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Noam Chomsky has done it again! The New Military Humanism Lessons from Kosovo Coming out September 1 In a war waged with Orwellian logic, what did we lose? 208 pages Get 25% off the retail price AND get your copy shipped hot off the presses When you order directly from Common Courage Press For details, \(Toni act Common Courage Press 1-800-497-3207 political connections and structures that can invigorate our public life, bringing together citizens to tackle public problems.” The prevailing fog of foundationese does not, however, obscure the high claims that Veninga makes for his great unspecifieds. Very early he quotes Annie Dillard: “When we decide how to vote, when we pray, when we debate an issue, and when we fall in love, we are participating in the humanities.” A few pages later, he quotes an old “program announcement” by the Texas Council for the Humanities: “…the humanities have as their central concern the meaning and purpose of human life and human relationships.” The same starry-eyed sales-pitch is sustained throughout the “collected addresses and essays”: “The primary function of the humanities scholar … is to retell in particular and universal ways the drama of human life. This work is nothing less than the preservation of our history and culture.” To a broken-down English prof who stumbled into English because reading good books is fun, the discovery that he has spent his life in so noble an endeavor is no more gratifying than surprising. /t would of course be wrong to question Veninga’s sincerity, or fail to honor his lifelong commitment to his cause. One does have to ask what limitations have confined him so often to the realm of the intense inane. Why have a master’s degree from the Harvard Divinity School and a Ph.D. from Rice left a devoted humanist so incapable of clarity and precision? Prudential observance of self-preservation as nature’s first law forbids inquiry into the actual behavior of culture’s humanistic conservators, but two other suggestions seem obvious. The first is that the founding funders of endowments and councils for the humanities don’t want to contaminate “human experiences and values” with unsettling ideas. The last sentences in Veninga’s book make a footnote in small print on page 401: While encouraging sponsors of its projects to “examine options to particular pubic policy issues and even to recommend among these options, the Texas Council for the Humanities, consistent with federal guidelines, prohibits partisan politics or the direct influencing of legislation. It also has consistently supported the idea that all programs need to be open to multiple perspectives and viewpoints.” That crippling disclaimer follows a chapter urging “scholars in the humanities … to allocate more time to interaction with the public and to critical issues facing society.” Elderly readers will be reminded of some childhood verses: “Mother, may I go out to swim?” “Yes, my darling daughter; Hang your clothes on a hickory limb, But don’t go near the water!” A second invitation to vacuity is fuzzyminded optimism, the belief \(only feebly supcation” can nurture “a society that encompasses democratic, spiritual, and intellectual ideals.” Though an M.T.S. from Harvard and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Foundation for Religious Studies in Texas, Veninga seems forgetful of the ancient Christian doctrine of original sin the belief that the entire human species shares the guilt of our great foreparents’ unfortunate taste for apples. Beneath its veneer of primitive superstition, the notion of original sin makes a lot more sense than “enlightened” belief in “the perfectibility of man,” as observers of Texas governors and legislators, administrators and academics, should be prepared to testify. Verbose benevolence and lofty exhortation just won’t solve the problems that Veninga recognizes “widespread poverty, hunger, homelessness, inadequate health care, child abuse, crime and delinquency.” We’re caught in the zerosum game of a society built on greed. Some people profit from other people’s loss, and the haves can spout piety while they hide away within the walls of corporations, the brutally hierarchical non-governmental governments that pretend to be just folks, persons like you and me. Most particularly in years when corporate executives finance campaigns for our highest office, the old story of Eve and the talking snake loses its quaintness. Dreamy humanists should remember it. Not that humanities councils and endowments can do no good at all. They can be cash cows for useful undertakings, and intelligent operatives within the organizations can honorably obey a foolish law in ways that subvert it. Veninga’s long efforts haven’t been wasted. His book comes alive, for instance, when he exemplifies the “public humanities in Texas” with the Texas Council’s “work focusing on Mexican American history and culture.” Prayerful sermonizing, however, is usually ineffective. Veninga’s constant emphasis on “community” becomes a sour joke in the dog-eat-dog society, where stockholders and executives make money by layoffs that have killed the working man’s old dream of loyal, lifelong employment. In the real world, nice people can do the un-nicest things, and benevolent vacuity always does some harm. A sweet family-values photograph shows Barbara Bush lovingly patting her son’s cheek, with proud See “Monica,” page 32 JULY 23, 1999 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29