Rectifying Names

a blog on publishing by Bruce Fingerhut

     1. Tsze-lu said, “The ruler of Wei has been waiting for you, in order with you to administer the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done?”
     2. The Master replied, “What is necessary is to rectify names.”
     3. “So, indeed!” said Tsze-lu. “You are wide of the mark! Why must there be such rectification?”
     4. The Master said, “How uncultivated you are, Yu! A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve.
     5. “If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.
     6. “When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music will not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot.
     7. “Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.”

Analects of Confucius, XIII Tsze-lu, Chapter 3, James Legge, translator

Labor - September 2, 2013

A short and clear explanation of the creation and meaning of Labor Day in America and Canada is the following, from Wikipedia:

In the United States, Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of their country.

In many countries, the working classes sought to make May Day an official holiday, and their efforts largely succeeded. In the United States and Canada, however, the official holiday for workers is Labor Day in September. This day was promoted by the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor, who organized the first parade in New York City. After the Haymarket Massacre, US President Grover Cleveland feared that commemorating Labor Day on May 1 could become an opportunity to commemorate the affair. Thus, in 1887, it was established as an official holiday in September to support the Labor Day that the Knights favored.

America has been blessed by having many labor leaders who understood the good that can come out of a capitalist economy and did not create the labor movement as an enemy to wealth-making in the country. In much of the rest of the world, the labor movement was founded and led by anarchists and communists, and the results in societal relations and economic advancement are everywhere to see. Not so in America, and we owe these men our undivided gratitude.

Whether labor is organized or not, whether it applies to physical or mental work, labor has been held in high regard in American history, as well it should be. In America it is common, as it is not common elsewhere, to ask a new acquaintance, “What do you do?” Everyone knows that means “What do you do for a living?” rather than, say, what you like to do for recreation, or intellectual, physical, or spiritual fulfillment. We define ourselves in large part by what we do. It is supposed to give back to us, not merely take from us. Not everyone is happy with his work, of course, but even that unhappiness is a source for Americans to be proud of their tenacity in providing for family, to possess the resolve to push on or even better oneself, to take responsibility. That is the American way, even in those cases in which the worker cannot see this as the American dream.

Genesis 3 proclaims work as the punishment for Adam’s sin in eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. And though God’s words about the trials and tribulations that accompany work are harsh in Genesis, it gives us the foundation of what it is to be human. Work is our inheritance; it is the very definition of man, that which separates him from all other creatures. Hidden in Genesis but evident throughout history is the notion that work is the pathway to recompense with God, not restoring our legacy of leisure in Eden but discovering good and evil on our own instead of by the eating of a fruit of the Tree. In short, work is a good, heralded as almost a gift to man, a defining of man, a way for him not only to make amends with God but to create, blossom, enrich, achieve self-worth, show integrity. It is difficult for me to conceive what mankind would be like if Adam and Eve had not eaten that apple.

We are now in a pass in which many cannot find work or cannot find enough work. The results are, by turns, demoralizing, frightening, or demeaning to many, and hurtful to the entire country, since we all are beneficiaries of the work of others. The dynamism of the American economy has been injured, perhaps gravely injured. It is altogether possible that the greatest danger will come from a redefinition of the importance of work itself, as the society seems more and more to be split between those who make and those who take. For all the ills that may result from that, two stand out in my mind: it sets people against one another, and it diminishes the pride and importance of work itself for a vast number of people.

Ever since I was a little boy, there has been talk about machines taking over the hard work that people have always done. It has been said as a godsend, as a means to advance from back-breaking labor, as a way to allow for the flourishing of man. We are closer than ever to the full-bodied accomplishment of this dream. But what will it create in full?

Machines are wonderful slaves . . . until they become terrible masters. Like most government projects, giving handouts to the poor or the unskilled or the lazy, simply makes for more poor, unskilled, or lazy people. You get more of what you subsidize and less of what you tax. We may be headed for a life of comfort, ease, and extraordinarily long lives, but what we have done so far in the creation of such a world might well lead us to fear such a future rather than embrace it.

Will comfort and ease and long lives result in the flowering of man or, more likely, I fear, in ever-more stupid, useless (to the country), and probably violent people, so vividly shown in Burgess’s Clockwork Orange? The future may be good for the industrious (as long as they can protect themselves and fit into a new understanding of “industrious”), but will it convert the rest of society into Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon low-castes as in Brave New World or the proles of 1984? I fear that the new age of unemployment will be the most antihuman era in history.

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So Much Is Owed by So Many to So Few - August 26, 2013

No, I am not referring only to Winston’s Churchill’s famous 1940 speech on the Battle of Britain. He said “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.” A strong case can be made that Churchill was right in terms of conflict. But what I want to speak of here is culture, not conflict (admittedly, there is some overlap between conflict and culture). So, though one could write and write on the great historic moments (e.g., from Leonidas’ Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae to Pope Leo I’s encounter with Attila at Mincio to George Washington at Valley Forge and crossing the Delaware River), I pass these great moments to speak of learning and culture.

When we recall the history of the West (I leave it to others much more knowledgeable to speak of the Orient), one can be rightly amazed at the fortune, luck, and/or Hand of God that has preserved and enriched our lives. How much we owe; how few we owe it to.

Think of the horrific burning of the Great Library of Alexandria, most likely caused inadvertently by Julius Caesar’s raid on the city to end his conflict with Pompey. This library has been hailed as the greatest (i.e., most important) in the history of the world, and I am no one to argue against that. To have lost such a treasure could well be considered as devastating to the West as the loss of British independence at the hand of the Nazis two millennia later. But scholars picked up the pieces, spent lifetimes reconstituting some of the books, and endowed the world with their continuing gift of knowledge.

Think of the rise of the monastery several hundred years later, where men in solitude preserved not only the past, but gave us a future by keeping learning itself alive, lest the written language of the West, mostly Latin, fall into desuetude.

Medieval Arab scholars reintroduced Aristotle, likely the greatest thinker of all time, to the West, and it fell to the greatest thinker in the Medieval world, Thomas Aquinas, to show the importance of Aristotle’s thought. A good deal of the works of J.S. Bach, likely the greatest composer of all time (my prejudice is showing, I know), were preserved through the discoveries and hard work of Felix Mendelssohn.

All of these have one commonality: the materials were preserved in some written form and cherished for their importance by someone who had the background, intelligence, and goodness to see the importance of preserving these works.

Until fairly recently books were among the most valuable commodities extent. They not only gave us our history, they gave us the means whereby we could understand our history. In other words, they were not only the ends of knowledge, they were the means of knowledge. Books were copied painstakingly, letter by letter, often on parchment or other valuable materials. They were not just tools in learning; they might well be call learning itself.

Now we live in an age of superabundance. The fact of the matter is that the opposite of the case of the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria is the norm . . . not that something great will be destroyed, but that nothing can ever be destroyed. Everything, every damned thing, is preserved and will be preserved, and there is no one to speak up to say that some works should be preserved but others should not. Today we would not be able to recognize the importance of a Mendelssohn, we would not be able to differentiate his great knowledge and taste from Joe Blow from Idaho, who, after all, is a person too.

We all of us owe so much to so few, but who is there now to tell us what is owed, and why it is owed, and to whom it is owed? The cacophony is stifling.

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I Give You a New Commandment . . . - August 19, 2013

Christians, Jews, atheists all know the ending of this quote from St. John’s Gospel . . . “that you love one another.” Each word  in the phrase (except the “a”) is important and telling:

“I”: Jesus is not looking to quote someone else but to take the authority upon himself.

“give”: gifts are what one hands over. To give is to transfer without payment of any sort.

“you”: signifies that the gift to be given is personal, aimed specifically at the listener.

“new”: indicates that the gift is unique.

“commandment”: here we come to the central word in the sentence; in fact, it can be said that “commandment,” by itself, encapsulates all the other words in the sentence. A commandment, after all, must come from some other person of authority, is given not in exchange but as a transfer, is directed to the listener, and is unique.

Moreover, a commandment is something demanded of another that, presumably, that person would not normally be expected to do in the typical course of his or her life. It is not in the form of a suggestion, but specifically given to be acted upon, not merely listened to or talked about. It points directly as a pathway to improvement, whether that improvement might be for the listener or for others who will benefit from the listener’s actions to follow. Commandments are serious, coming from a higher-up, one with power and perhaps even control. They are not to be trifled with or ignored.

The commandment to “love one another” surely must have been a bit shocking to those who heard Jesus speak. Is this the kind of thing one would be commanded to do? If so, who is the beneficiary of the commandment? At first glance, it is the other, the one who will be loved (and who presumably was not among the loved before), but certainly it also may well apply to the listener himself.

And anyway, how can you demand that one person love another person? Love is of such a personal nature that it seems beyond the scope of demand; it comes naturally or it does not come at all, right? Can we love another against our will, or despite our will, or beyond our will? Is this not the most difficult demand that will ever be made of us? Far easier would be 1984’s Two Minutes of Hate than that we love one another. If I love my parents and my wife and my children, is not that enough? How can I spread myself so thin, you might think.

After all, “one another” includes all sorts of people who may well be unsavory, obnoxious, hostile, hateful, or just plain unlovable. In fact, if it did not apply to such people, it would not need to be a commandment, it would not need to come from someone with authority, it would not come in the form of a free gift, it would not be personally aimed at you and me, it would not be unique.

The fact is, this is the most radical, improbable, and, one might say, impossible request that will ever be asked of us, to love one another. But in reality it is only the beginning, because in both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus specified that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (and you thought simply loving one another was hard!).

[25] And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
[26] He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read?”
[27] And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
[28] And he said to him, “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.”
[29] But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

        Luke 10:25–29

It is here that Jesus spoke of the parable of the Good Samaritan, a stranger, an alien, and not one seen as a neighbor, who did not merely speak of his love, but gave it away willingly.

A neighbor, then, is one who helps another, the helping being the sign of the neighbor. And the helping is itself a sign of love. As he put it in John 15:13: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Love, then, is not a feeling; it is an action. Neighbor is not an acquaintance; it is a person who is helped or who has helped.

All this is part and parcel of the notion that friends help one another or, perhaps better, those who help one another are friends. Help is a sign of closeness, of concern, of sacrifice, of love. Loving ones neighbor may not be easy, but anything that is easy is not what one remembers as his or her greatest hour.

In our present day, as more and more personal charity, built originally as a way of neighbors to help one another, is supplanted by government largess, we are the losers and our neighbors (or those who would be our neighbors) are lost to us. The difficulty of loving one’s neighbor is inevitably followed by the joy of loving one’s neighbor. This is not the same as the satisfaction of paying our taxes so that government can decide who our neighbor is.

This was never said better than in Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, a rewriting of the New Testament, with Zarathustra, the Laughing Prophet, taking the place of Jesus. In the line I most remember of anything Nietzsche wrote, Zarathustra says, “I give you a new commandment: love the farthest.”

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True in the World, True for the World August 12, 2013

One of the first articles written for this blog (April 30, 2012) was called “Quantity and Quality,” and it is the basis for today’s article. Here it is [link].

Have you ever read a McGuffey Reader? I never quite finished it, for the same reason that I daresay few of us would . . . the experience is both wonderful and terrible. Here was a reader for the children of the prairie, most of whom would have a very limited time in their lives for “book learning.” Most would have hard and important daily chores to complete in their childhood, most would marry barely out of adolescence and, in their teens, have their children of their own, many would not live into their 50s. What they would learn from the Readers would have to suffice intellectually for the rest of their short and rigorous lives. But the knowledge they would receive from these Readers . . . of basic mathematics and the sciences extent at the time, of English grammar and literature, of the history of man and of ideas and of their country . . . would put not only the student of today to shame, it might well put his or her teacher to shame too.

As I write this, I do not any of my copies of a Reader in front of me, but I remember well the astonishment I felt when I read a U.S. history quiz, One question asked for a detailed report on the five causes of the Civil War, another was on the causes of the fall of the Whig Party. It went on like that, asking questions that one could not necessarily expect from history majors in American universities these days.

This knowledge, after all, would not be measured in time, but in depth, that is, not just quantity but quality. It would not only give them data but put them on the road to wisdom. It would start off with quantity, with information, with knowledge, with data, but always it was the goal of the Readers to look upon these immense particles of learning as prefatory to wisdom, as a way of being, if you will, true in the world and for the world.

Our students today know so much about the data, products of technology that can give them the answers but never the more important part, the question, and without the question, they will never know the purpose or end of knowledge. The real harm is that the one thing we have been truly successful in teaching them is that they are the smartest kids ever in history (they may just be ignorant enough or stupid enough to believe that), that the latest is the best, that, in the words of Johnny Rocco, the ultimate aim of life, that which will give you happiness and self-satisfaction, can be capsulated in the word “more.”

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Deciding to Make a Decision - August 5, 2013

Many years ago, I heard about a research project in which heads of various businesses were interviewed to determine the depth of their knowledge in a myriad of activities that average businesses confront all the time. It was assumed (I assume) that no one person would be good in all these activities, since many of them were of the type that a good CEO would delegate to others. What the research was after was how a particular industry handled these matters, not how a particular company did so. So there would be numerous examples from banks, attorneys, clothing retailers, restaurateurs, cinema owners, newspaper presidents, etc. They were quizzed on such topics as how to read a balance sheet, the role of marketing and advertising, profit-and-loss statements, recruiting and keeping employees, understanding markets, dealing with government agencies, knowing the law that applied to their business, and much more.

Different industries have different missions, different expectations, different ways of doing some of these very jobs, but all businesses, in some way or another, must come to grips with these areas now and again.

Well, I was not horribly ashamed or even surprised to read that the publishing industry had heads that occupied one of the bottom positions on this knowledge patrol. In many of the areas, book publishers came out dead last or very close to it. I sort of whispered under my breath the unspoken truism that no one gets into the publishing business for the money only or for the opportunity to learn Business 101. There is a bit of the old “We don’t need no steenking badges” in my appraisal.

However, there was one particular activity in business in which book publishers came out on top, or almost so, and that was the ability to make a decision. We may not understand accounting or strategic planning, but, darn it, we can make a decision to forget about all that other stuff in favor of . . . well, whatever it is that we have to decide about.

You see, for a book to come about, each one separate, each one different, each with a unique market, with a separate competitor, a different lifetime, there are dozens of decisions to be made in contracts, rights, royalties, editing, design, production, manufacturing, marketing, sales, warehousing and shipping, and so much more. It would not be incorrect to say that a book may require hundreds of small decisions to take place before it arrives in the warehouse. And most of those decisions cannot be automatically transferred to another book published in the same season or by the same author or in the same field. Each is unique.

Now, compare the average book publisher with, say, the marketing manager of the Wrigley Company, who has one decision to be made each year . . . which set of twins he’s going to hire to be in the Doublemint Gum commercial. Which of these people sweats the range of decisions? Why, the poor guy at Wrigley, of course. For us, we know darned well we are likely to make a half-dozen mistakes per book. We live with the realization of mistakes; for me, I will take responsibility of any failure, but for a success to take place, it has to be the work of many people, predominantly the author, of course. I cannot take the bows for success, just the fault for the failure, since there needs to be virtually everything going right for a success to take place, and that is accomplished with many, but I, all by myself, can make the decision the leads to, shall we say, non-success.

It may be that this state of affairs is seen as a proof that book publishing is not normal in the world of business, and I am ready to accept that. In fact, I think most authors would not argue about that, though they may wish it were not so. For myself, a son of Washington, D.C., though I had the good fortune to go to Notre Dame and not have the bad fortune to afford to go back to D.C., I relish the very problems extent in a business with such a small market and high competition and countless nuances in the message and the manner of presentation and so forth. We may not know the consequences of our decisions, but we can make the decision, not fake the decision (all the while demanding to have our way , , , think about that . . .  to “have our way” when we have not made the decision!). So lucky me: it’s better than government work.

“It is the characteristic excellence of the strong man that he can bring momentous issues to the fore and make a decision about them. The weak are always forced to decide between alternatives they have not chosen themselves.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

August 5, 2013
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The Necessary and the Sufficient - July 29, 2013

Mission statements these days seem almost as flexible as a politician’s principles, changing to suit political or personal aspirations. Think back to two generations ago and answer this question: what was the mission of the public school? It may even be shocking now to think that it might well have been to serve our children, to help them grow up to be knowledgeable, perhaps even wise, able to make their way in the world, and steeped in the history and culture of our country. The central concern of the mission then was the education of children, intellectually and morally, with an eye toward their future development as men and women and, particularly, as citizens. In many ways, it seemed that the unmentioned aim of the school was the view of philosopher/educator/diplomat Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835), whose understanding of the flowering of the individual (or, as he put it: “'the ultimate task of our existence is to give the fullest possible content to the concept of humanity in our own person”) lent itself well to the neo-Enlightenment proclivities of the designers of our educational theories, popularly associated with John Dewey.

Is there anyone so blind today who would call this mission statement applicable to the present-day public school? In the first place, we likely recognize that the proletarianization of the public school has resulted in the teacher, not the student, becoming the center of the modern public-school mission. Students are largely seen as members of groups, to be “served” rather than taught, some with favor, some with disfavor, but all with the notion that the school’s purpose was not a student’s flowering but his usefulness. To whom is the student useful? All kinds of answers are possible: to the teacher, the future employer, the popular culture, the seller of all manner of goods, the state.

Both of these concepts (teacher-centered education and individual flowering) are flawed, I believe, but we must first recognize that they exist. We must recognize that in today’s world, we are attempting to be the world leader with a second-rate education system, that dumbing-down the secondary school has led to at least a slowing-down of college, as the first year or so spent there is often remedial (we never say that, of course), aimed at allowing our students to catch up with their peers in Europe and Asia. It is not the culture alone that has caused the prolongation of adolescence and the now-interminable delay to adulthood. So many nowadays fail to complete the love-marriage-parent steps that every previous generation for millennia followed (or to put it off for so long that one of the steps is harmed or the order of the steps confused). Part of the blame must be with what the student has gone through in his or her education.

Now to my point (ah, yes, I do have a point), which concerns the place of the university in this depressing reality. The university, you might well think, is the institution that we have called upon to fix this state of affairs. It is the one that takes our undereducated children and helps them catch up (“yes, we have a second-rate school system, but the best university system in the world,” it is said), to train them and to civilize them in the hopes that they will become successful in a modern technological age.

But right away, you can see that these nevertheless important roles were never part of the mission of the university. At one time the university (really, the college) was not meant to do anything but educate an intellectual elite for leadership. Teaching was the sole duty of the professor, learning the sole duty of the student. In some wonderful colleges today, this breakdown of duties still abides, but prestige, in this age of science, is not with the humanities, which were the principal, if not the sole, course of study at such colleges in the past. Prestige now lies with science or what can be passed off as science or what can imagine itself as science, and this means the research university.

The research university is not a place away from the madding crowd to learn and grow, as colleges were formed to be, but the very hub of society, a busy and dynamic place for planning and executing rather than for contemplating and wondering. It is a veritable city unto itself, with all the good and all the bad that the city brings. But what the city was never intended to bring is the quiet necessary for reflection and a guide to aid the student in searching for the good that is the object of reflection.

There are certain necessities of the research university that a college was never created for: connections between departments and the government or large industries; professors who never teach but do research only; whole departments that are higher-grade trade schools meant to train rather than educate; programs meant to aid professors in their own advancement—to help them publish, lest they perish, to get them grants to escape the university and to train a legion of graduate students to take their places in the classroom.

Do you see something of what we saw in the changes that have taken place in public school, the transfer of point of reference from the student to the teacher? It is everywhere to be seen at the modern research university. More and more, the faculty is the de facto power at many universities, and anyone who has been around research universities might well recognize that the faculty may not be the perfect entity to be in charge of designing a plan to oversee an institution that is rapidly becoming one that serves the faculty’s interests over all others.

Among the important, though perhaps little noticed, necessities of the modern research university is the university press. Liberal-arts colleges do not have book-publishing entities on campus, but, until recently, virtually all of the larger research universities did. The press serves several important roles in these institutions: it is an outlet for university research; it projects the concerns and achievements of the central output of the university (not educated students but research); it is a leading attraction for fine faculty; and it represents the intellectual (as opposed to the social) corner of the university.

Recently, however, there has been an ominous trend to downgrade the university press in favor of other entities that may project the university in a more efficient light (efficient for what, we may well question). Nearly all university presses lose money and are in need of some subsidy from the university. In this, they are like many other entities at the universities, from departments to centers to (gasp) sports teams.

The football program may be a profit center for the university, not only directly in sales and marketing income but also with alumni development, but in favoring what could only be considered an ancillary part of the university’s true mission for the central part (or the sufficient over the necessary), the modern university is fast on the way to selling its birthright for a mess of pottage.

Many modern universities are under financial duress these days, pricing themselves out of a changing market, but almost all of their problems can be laid at the feet of their own planning, their own willingness to transfer centrality from the student to the professor, resulting in an incessant need for more and more funds, even as tuition increases 5–7 percent yearly; and their own connivance with the government to swallow whole the immense loans that the government foists on students, which beggars them and forces them to see the university as a purely a job-creating entity.

Recently, several university presses have closed, and several more can be expected to close. There have been a variety of reasons given for such closings, usually centered on cost. A strong case can be made, however, that closing the press was an act of abandonment of the mission of a research university itself. I imagine that something like this was the first step in our public school decline, perhaps needing to scrimp on books and materials for the sake of personnel salaries and benefits.

Yet a mighty oak is still dependent on tiny acorns.

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Gatekeeping in an Age without Fences - July 22, 2013

Some sixteen months ago, in the first article for this blog (, I wrote about an experience I had trying to explain the nature of publishing to a crowd of totally indifference freshmen. I used the inestimable Benjamin Franklin as the model of what Americans might rightly think of as the ideal publisher, one who wrote and, presumably, edited the books he published; typeset, printed, and bound them; sold them in his own store and through the mail; and funded this entire activity. True, in his twenty years of publishing, Franklin produced fewer books than St. Augustine’s Press does these days in a half-year, but, as we know, he had a lot of side-jobs (and, besides, this limited production was, nevertheless, more than any other printer of his time). I asked the students which of these many activities that Franklin accomplished was the central one for a publisher. After the nanosecond of silence, I gave them the answer: “none of them.” Each of these activities is now subject to being shopped out by any publisher who wishes, and none is the essential definition of publishing. I told them that control of rights is the central activity of publishing, the one that cannot be shopped out.

A couple of months later, I wrote another blog with the ticklish title, “Amazon Is Not Your Friend” (, which was directed to the general trend in publishing, after the destruction of so many wonderful bookstores by the chains and the continuing takeover of the chains by online order takers, as the book has become for most people a commodity no different from any other, say, purchasing a flowering plant online (I purposely picked something beautiful, one often thought of as unique, though one minute of reflection will be enough to see that, as a commodity, nothing in the world is more unique than a book . . . I mean, how many types of flowering plants are there?). It may be so far in the past that few will remember, but there were times when bookstore personnel were amazingly knowledgeable about their specialties. I remember the sheer joy, during my years as a grad student in international relations, of going to the wonderful World Affairs Bookstore on Connecticut Avenue near Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. There I would find personnel who not only knew the contents of the books in their store but could lead a student to the right scholar, the new title of importance, the central argument. Did I ever wonder for a moment that perhaps these books could be found elsewhere for a buck cheaper? No!

The first of these blogs mentioned above spoke about the abandonment by publishers of the important duties that together made each of them unique from others. The second blog did the same to bookstore owners. In both cases, what we are talking about are gatekeepers. It is true that in publishing gatekeeping comes in several packages, depending upon what is considered the centrally important activity of the firm. In nearly all cases, these centrally important activities are worthy of the need for gatekeeping. For example, a large trade house like Random House or Harper-Collins has shareholders who have invested in the company and rightly expect that the people running the company would look after their interests. In such a situation, the publisher must concern himself or herself with sales and profit over a personal desire to publish the quatrains of untested poets. A publisher of a company owned by a religious order or, for that matter, an avowed atheist organization owes it to those owners to publish works that reinforce their standards and mission. In that case, their concern would be more in editing than in sales. Some publishers of books in the fine arts may actually find that their concerns are more directed to production than even editorial matters.

In all these cases, what the gatekeeper must do is allow the best that is possible, given the constraints that are inevitable in every business, in the area of their work, and to hold back, as best they can, the mediocre or the unimportant or the destructive.

But what happens in a world that seems fast becoming our norm, when it is not clear what the mission is, not evident what separates excellence from mediocrity, not certain where the truth lies? That seems to be our future. As I have mentioned before (, just as librarians get together nowadays to talk about delivery systems, book publishers meet to talk about formats. If they are standing by the gate with that sort of goal in mind, we can assume that somewhere there is a need for a stronger fence, because the essential reason for their existence has twittered away and become atrophied.

For scholarly publishing, which is the area I know best, the gatekeeper must be centrally concerned with the truth; the arts publisher might well find that principle in the beautiful; a trade publisher aims for the good. Each, of course, has to be very concerned with knowing precisely what the true or the beautiful or the good is. For many, they might find that knowing perfectly the full aim of their work may be more like what is termed “negative theology,” i.e., that they might know more about the beautiful by knowing and understanding what the not-beautiful is, for example.

We live in an age in which fences of all types are being torn down, destroyed, allowed to deteriorate, or never built in the first place. These fences are the very stuff of our existence, the patterning out of life worth living with others, a way in which we can find ourselves instead of losing ourselves. Without these fences, there is no need for gatekeepers, because there is no opening or closing to the world that was once contained and defined. The stripping of these fences is being done, no doubt, with good intentions, that very stuff so thickly paved in hell.

Jehovah buried, Satan dead

Jehovah buried, Satan dead,
do fearers worship Much and Quick;
badness not being felt as bad,
itself thinks goodness what is meek;
obey says toc, submit says tic,
Eternity's a Five Year Plan:
if Joy with Pain shall hand in hock
who dares to call himself a man?

go dreamless knaves on Shadows fed,
your Harry's Tom, your Tom is Dick;
while Gadgets murder squack and add,
the cult of Same is all the chic;

by instruments, both span and spic,
are justly measured Spic and Span:
to kiss the mike if Jew turn kike
who dares to call himself a man?

loudly for Truth have liars pled, click;
where Boobs are holy, poets mad,
illustrious punks of Progress shriek;
when Souls are outlawed, Hearts are sick,
Hearts being sick, Minds nothing can:
if Hate's a game and Love's a fuck
who dares to call himself a man?

King Christ, this world is all aleak;
and lifepreservers there are none:
and waves which only He may walk
Who dares to call Himself a man.

                                                                                                e.e. cummings

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Living in the Age of Narrowcasting - July 15, 2013

You remember Big Brother from Orwell’s 1984, the one whose image, staring down intently upon one and all, was on every broken-down flat in England, who appeared on the telly and during the Two Minutes of Hate. Every decision, every answer, every good thing originated with him, was promulgated through him, was owed to him . . . or so it was said. From some unknown hanger he held sway not only over the government, not only over the culture, but over something far greater, the thought process of individual persons in Oceania. His will became their will. All the means available to the state were used to broadcast BB as savior.

Orwell strongly implied that Big Brother did not exist; the wars against, now Eurasia, now Eastasia, did not exist; the ever-broadcast improvements in the lives of citizens did not exist. What did exist was the outlook framed by the motto of those in charge: “Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” Control was asserted, hammered, and constantly repeated in broadcasting mode.

In our lifetimes, when computers became available to individuals, many people were worried that the hopes of a Goebbels would be realized. Control of a mechanism that could broadcast and monopolize propaganda at will would spell the end of privacy and perhaps even individuality, or so it was thought.

But what the computer ended up bringing to society was almost exactly the opposite. The technology that was to be the ultimate broadcasting tool became, in its place, the ultimate narrowcasting tool. Instead of making everyone the same by controlling broadcasts, it opened the world for millions upon millions of ideas, concerns, and opinions; if anything, it led to chaos rather than command-and-control. The computer became the greatest narrowcasting machine in history, and in doing so, it spelled the end of any expectation for a monopoly of broadcasting.

Narrowcasting, of course, has its own problems. Searching the internet will give you not one answer to your question but perhaps thousands. What the net cannot do is give you confidence that you are getting the truth. And despite the great ballyhoo over the benefits of the net, in the end, it can supply information unending but not wisdom.

Of course, broadcasting remains with us, but without exceptions, broadcasting must plan to attract by using the lowest common denominator. In a world full of available information, even without wisdom, lowest common denominators tend to be attracted to specific populations. That is, in the end you have to ask which broadcast opportunity, because, odd though it is to say it, any broadcasting opportunity has to aim at appealing to a specific set of people. In other words, to appeal in broadcast, you must narrowcast.

Though broadcasting remains successful in various ways, it is never successful in anything that is important to all people. It is geared to the moment, and the moment in our frenetic times flies away and disappears almost instantly. Broadcasting is timely; narrowcasting appeals to the timeless. But the timely in our days has been more and more shortened with every passing year (perhaps with every passing day), while the timeless has become more important, probably because it is the only thing that fights what we can call the “ephemerality” of the moment. Virtually everyone knows that one-size-fits-all doesn’t work any longer in the United States. It doesn’t work with clothing or with entertainment or with medical insurance. To give a publishing example, if Americans can be satisfied only with, say, 2 million books published each year (that’s the number for 2011), it’s absurd to think they’ll be happy with one plan for their health care.

As society has used the latest technology not to become more alike, but to become more expressive of individuality, those whose positions in the past were enhanced and strengthened by broadcasting (the biggest of businesses, the biggest of entertainment conglomerates, the biggest of governments) are finding that their status cannot be sustained on the basis of their own operations and deeds; they must, instead, use some rather unsavory means to their ends that have nothing to do with their businesses or their movies or their public policies. They cannot beat narrowcasters without the help of the powerful, who dominate through inheritance, whether that inheritance be of money or political control.

Our present Administration seems wholeheartedly wedded to the broadcast mentality. In so doing, they show themselves to be not only out of touch but retrograde and regressive. Broadcasting is so . . . yesterday.

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Intended Consequences - July 8, 2013

We all have experienced unintended consequences, i.e., results of our actions (or, at least, actions that have some bearing on our lives) that surprise us. The way some people seem almost to rely on them, they must live in a state of perpetual amazement. I am not hinting that there really is no such thing as unintended consequences, only foolish people. Indeed, none of us can know the consequence(s) of every action. Nevertheless, there are so-called unintended consequences that we should have intended, for example, consequences from actions that we have witnessed over and over again.

Perhaps my worry results from the fact that I live in a world of actions from government, and government is forever using unintended consequences to excuse rank stupidity or duplicity.

Let me take one good example that has a decisive impact on publishing, especially scholarly publishing, even though the initial action had nothing to do with publishing. This concerns government grants and, especially, loan programs for college students. On the face of it, how could one object to such largess? Is it not to the benefit of the country to encourage higher education? to see to it that people may improve themselves whatever their socio-economic background? to make the college life accessible to more and more people? I think the jury is out . . . and, moreover, may never come back at all.

No doubt, these grants and loans benefit a great number of people: teachers and, now, with the ever-growing proletarianization of what we used to call the profession of teaching, the teachers unions; until recent action that nationalized loan programs by the government, banks; universities, of course; insurance companies, until such time as it is subsumed into a government monopoly; money managers and others who will help the final recipients of the money; and, naturally, lawyers, our greatest growth industry, sadly growing in inverse proportion to its usefulness to society.

One body who does not benefit from government grants and loans are students (and their parents), who are saddled with enormous debt that is growing exponentially.

A couple of questions come to mind: where does the money go? Why, to the colleges, of course. And there is no relation between inflation, say, and the increase in tuition. In fact, this is not new at all. During the period 1986–1995, when our four children attended universities for the bachelor’s degrees, the average yearly inflation was 3.54%, but the tuition increase per year was 7%, twice the inflation rate. If the government got more generous with terms and amounts, this money found its way to the universities. It has not stopped. College professors teach fewer hours, have longer and/or more numerous sabbaticals; students have larger and larger debts at graduation.

This cannot be an unintended consequence; it’s been going on much too long for any but the treacherously stupid to fail to see it. But government solutions to big mistakes are always to make bigger mistakes, to enlarge a program that has failed, to double-down on disappointment. It is not pretty.

As for publishing, one of the totally intended consequences has been the deterioration of education itself, the reworking of the university into a high-brow vocational school, with the result that students find themselves in the predicament of having to seek classes that can aid them in finding a job.

As a publisher in the humanities, it is worrisome to me that the very fields that once attracted students to complete their academic period in their lives is seen more and more as an area with no job possibilities and, therefore, to be avoided, since college means, for more and more, a period of life remembered as one for the accumulation of debt.

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Allah Is Great; God Is Good - July 1, 2013

I have been reading a few sections from Fr. James Schall’s wonderful The Regensburg Lecture, which explains the background and gives the reader a journey through the thought that Pope Benedict XVI gave in his lecture of September 12, 2006. I remember very well the lecture itself. A friend called me on the 13th and said I should read it. When I did so, it was an astonishing experience. I actually felt blood rushing from my head, which had happened to me only once before in reading, when I read “The Grand Inquisitor” section of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

I knew then that we should publish a work that would explain the greatness of Pope Benedict’s lecture, and I knew immediately that I wanted Fr. Schall to do it. The result is remarkable. Much of what confounds us when we think of the problems (in our estimation) of the Mideast and the trials that we have and are likely to have there in our more-and-more global world are answered in this lecture.

Let me deal with but one aspect, the nature of man’s understanding of his relationship with God. The West, as we know, is growing further and further away from seeking such understanding, of seeing itself as needing a relationship with God, of doubting either the existence of God or, at least, of any need for relationship. Sometimes I fear that in Europe the most we can hope for as a whole is a modern view of deism, which might be stated overly briefly by saying that God created the world and then got out of our way. There is a much greater variety of thought in our country than in many others among the First World, but scholars nevertheless refer to our time as “Post-Christian.”

If there is one certainty among us regarding the Mideast, it is that Muslims do not seem to be in any way deists. God is a living reality there and not merely a something that turned on the switch and then disappeared.

We in the West have been centrally influenced by what some scholars have noted as Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome, by the Jewish God, the ancient Greek rationality, and the Christian Messiah. The fact that so many have departed from this great gift or have devolved into a near Dr. Seuss view for explanation is disheartening but perhaps not entirely unexpected. One of the results of this has been a very confused (I’m being nice here) appreciation or, perhaps better, understanding of the Muslim world.

What the lecture gave to us is a reminder of the notion of voluntarism, whereby man understands god as not only without equal but as not bound by any action, logic, or history, whose greatness means that he cannot be contained by anything, even including his own pronouncements, so that nothing need oblige him to reveal the truth to us. He would not be bound, for example, to the law of non-contradiction, a law that presumably he gave us. He would not be constrained by the elementary laws of mathematics, so that if one day he decided that 2 + 2 = 5, it would remain that way . . . until such time as he decided on a different number.

This is a far cry from the God who has purposely limited himself, who acts within the rules he himself wrought upon the world, who withholds his hand, who promised Noah never again to bring about the destruction Noah witnessed, who allowed his own son to face an ignominious and horrible death, who has done these deeds out of a love that we don’t deserve.

Would he be great if all the laws that he gave were such that he could change them as he pleased without explanation? Yes, he would be great, but it would be a greatness like that of the lion, great because he is unpredictable and dangerous and devastating.

His choice, though, was not for the great but for the good.

The trust that we yearn for from God must be based on our intelligence, our experience, even our hope. Man is not born to receive a different world with each awakening from slumber. Even if he could do this, it would dispel any notion of trust, any notion of security, any notion of the good. True, he might stand back in wonder, praising the god who changes, the god who is great. One is left to wonder whether such a god is pleased with his own creation.

The God who holds back his power, who creates a world that applies to him also, who has shown his own power in refusing to use it, who has purposively lived within the rationality that guides our own minds and hearts and actions, who has suffered and died when he need not have so that we may know the full extent of his love for us, we who will suffer and die too . . . has bestowed upon us the answer that we need: There is, in the end, nothing greater than good.

Much on earth is concealed from us, but in place of it we have been granted a secret, mysterious sense of our living bond with the other world, with the higher heavenly world, and the roots of our thoughts and feelings are not here but in other worlds. That is why philosophers say it is impossible on earth to conceive the essence of things. God took seeds from other worlds and sowed them on this earth, and raised up his garden; and everything that could sprout sprouted, but it lives and grows only through its sense of being in touch with other mysterious worlds; if this sense is weakened or destroyed in you, that which has grown up in you dies. Then you become indifferent to life, and even come to hate it. So I think.

Feodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Part II, Book Six: The Russian Monk;
Chapter 3: From Talks and Homilies of the Elder Zosima;
(g) Of Prayer, Love, and the Touching of Other Worlds

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