Tell Me Again Why We Need Zoos

Critically endangered, wild animal accustomed to open range is kept in an enclosure his entire life. Small child breaches said enclosure, due to no fault of the animal. Wild animal, described as a “good guy… a youngster, just starting to grow up,” is fatally shot. “It could have been very bad,” said the zoo director: Gorilla killed after boy falls into Cincinnati zoo exhibit.

Moving on then.

Reading Nietzsche: the Memoirs/Nothing Nazi About Nietzsche

Here’s a review of a new Nietzsche biography, The Making of Friedrich Nietzsche. The review (astutely titled “Nothing Nazi About Nietzsche”) wastes no time mentioning the damage Nietzsche’s sister did to his (Nietzsche’s) reputation:

Rabidly anti-Semitic (in later years she would support Hitler), Elisabeth rewrote and restructured Nietzsche’s unpublished manuscripts so as to make this anti-racist internationalist read like a Nazi before the fact. Worse, says Blue, most of Nietzsche’s biographers have written books bent out of shape by their unthinking acceptance of Elisabeth’s ‘statements and stories as uncontroversial facts’. Hence The Making of Friedrich Nietzsche, a volume which ‘aspires to be the biography that Nietzsche himself might have composed if he had possessed the inclination and the time’.

Yet Nietzsche did write autobiographies at various points throughout his life, and they all apparently feature his mother:

‘Autobiography’ was what Nietzsche wrote ‘in order to see who he was’. On the evidence adduced here, what he was was a mummy’s boy. As late as her son’s undergraduate days, Franziska Nietzsche was still lecturing him on what coat and trousers to wear in the rain. And whenever a more metaphysical storm broke, mum was always Nietzsche’s first port of call.

And while the review is not exactly a rave one, it does laud what I’m intending to do here, i.e. actually read Nietzsche’s work:

But does Blue offer as radically new a portrait of Nietzsche as he claims? On the whole, I’m afraid, no. In essence, what this book does is translate into biographical terms the more analytical findings of Walter Kaufmann’s still groundbreaking study Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. Prior to the publication of that book in 1950, it was a critical commonplace that Nietzsche was a crazed Teutonic supremacist whose poetic ranting was of no philosophical worth. Kaufmann went back to the original texts to show how, far from being a proto-dictator, Nietzsche (who once called himself the ‘last anti-political German’) was in fact a proto-existentialist — a rationalist moralist who believed that the only thing worth conquering was the self.

“A rationalist moralist who believed that the only thing worth conquering was the self.” What an elegant description!

I haven’t read Nietzsche in months (too busy with Infinite Jest and, now, The Goldfinch). If nothing else, this review has reminded me to continue this project. After all, I didn’t really set an end date, and Nietzsche, in my experience, is best processed by periods of long reflection and brisk walks. In fact, I can think of no better way to celebrate the end of another work day by bringing my anthology down to the bar and revisiting the father of (modern) existentialism—during timeouts of the basketball game, of course.

The Lesson of Yellowstone

A lot of people have been posting this week about the calf in Yellowstone who was euthanized after park visitors scooped him in their SUV. Reactions ranged from incredulity towards the tourists to anger towards the Park Service, and such reactions are to be expected any time an animal is (perhaps unnecessarily) put down. Often I think that rangers are all-too trigger happy, but I’ve never been a ranger so I reserve judgment on that (except at zoos, which shouldn’t exist in the first place).

But it’s strange that one humane death, albeit a highly publicized one, provokes ten times the outrage than do countless inhumane deaths—like those caused by eating and slowly choking on plastic, or by being tortured in vivisection labs. Yes, it’s stupid to take a wild animal and put him or her in one’s car, but before the car even gets to Yellowstone, the death toll required to build, maintain, and drive it (let alone that required to build and maintain the car-centric infrastructure it requires) is astounding—almost incomprehensible.

You could say that at least in this case these people were trying to help, but herein lies the stupidity of humans in general: we think we can control/fix ecosystems. Every time an ecological problem is “solved,” the “solution” creates ten new, worse problems. We can never just leave something alone.

Safe Spaces vs. Free Spaces

Here’s a pretty damning essay (adapted from the contents of a forum) from Camille Paglia about the suppression of free speech among the Left on college campuses:

What is political correctness? As I see it, it is a predictable feature of the life cycle of modern revolutions, beginning with the French Revolution of 1789, which was inspired by the American Revolution of the prior decade but turned far more violent. A first generation of daring rebels overthrows a fossilized establishment and leaves the landscape littered with ruins. In the post-revolutionary era, the rebels begin to fight among themselves, which may lead to persecutions and assassinations. The victorious survivor then rules like the tyrants who were toppled in the first place. This is the phase of political correctness — when the vitality of the founding revolution is gone and when revolutionary principles have become merely slogans, verbal formulas enforced by apparatchiks, that is, party functionaries or administrators who kill great ideas by institutionalizing them.

Paglia goes on to argue that the free-speech movements of the ’60s were simply neutralized—but not resolved—by the Women’s, African, and Native-American Studies departments created in the ’70s, which ultimately served to isolate and insulate ideas rather than to pit them into intellectual combat—both against themselves and against the dominant narratives. The result: specialized, marginalized departments (and, thus, thinkers) with less and less credibility. Also, the converting of educational institutions into shopping malls (as Paglia puts it) didn’t help, either. Students are no longer students, but paying customers, and the customer is always right.

I’m still not sure where I fall in the debate over the creation of “safe spaces” on campus. Paglia, however, has her mind made up: on the removal of Goya’s famous late-18th-century painting, Naked Maja:

The instructor claimed that she was protecting future women students from the “chilly climate” created by the Naked Maja. But in a later published article about the controversy, she revealed that she herself was uncomfortable in the presence of the painting. She wrote, “I felt as though I were standing there naked, exposed and vulnerable.” I’m sorry, but we simply cannot permit uncultivated neurotics to set the agenda for arts education in America.

One of her proposed steps toward correcting the PC overreach, though, is to completely stay out of the private social lives of students. In her view, educating and social work have been too closely intertwined. I don’t know if it’s possible to separate the two, but I do think it’s strange that people expect schools to be all things to all people: daycare centers, food pantries, trade shops, therapist offices, career centers, even temples—but in the same breath exclaim that teachers are greedy, lazy castaways who should have to buy their own supplies. It’s also strange that nobody likes schools, or at least doesn’t want to spend much time in them, while at the same time everyone points to the school as the place where our guiding principles—those of future generations—are irrevocably forged.