The Charlotte News
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 6, 1936
Mr. Cash Punctures Some
By W. J. Cash
Site ed. note: Whether Cash was familiar with the phrase, coined, I believe, by Alfred North Whitehead, "the ignorance of the educated", it is not known; but Cash takes here from the same antecedent thought and develops it with self-deprecating and other-deprecating humor. So thinks, at least, this balloon.
TALKING to a friend the other day, I cast off the casual observation that the most hopelessly ignorant people in this country, the people most completely devoid of and immune to anything that could rightly be called culture, are not the hill-billies nor the country-jacks nor even the factory workers--not the simple masses in general, but the college-bred.
And having fathered the proposition, I had naturally to defend it. And what I said was that what principally distinguishes our college product is a puerile, tin-pot sophistication; an overwhelmingly complacent belief in its own superiority; a blistering contempt, amounting to downright hatred for whatever does not fit within the narrow scope of that nonsensical sophistication and whatever does not flatter that complacency; and a hodgepodge of dogmas and catch phrases which it calls its beliefs, but which in reality it accepts on authority as slavishly and uncritically as a Russian muzhik under the old regime accepted the dogma of Eastern Orthodoxy, and for which it almost invariably cannot give a logical explanation. This, and what this sums out to: an almost total lack of receptivity and curiosity.
What I said was that the average college product resembles nothing as [that] torn out of all relation to reality as nature planned it for him, and taught [as] much as a trained seal. Caught young, the unfortunate creature has been a little bagful of pathetic tricks--the trick of making money, of mouthing the latest slang, of playing golf and tennis and bridge, of dancing more or less (mainly less) well, and saying quite the correct things when he finds himself in front of the receiving line or going in and out of a drawing room, looking solemn in a church and hilarious at college reunion, of reading (sometimes) a given number of the right books as they grind off the presses, and spouting the right answers when he is given such cues as, say, "Shakespeare" or "the theater."
WHAT I said was that the horrible thing was not that he has been taught these tricks (all of them more or less excellent things in their proper place) but that he had apparently somehow imbibed the notion (by whose fault I don't profess to know) that they make up the sum and substance of human culture, and that in learning them, he had learned all that it was needful to know--that everything outside them is a pain in the neck. I said the horrible thing was that his interests had been so effectually circumscribed--his mind so fatally sealed up--that he had been so filled with scorn for everything save--shall we say?--balancing balls on his nose.
Then I went on to argue that such a person is inevitably and infinitely farther removed from a genuine culture--which can still be defined by old Matthew Arnold's rule of the knowledge of the best that has been thought and felt and done in the world--than a man of the masses. For, I said, the masses, despite all the things which can be truthfully said against them, generally, if not invariably, retain normal human receptivity and normal human curiosity. And that these, given the opportunity, are all that are necessary to open the way to the absorption of a genuine culture.
AFTER that, I descended to concrete cases. I pointed out that I have many times observed men in overalls and women in shabby cheap gowns pause to listen to a radio blaring out some grand passage of music, with obvious interest and pleasure in their eyes; and that on the other hand, nine out of ten of my college-bred acquaintances angrily swoop down upon the radio and cut it off if the broadcasting companies chance to cut in a few bars of decent stuff by way of relieving the incessant rattle of the abomination called swing which currently pollutes the atmosphere.
I said that the only man I had ever encountered who really appreciated Sherwood Anderson's "Winesburg" as it seems to me it should be appreciated was a country storekeeper, who left school somewhere along in the seventh grade, and who got his hands on my copy, not because I had wit enough to offer it to him but through accident. And finally I said--but that's enough.
The longer I think about it all, the more fully convinced I become that what I said was true.
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