Donna Zuckerberg and Knowledge Production vs. Knowledge Community

800px-Homeric_Greece-en.svgDonna Zuckerberg–that is, Mark Zuckerberg’s less famous sibling–recently published a book titled Not All Dead White Men: Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age. This is a curious book–to quote from the summary on Amazon:

A virulent strain of antifeminism is thriving online that treats women’s empowerment as a mortal threat to men and to the integrity of Western civilization. Its proponents cite ancient Greek and Latin texts to support their claims―arguing that they articulate a model of masculinity that sustained generations but is now under siege.

Donna Zuckerberg dives deep into the virtual communities of the far right, where men lament their loss of power and privilege and strategize about how to reclaim them. She finds, mixed in with weightlifting tips and misogynistic vitriol, the words of the Stoics deployed to support an ideal vision of masculine life. On other sites, pickup artists quote Ovid’s Ars Amatoria to justify ignoring women’s boundaries. By appropriating the Classics, these men lend a veneer of intellectual authority and ancient wisdom to their project of patriarchal white supremacy. In defense or retaliation, feminists have also taken up the Classics online, to counter the sanctioning of violence against women.

800px-Relief_Herodotus_cour_Carree_Louvre
“If someone were to put a proposition before men bidding them to choose, after examination, the best customs in the world, each nation would certainly select its own”–Herodotus

Translation: “I read a blog and I didn’t like it.”

So Donna Zuckerberg, a white woman with enough wealth and leisure to study the classics for a living and sister of one of the richest, most powerful men in the world (who also loves the classics so much that he has named his daughters “Maxima,” Latin for “greatest,”* and “August,” after Emperor Augustus,) is complaining that Losers on the Internet are sullying the Classics by quoting Ovid.

This is a problem because White Men on the Internet are Privileged (even when they are poor whites who struggle to get a job or even friends,) while rich white women like Donna are the Oppressed.

*(Maxima is also named after two relatives named “Max,” though if honoring relatives were the only motive, Zuck could have gone with “Maxine,” or named her after a female relative.)

Realistically, these men aren’t a threat to Mrs. Zuckerberg; the aren’t going to rise up and force her back into the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant. They are, however, icky, and Donna obviously doesn’t like them impinging on her turf: “By appropriating the Classics, these men lend a veneer of intellectual authority and ancient wisdom to their project of patriarchal white supremacy.”

Appropriating from whom? What culture owns Ovid and Homer? These books are considered the foundation of all of Western Civilization. Is Heartiste not a part of Western Civilization? I suppose you could argue that Roosh is Iranian/Armenian by blood, (despite being born in the US,) but arguing that Roosh can’t enjoy Ovid because he’s Iranian is, well, stupid.

I understand that Mrs. Zuckerberg doesn’t like pickup blogs, but you can’t appropriate the intellectual and literary foundations of your own culture. This is like accusing a Hindu of appropriating the Bhagavad Gita just because he’s a jerk.

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‘Mask of Agamemnon’, discovered by Schliemann, 1876.
“They sent forth men to battle,
But no such men return;
And home, to claim their welcome,
Come ashes in an urn”  Aeschylus, Agamemnon

The implication of “appropriating” is that Donna thinks the classics belong to some narrow class of people–most likely, academic dilettantes like herself. But as I’ve noted before, Donna Zuckerberg doesn’t own the Classics. Being rich doesn’t give her any more right to quote Plato than anyone else in the entire damn world.

But my complaints aside, I think this nicely illustrates a difficulty found in many academic disciplines:

It’s very difficult to make any new arguments about the Classics. Ovid has been around for a long time. So has Homer. Everything you can say about them has probably been said a thousand times already.

Schliemann managed to up the ante by actually finding Troy, but what’s left to discover? You will never be as great as Schliemann. You will always toil in the shadows of the greats of the past.

But there are rules in academia, most notably, “Publish or perish.” If you want to be a professor or otherwise taken seriously as an academic, you’ve got to publish papers.

What, exactly, are you going to publish on a subject that was thoroughly mined for all new ideas and concepts hundreds of years ago?

egyptianblue-1
Are we to believe the Egyptians managed to manufacture pigment from calcium copper silicate and use it in these elaborate paintings without being able to see it?

So I see two options:

1. Lie. Just make something  up, like “the ancients couldn’t see blue.” Totally untrue, but people have bought it, hook, line, and sinker.

2. Write things that aren’t new and don’t provide any new insights, but show that you are a member of the “classics community.”

We think of academic disciplines as “producing knowledge,” but it may be more accurate to think of them as “knowledge communities.” to be part of those communities, all you have to do is produce works that show what a good community member you are. People who fit in get friends, mentors, promotions, and opportunities. People who don’t fit in either get pushed out or leave of their own accord. There’s not much new to say about the Classics, but there are plenty of people who enjoy reading the classics and discussing them with others–and that makes a community, and where there’s a community, people will try to protect what is culturally “theirs.” Folks like Roosh and Heartiste, then, are moving in on academic territory.

What counts as being a “good member” of your community depends on the current social norms in that community. If your community is full of people who say things like “The Classics are the foundation for the greatness of Western Civilization,” then aspirant community members will publish things echoing that.

And if your community is full of people who say things like “If your feminism isn’t intersectional, it’s bullshit,” then you’re going to write things like that.

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Herodotus’s World “After all, no one is stupid enough to prefer war to peace; in peace sons bury their fathers and in war fathers bury their sons.” –Herodotus

Modern academia is not really comfortable with “Dead white males”* (much less “Alive white males,”) nor the idea of Western Civilization as anything particularly special or qualitatively different from other civilizations–which creates a bit of a conflict when your field is literally the semi-symbolic and literary basis of Western Civilization.

*Note: most people who study the classics know that the “Classical World” is really the circum-Mediterranean world, that Herodotus lived in now-Turkey, St. Augustine was born in now-Algeria, Alexander the Great’s empire stretched to India, etc. Whether these men were “white” (or men) is irrelevant to our understanding of the foundations of Western Civilization.

Now, I understand not liking everyone you meet on the internet. There are lots of wrong and terrible people in here. But this is why you get a blog where you can complain to the five people who can stand you about all of the other annoying people on the internet.

There are probably many academic disciplines which could, at this point, be transformed into blogs and tumblrs without much loss.

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Make Athens Great Again

h/t Steve Sailer: Donna Zuckerberg’s Woke Classics Mag Denounces Pericles’ Anti-Immigrant Citizenship Law of 451 BC:

…we need to stop pretending that the worst thing the Athenians ever did was to execute Socrates and openly engage the true dark side of Classical Athens’ anti-immigration policies and the obsession with ethnic purity that lies at the heart of its literature, history, and philosophy….

Known as the Periclean Citizenship Law, the law passed around 451 BCE restricted access to political power and other legal rights to only those born of both a citizen mother and father.

 

You asked. I deliver.

(And yes, I did know about the Periclean Citizenship Law before she brought it up.)

Dear Donna Zuckerberg: You Don’t Own the Classics

You don’t own Aeneas. You neither sent him down to Hell nor raised him up–

Hic aliud maius miseris multoque tremendum
obicitur magis atque improuida pectora turbat.

You incurred not Hera’s wrath nor threw love-cursed Dido on her pyre–

ecce autem gemini a Tenedo tranquilla per alta
(horresco referens) immensis orbibus angues

You did not bear Anchises upon your shoulders as you fled Troy’s burning walls–

fit sonitus spumante salo; iamque arua tenebant
ardentisque oculos suffecti sanguine et igni
sibila lambebant linguis uibrantibus ora.

You do not own the blind poet’s songs, Hektor of the shining helm, Diomedes of the great war cry–

τίς δὲ σύ ἐσσι φέριστε καταθνητῶν ἀνθρώπων;
οὐ μὲν γάρ ποτ’ ὄπωπα μάχῃ ἔνι κυδιανείρῃ

You cannot take Plutarch nor Socrates by PhD!

“I went to one who had the reputation of wisdom …
When I began to talk with him, I could not help thinking that he was not really wise,
although he was thought wise by many, and wiser still by himself …
So I left him, saying to myself, as I went away: Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is – for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know.”

Even a critic as skeptical as Edward Said, having succumbed to the temptation of university, academic employment, could not tear down the master’s house with the master’s tools: what hope have you?

At pater infelix, nec iam pater, “Icare,” dixit,
“Icare,” dixit “ubi es? qua te regione requiram?”

You may focus on the parts of antiquity that weren’t white men–

And I shall read Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Plato, Herodotus, Sophocles, Plutarch and Horace
because they are spectacular

Because you think it despicable to inspire “the foundation of Western civilization and culture”–

τὸν δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ὑπόδρα ἰδὼν προσέφη πολύμητις Ὀδυσσεύς:
‘ξεῖν᾽, οὐ καλὸν ἔειπες: ἀτασθάλῳ ἀνδρὶ ἔοικας.
οὕτως οὐ πάντεσσι θεοὶ χαρίεντα διδοῦσιν
ἀνδράσιν, οὔτε φυὴν οὔτ᾽ ἂρ φρένας οὔτ᾽ ἀγορητύν.
ἄλλος μὲν γάρ τ᾽ εἶδος ἀκιδνότερος πέλει ἀνήρ,
ἀλλὰ θεὸς μορφὴν ἔπεσι στέφει, οἱ δέ τ᾽ ἐς αὐτὸν
τερπόμενοι λεύσσουσιν: ὁ δ᾽ ἀσφαλέως ἀγορεύει
αἰδοῖ μειλιχίῃ, μετὰ δὲ πρέπει ἀγρομένοισιν,
ἐρχόμενον δ᾽ ἀνὰ ἄστυ θεὸν ὣς εἰσορόωσιν.
ἄλλος δ᾽ αὖ εἶδος μὲν ἀλίγκιος ἀθανάτοισιν,
ἀλλ᾽ οὔ οἱ χάρις ἀμφιπεριστέφεται ἐπέεσσιν,
ὡς καὶ σοὶ εἶδος μὲν ἀριπρεπές, οὐδέ κεν ἄλλως
οὐδὲ θεὸς τεύξειε, νόον δ᾽ ἀποφώλιός ἐσσι.

You reduce the Classics to something that inspires:
No civilization, no culture

No one.

Worthless.

Your PhD does not entitle you to dictate other people’s heritage.