Empty Achievement

I have a hard time paying attention to observations on “achievement” based on common ideas of what it is, since they normally seem to assume indices of it that have been so thoroughly corrupted that they hardly mean anything anymore. In the academy, for example, and beyond the general dumbing down involved in its constant attack on and ignorance of the Western canon, one can earn a doctorate in almost any idiot subject one can imagine. (This is just as true of the religious academy as of any other.) Such doctors (Jill Biden is a good example) are not learned people—at least their doctorates are no proof of it—and their diplomas aren’t worth much more than the paper they’re printed on. Grade inflation, curriculum metastasis, qualification inflation, abasement of standards by admission quotas, ignorance of history, special tracks for the incompetent, and other mostly taboo subjects are just examples from one segment of society in which “achievement” is determined by grossly deteriorated, illogical, and prejudicial standards.

When my wife graduated from college in the early seventies, an honorary doctorate was awarded to an immensely successful chicken farmer who had donated piles of money to the university. People found it mildly amusing (as honorary doctorates so often are), and no one called him Dr. Smith—at least in earnest, for chickens were his business, and he was good at it. Nowadays people get academic doctorates in subjects that require little aptitude and only nominal labor. Nobody laughs, and everyone is now expected to address them by their empty title. The people who head these degree factories and law firms and commercial enterprises, and so on, determine what “achievement” is.

Christians (and reasonable people in general) should have nothing to do with this kind of thinking and operation—and will have less and less to do with these institutions as they, devoted as they should be to honesty, plain speaking, and knowledge of the past, are increasingly forced out of them to establish their own by the law of the Benedict Option. These new institutions, whether they are colleges or carpentries, should have high, honest standards as befits witness to the Veritas now abandoned by the places that dare, perhaps in mockery, to retain the word on their escutcheons.

S. M. Hutchens is a Touchstone senior editor.

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