Mary Beard is right, people are proud of being ignorant theses days.
She ignores the elephant in the room: the success of higher education. We live in an age in which – not just in the western world – illiteracy is almost absent and many, many people receive some kind of higher education. That means that they can ask critical questions.
Now here’s the problem: the universities – especialy the humanities – have consistently refused to explain what they are doing. To take an example from Beard’s book “SPQR”: she stresses that early Christianity reinvented its history. I happen to know that this is a correct interpretation of the facts, but if a reader would say “another historian claiming but not proving something”, that reader would be correct.
As a consequence, they start looking for an alternative and will, online, easily find something that addresses their prejudices and will be found convincing. The Mary Beards of this world, who have access to the means and information of the university, have never explained why their insights are better. (So far, Beard has not created a website on hermeneutics, to mention an obvious example.) So people think that there is no real method for ancient history. Anything goes.
People are not proud of their ignorance. They have become sceptical and the universities have failed, miserably failed, to address that problem.
I am interested in the “March for Science” (which is also a march for the humanities, fortunately) but I am still looking for a reason to march for science and scholarship in their present form. I am not going to defend the 1980s attitude of a Mary Beard.
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