tower isolationism. It is, in fact, the definition of ivory tower, in its negative sense. It artificially limits a discussion of the humanities and post-secondary education, creating a binary opposition (this way or not at all), when it would be far more useful to wider ranging discussion.

Let me explain and offer part of a defence of the humanities, or at least part one of a defence. I'll leave the issue of the digital humanities off to another post since it seems to require a special topic.

First, Fish doesn't just set a high bar for the humanities in post-secondary education. He sets a near impossible one: "The question then is to what internal purpose should a university be true, a question that requires us to identify the university's core activity. Aristotle named it in the 10th book of his Nicomachean Ethics. It is contemplation. 'This activity would seem to be loved for its own sake; for nothing arises from it apart from the contemplating,' as opposed to 'practical activities' which are measured by their effects. Contemplation -- turning matters over and then turning them over again -- is 'superior in serious worth' because 'it aim[s] at no end beyond itself, and [has] a pleasure proper to itself.'"

You can see the problem immediately. Fish spends the rest of his editorial explaining why practical arguments in favour of the humanities don't work but he has, in fact, already cut the ground out from underneath practicality at the very beginning of his discussion. In fact, he could have ended his discussion at this point and we would have been none the worse for it because this captures the substance of his critique.

Yet, who is Fish to set this bar?  Does he actually think Aristotle was talking about the modern multiversity or even the modern liberal arts college? A reference to Aristotle is no guarantee that one is right and surely to contend that the joy of contemplation is the only acceptable argument one can make in defence of the humanities is to cut off debate precisely at the point that we should be having a debate. It is even odder noting the context in which Fish is writing. As countries build walls, engage in twitter diplomacy, treat "alternative facts" as if they were real, etc., surely arguing that anything but a self-absorbed contemplation is a not the provenance of the humanities seems a bit ... well ... not humanistic at all.  In fact, it seems a bit hedonistic.

I'm not saying that contemplation is bad or that contemplation by itself is hedonistic. What I am saying is that the idea that the humanities and the university have only one legitimate activity is (a) wrong, (b) disengaged from the problems of the world around us, and (c) anti-democratic because it limits debate shrinking the voices that can be heard as part of a conversation about post-secondary education.

In place of Fish's assertion that there is only one legitimate activity for the university and for the humanities, I would argue that there are, in fact, many. Historians, for instance, don't write about the rise of fascism purely for the joy of contemplating the rise of fascism. They write as part of an engaged effort to understand the character and dynamics of the past that led to genocide and war. OK, that is one example, someone might say, and an easy one. What others might you have? We study policy history to understand the character and operation of the state, how good ideas became bad policies, or the diverse ways in which public policy is made. We study the growth of the women's moment, as an example, to see how processes of democratization enriched society (and why some people resisted democratization). The TRC recommended the study of Indigenous history because they believed, and I think rightly, that the more Canadians know about First Peoples, the greater the chances for meaningful reconciliation are. We teach Indigenous novels, philosophers, poetry, for precisely these same reasons as well.

Ah, someone might say, those are all basically historical examples. What about other branches of the humanities? Well, yes, they are but  ... actually so were Fish's and so I chose to counter him on that ground. But, OK, let's broaden the framework of analysis. Do students study the languages just for the joy of contemplation or to communicate? Do they study musicology for themselves or is it also placed in the service of performance? Are ethics or -- in this day and age of LGBTQi+ issues -- the philosophy of the subject irrelevant? Do our courts, for example, make decisions with no regard for ethical considerations? Does the law, in other words, ignore ethics?

Here is my point, the university -- and the humanities -- have no one single core activity. I may have some I like more than others. I may have some I am more adept at than others but the fact that one brings concerns and desires other than pure contemplation to the table in one's teaching or learning or research or the diffusion of knowledge does not mean that one is abandoning the humanities. The opposite: one is illustrating their importance by saying that we believe a knowledge of history, philosophy, language, culture, etc., can help us make better decisions as a society, enhance the meaningfulness and beauty of artistic expression, reach decisions that are more fair.  The implications of Fish's argument is that we should surrender this ground because it is a subversion on our true purpose. I will confess, I am not so sure. I might feel that the exact opposite is true.

Second, Fish is quick to dismiss other practical activities that are part of a good education in the humanities: writing (or, communication) and analysis. These are part of what he says is a "skills"-oriented justification for the humanities that is connected to market value, something he rejects. He accepts the idea that students in the humanities gain important skills, but calls the entire effort to explain these a PR "gambit" that is not "a serious effort at justification." Why? because the issue for the humanities, he says, is not about writing or analysis but writing about specific things (say, restoration poetry) and the same for analysis. Hence, the argument is, in his word, "strained." Even more troubling for Fish, this argument is part of a series of arguments that rest on exterior evaluation: they defend the humanities not on their own terms but by accepting someone else's logic and terms.

Hmmm ... I don't necessarily see why good communication and analysis is not part of the humanities' own terms. I've already said that I find Fish's singular justification so narrow that it verges on anti-democratic and ignores or misplaces the idea that there can be more than one legitimate reason to engage the humanities. Likewise, I think there can be a range of different subjects that interest students. Some will study restoration poetry; others the contemporary museum; others Indigenous literature, etc. But, good analysis and communications skills are not incidental to any of these subjects. Moreover, their sheer diversity and breadth require specific skills. For instance, they require that we be attuned to someone else's voice. Think about what they are trying to express or communicate, figure out how we can convey our thoughts effectively so that someone else will understand them, make one's case in a logical way, communicate to an audience that will not necessarily share one's perspective, and ... I could go on but you see the point. Communication, analysis, understanding context, logic of argument, etc., are not incidental the humanities. They are part and parcel of it. The fact that they also have a market logic -- that people in the labour market are interested in hiring people with these skills -- should not put us off.

In fact, I would go much further than Fish seems willing to go and argue that it is these very things that make Fish's conception of contemplation for its own sake possible. Even if one were only engaged in a self-oriented contemplative activity, would that be possible without understanding context? or without logic, or without attention to the voice of the other? I'd argue that without these things contemplation would, in fact, not really be contemplation but merely hazy passing thoughts that lacked form and rigour.

My point here, I want to say, is not really to go point-for-point against Fish. I am interested in his argument against the usefulness of the humanities in order make the argument that the humanities are useful, that they have more than one purpose, that there is nothing wrong with explaining their uses to prospective students or donors or the state, and that things that he dismisses (skills) are actually, in fact, preconditions of the very justification he seeks to maintain for the humanities.

I've run long and there is more to say but, for now, we can conclude on this point: the humanities may or may not be in crisis. I'd need to think about what that actually means before quickly accepting current discourses. What I would say, however, is that Fish illustrates a process by which the humanities become, in fact, their own worst enemy. By using surprisingly narrow definitions of what the humanities are, ignoring the multiple reasons people study and learn the humanities, rejecting out of hand practical uses (which exist in policy fields, communications, performance, etc.) as somehow market tainted and hence debased, proponents of the humanities -- such as Fish -- argue themselves into a corner. They make the argument for those who would cut the humanities and end up, interestingly, begging for someone to make a better argument. In the process, they ignore the very skills on which the humanities rely -- even on their own definition of them.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Same Old Same Old: Or, the Politics of a Stalled Modernity

Doug Ford is now premier of Ontario and wants to roll back sex ed, limit education on Indigenous issues, and enhance the development of the northern Ontario natural resources industry. Donald Trump's popularity does not seem to be on the wane. We are having some sort of semi-debate about Canada's role in the world ... but not really. The US government wants allies to increase military spending and is, at least from the headlines, worried about Russian influence in Europe. A trade war looms, is averted, looms again ....

Have we seen this all before? As I watched the PC media guy stick to his talking points on the news and listened to Ford explain that he was ditching cap and trade so as to put money back in people's wallets, the idea that we have heard all this before -- that we have had these debates before -- was nearly complete. Said differently, our politics have become stalled, or at least ... sort of. What does this stalled politics tell us?

It likely tells us several things but let's try to keep focused on a few issues rather than a bunch that can confuse the matter by drawing examples from all over the place. Let's also do our best to limit our geography. I'm not convinced that the issues are precisely the same in, say, Hungary as they are in the United States, as they are in Canada. There are similarities, to be sure, but there also seem to be several different processes at work. Moreover, as I've said in other blogs, the approach I like to take is one of trying to understand verses trying to castigate. A progressive politics, it seems to me, cannot simply content itself with a point and shout approach, a matter I'll address in the future. Instead, it needs to understand and respond. It either has something to offer that will make things better or it does not. We can think about what those things might be another time. For now, let us assume that it does, a big assumption, I recognize for those who reject progressive thinking and politics. Explaining why there is progress, however, is something that requires much more time that I have in this blog.

So, what does the stall of contemporary politics tell us? To begin, let me highlight two interrelated points:

First, it tells us that a great number of people were never reconciled to the equality politics of the last generation.  It tells us that they rejected things like racialized equality, Indigenous rights, gender equality, and acceptance of LGBTQi identities and subjectivities.  We can likely narrow this down and speculate about the demographics of those who have not reconciled to equality politics, but I don't have the data at hand. What we can see from the political discourse, however, is that equality politics is often presented by those who oppose it as a huge waste of money. Environmental protection is the seen in the same way.

Is this simply ignorance? Is it bigotry? Is it an economic squeeze on the middle and working classes?  Likely all of these factors play some sort of role in this but there also seems to be a role for socialization, as well.  Why do I say this: because the idea that equality politics has (a) failed and (b) produced perverse effects, and (c) costs too much ...  is treated as simply a matter of fact. It is something that requires no proof and no evidence. In fact, while the opponents of equality spend a great deal of time talking about its failures and its costs, they often provide only anecdotal evidence and offer no costing.  The PC's failure in Ontario, for example, to cost their policies in the run-up the election is a case in point.

I had a similar experience a couple of years ago in one of my courses. As I was discussing gendered inequality and its contemporary patterns, a number of male students objected to this discussion and claimed that there was no such thing as gendered inequality. I pointed to evidence from Stats Canada, showing income inequality and found that the students completely rejected it.

Years ago, I had a similar experience in a similar type of situation. Much has changed, of course, in terms of patterns of gendered relations in twenty years, but I recall a male student explaining that he simply did not accept the idea. I asked him, I recall, what evidence I could provide that would allow him to accept the idea that there was inequality and that gender was an important axes of understanding. My goal might have been overconfident but my intention was to provide that evidence and then move on to the discussion at hand so as to not slow down the class. He replied "none." And, then stated that he simply did not believe it be the case. I recall then, as in the more recent case, that I did not know what to say. I had university level students in front of me who were so certain of their views that they told me nothing -- no evidence -- could dissuade them of their views.

In the US, this rejection of equality politics takes on different forms than Canada. It takes on opposition to groups like, say, Black Lives Matters, and the politicized distortion of their message or support for a wall across the southern US border. In Canada, its politics are less evident than in the US, but is notable in Islamophobia, opposition to Indigenous/Settler reconciliation, and concerns about sex education in the schools in Ontario which are supposedly blamed for ... what? I don't know but there is some sort of idea that having kids learn about sex, about sexual differences, and about LGBTQi issues will somehow be bad and is an infringement on parents right to control what their kids learn.

And this, just about, bring us full circle. I would be surprised if this were an accident: that what people object to is an education that teaches that sexual diversity is OK. They object, I think, to both the idea of teaching this and the idea that someone other than they themselves will educate their kids on this matter.

Likewise, the canceling of education programs regarding reconciliation between Indigenous people and Canada is seen as too expensive. Or, a waste of money. In effect, this position states that we will not provide an education to kids on this issue but leave it up to processes of socialization (among family, friends, peer groups, churches) to educate on this issue.

Second, in terms of demographics, we need to be clear that this view is not the majority view. It speaks in the name of the majority, but isn't. After his election, Doug Ford, or someone close to him, said something like "we have reclaimed our province." This statement says a lot. It says that it views the proponent of non-conservative politics as illegitimate and, in particular, it views itself as the rightful "owners" of the province. Claims made by others -- diversity groups, for example -- are seen as alien or foreign, illegitimate. Clearly this is a violation of a basic principle of democracy but it speaks to a demographic that views itself as the people who rightly "own" a province or a country.

I suspect something similar goes on with Trump's supporters south of the border or with the anti-EU vote in Britain. In Canada, the key point is that majorities are hard to come by. The question, then, is how does a group of people who are not the majority gain political power? Trump and Ford supporters seem to have an answer, even if they don't come out and stay it: conspiracy, deep state, corruption.  In the US, this was what fuelled the "crooked Hilary" discourse. The idea that a liberal-minded woman could potentially be elected was so disturbing to some people that they issued a pre-emptive strike: the only way she could win was by corruption. The birther campaign against Obama is another example.  The supposed reclaiming of Ontario is another.

I want to clear: I don't think a progressive mirror image of this view gets our analysis very far. The "Russia conspiracy" is an example, I think (even if I think I understand the politics behind it). But, it does not help advance our understanding of the issues at play. In the US, for instance, Trump was elected with one of the most significant minorities in American history. In Canada, the single member plurality system has long been know to distort politics. One needs secure only about 40% of the vote to win and perhaps not even that.

In conclusion: we can put these two points together. The first thing that the stalled politics of modernity tells us is that a sizeable body of contemporary society has never reconciled to the politics of equality and that this group views itself -- and you can see the tie to the opposition to equality -- as the legitimate "owners" of public life. They continue to exercise appreciable political power and their leaders are looking to find ways to roll back, as it were, time.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

"A Better Loss": Updated Thoughts on the Jays

With due credit to Tom Dakers at BlueBirdBanter for the headline.  One thing I like about Dakers reporting is that he continually searches for an upside. We need that because, well, there has not been a lot of upside to the Jays, at least this last month. People might recall that I was optimistic at the start of the year. I thought that the Jays upper management had done a good job letting salary clear and keeping prospects. I thought they had done a good job piecing together a low cost team that could be in the hunt -- winning somewhere between 78 and 86 games, putting the Jays on the margins of the playoff race -- while not taking on any further longer-term salary commitments. There were "ifs" in my equation and things started out well and then .... So, what do we make of what is going on with the Jays right now? Is there reason to change my assessment?

No ... the Jays may not be in the playoff hunt but I don't see any reason that they cannot look to a .500 season. Right now they are playing horrible ball -- and some of their problems are telling -- but the team, overall, is still OK. Injuries have hurt, as has age, and this is one of the reasons I continue to be optimistic about this season: the Jays may not win but we know more about what the future might hold with each passing day.  How so?

Well, we know that Devon Travis has been seriously harmed by three years of injuries. I feel bad for him. Three years ago, he was 24 years old (perhaps a bit older than we would like a guy who was basically a AA player becoming a rookie) but when in the lineup he played well. His defence was better than average, he seemed like he could swipe 20 bags a year given the chance (that is, he seemed like an intelligent baserunner even if he was not blessed, say, with Pillar's speed), and his offence seemed to have a real upside. Three injury-plagued seasons later, he is struggling, and struggling is generous. Eyeballing him, he seems to have trouble getting to balls, he never walked a lot but he is not walking *at all.* No walks + truly horrible batting average = an on-base percentage so low that it makes one ill. Again, I feel bad for him. He seems like a really nice guy who works hard and his current situation is not his fault. It is made worse, however, by the fact that he does not have a lot of versatility.  It seems unlikely, in other words, that he could become a utility player to keep his job.  With a number of good looking middle infielders in the minors, he will be pressed for playing time by September, if not before.  He's got his job back only because the roster madness and tryout like approach at short after Diaz went down did not allow anyone to take control of the job.

So, what do we know: we know Travis is not our second baseman of the future. Knowing that is good because it allows the Jays to think about who is (Biggio, Bichette?)

We also know that Russ Martin's career is truly over, baring some sort of Devine intervention.  One of Martin's appreciable strengths is that he takes a lot of walks and so, theoretically, gets on base, but this is compromised by another truly horrible batting average. And, his defence behind the plate remains slightly -- just slightly -- better than average.  The Jays seem to be looking for a way to keep him the lineup, although exactly why has confused a variety of commentators (the guys on Blue Jays Central claim to not be able to figure out what is going on). Martin has started at 3rd, short, and left field this year as well as at Catcher. My view is that he is done and both he and the Jays know it. They are not trying to transition him to a utility player (although there might be more merit in this than one might think if one reconstructed the lineup), but instead letting him engage in a bit of a swan song before he steps aside.

It would be great if he did step aside. The Jays should give him an office job -- a consultant, roving ambassador, bullpen coach or catcher or something like that. Keep him in the public eye because he's a good face for the Jays: he speaks well, gets along with reporters, seems to really love and respect the fans and that Canadian thing means he is popular with the fans. I don't lament that his career is done. I think it Joe Siddall (on Blue Jays Central) said that the Jays knew this was coming when they signed him as a free agent 3+ years ago. They knew they were going to eat salary on the back end of his contract and were paying him anyway as the price of getting to the playoffs. That was my thinking, too. The chickens have now come home to roost. Pay the man and see who the future catcher is.

It ain't Luke Maile either but he might be the back up. The way the Jays construct their roster creates problems with call ups -- as we have seen -- but we will likely see Danny Jansen after the all-star break (or, earlier if the "right" injury occurs). I read some dingbat saying that they thought Max Pentacost was major-league ready!! He ain't (and I feel bad for him too because this is another story of injuries).  Keep expectations on Jansen limited. He's having a good year AAA and he is only 23, but his record this year is significantly better than his overall minor league record. Remember, this is a guy who spent three full years at various levels of A ball and who, last year, started the season at the A level (admittedly advanced A) and then just hit everything going for the first time in his pro career.  In other words, I hope he is good (for both him and the Jays), but don't over expect. Still, on the what do we know front ... we know Martin is on his way out, Maile is likely the back up of the future, and we will likely see Jansen as a starter this year.

We also know that Morales is done. The Jays will likely cut him this year. His offensive and defensive WAR (wins above replacement, a measure of how a player performs relative to an average replacement player) are both negative. This means that simply replacing Morales with an average player, say from AAA, will make the Jays better. Morales has really tried this year. He's gotten glasses and lost weight. I suspect age is the key factor so he might get on a hot streak, but don't be confused. We know the future and he is not in it.

There are some other things but I'd like to move on to a couple of less optimistic points:

Point #1:, we know there is a lot of pressure on the Jays to elevate Guerrero, Jr. More on this in another blog. I think rushing the kid to the majors would be a mistake, even though I think we should see him this year.

Point #2:  I think we now know why Teoscar Hernandez did not have a major league job. The guy can hit. In less than 400 major league at bats, he's whacked 20 HR and has a +.800 OPS. OPS is a measure of power and ability to get on base. +.800 is all star territory. But, his defence is ... well ... horribly horrible.  I can't say this for sure, but the Jays coaches don't seem to be doing anything about it either. They seem to be letting him to try to work the matter out. The commentary on him notes that he takes bad routes to balls and misplays balls he should be able to catch. It is just a subjective opinion, but my eyeballing of games tells me that he gives up on balls too easily, gets frustrated, and then gets distracted by his own frustration.  Maybe he could be moved to DH (replacing Morales). We do have outfielders (Smith, Alford, Pompey) in the minors or on the bench.

Finally, and I'll end this blog on this point, I think Gibby has lost the team. The number of mistakes they are making is truly outstanding. There is more to say on this point but the Jays are just not playing good baseball. This is frustrating because, in my view, some of their problems could be addressed through coaching.

Do I remain optimistic? Yes, in the long term. We finding things out and that is what this season, I think, was really all about.

The Crisis of the Humanities (III): Am I a Better Person?

Are the humanities in crisis? And, if so, what can -- or, should -- be done about it? I have to admit that I don't really know the answe...