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Machan's Musings - Topsy-turvy Anyone?
by Tibor R. Machan

Every generation complains about its own era ó the kids are really getting out of hand; music and theater suck; the leaders are truly corrupt now; institutions are falling into disrepair, etc., and so forth.

Certainly there is a lot of such talk about. Pundits and intellectuals, especially, find whatís going down on various fronts very disturbing, but then itís their job to criticize, rarely to praise and give support. Also, apparently, publishers of whatever is publishable seem to think their potential customers are keen on sleaze and want mostly scary news. Good news is rarely accepted as a great sell. I am not sure why but perhaps itís because most folks get plenty of good enough news within their own local lives, so they are likely to read the bad news more eagerly from afar and thank their lucky stars. But I am not sure.

Itís worth considering, in this context, that if a culture is in fact in deep trouble ó not merely thought to be so, in that habitually bleak mind-set that most serious people seem to have ó then its premier institutions, ones highly ranked by those evaluating this culture from within, are probably a big part of its problem.

It may be that in education, for example, Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford Universities, and all the others well regarded, are a decisive part of the problem and a really wise assessment of how things are in the culture may have to look at things from outside the customary box. It suggests that the prominent news services, say The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and so on, are really the ones that fail the most at their professional task of journalism ó just think of the several scandals even insiders couldnít ignore at these and similar famous publications (those above and, also, The New Republic, Harperís).

Also, consider that perhaps the top museums arenít filled with contemporary works that are really so very excellent ó many of us visiting them find the recent offerings rather puzzling, difficult to take seriously (although we ourselves may be simply ill-equipped to judge ó whatís novel takes a while to learn to assess correctly).

Now being smack in the middle of an era, as you and I and the rest of us undoubtedly are, poses some difficulties for getting a good handle on just how low or high this era is to be ranked as far as human cultures are concerned. Maybe itís not that tough to do this when it comes to technology, medicine and other matters that have rather direct, difficult-to-miss benefits or harms, within a narrow scope that none could miss. But otherwise things are more difficult ó the 20th century, for example, saw some of the worst cultures, with short and long duration, in human history, and so far as I can tell, there are now more wars around the globe than anytime in history. Africa is ablaze, so are the Southern countries of the former Soviet Union, and there are these bizarre dictatorships continuing unabated, such as Cuba and North Korea.

It may well be that we are living in the worst of all possible worlds, clearly not the best, everything considered ó or at least in a world not really worth much admiration on several vital fronts. Environmentalists certainly think so, however bad their proposed solutions are (namely, more government, more government, just throw more government at it all, which is part of the problem itself).

And when thatís so, perhaps it is important to take a different measure of the premier institutions from what convention would have us do. Say, a ranking of universities in US News & World Report may well have to be looked at almost topsy-turvy rather than at face value.

I raise this matter mainly because I have often found some of my friends rather uncritical in their acceptance of how educational institutions are ranked, even while they tend to agree that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Well, perhaps itís these institutions that are leading the way.

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