The Emerging "End of Life Doula" Industry
And assorted other reflections
I heard an NPR story on “end-of-life doulas” the other day. This is apparently a spin-off of the “birth doula” that has been around since the hippie days of the 1960s.
These “end-of-life doulas” are required to have no medical training of any kind, so it would be incorrect to call them, as Wikipedia labels “doulas” generally, “trained professionals.” In the NPR piece, their work is described in these terms: “This alternative way of approaching [death] as a very spiritual and sacred crowning of your life, I think it could be very healing for you and those you love.”
But for many Americans, it is not in any way an “alternative way of approaching [death]” to see it as “a very spiritual and sacred crowning of your life.” The religious traditions that we have in this country do just this. Or they did, once, not that long ago, and for nearly all Americans.
There isn’t much information about the specifics of death doula work in this short piece, but I couldn’t help conjuring images of the New Age American reappropriation of Buddhism when I heard the singing bowl. This strikes me as consistent with the broader encroachment of that radically altered version of Eastern philosophy/religion that we see in things like the Mindfulness stuff (which is straightforwardly culturally appropriated from Hinduism and its offshoots) that is all over American culture at present.
Apparently, there are now also “abortion doulas”—a strange combination of the birthing and death doulas—who aid women through that process with singing bowls and the like. The book whose gaudy cover image is at the top of this post treats this topic.
I learned while digging around online that one of the central figures in the emergence of the doula movement was a former student of Margaret Mead. It is generally a reasonable position in my experience that anything with any connection whatever, however distant, to the ideas of Mead, who systematically misreported cultural practices in pre-modern societies to further a cultural revolution in sexual mores and the understanding of the sex difference, merits a skeptical eye.
(I attach here a slide I sometimes give students to walk through some of the considerable deception in Mead’s writing on sex and sexuality, which is still taken as holy writ in much academic anthropology today).
There is an International End of Life Doula Association that has an extensive website. Not much of a practical nature there regarding what belief system informs all of this, but it seems clear to me this is yet another piece of the ongoing cultural effort in this country and in the West more generally—broadly connected to the countercultural currents of the 1960s—to reject our traditional methods for making sense of our lives (and our deaths) and import new materials from elsewhere that are then warped to adapt to the essentially nihilistic materialist view of many among our elites.
Those materials they have taken up to replace our traditions might be seen with admiration as the efforts of other peoples in other civilizations to think through these problems. But in their radical alteration and implantation in this civilization they represent the collapse of faith of our elites and many others in the belief systems that made us and the ongoing expansion of a self-abnegating desire to be rid of our historical culture.
This up recently at Intellectual Takeout, based on something I wrote here recently.
One of the most useful podcast discussions I’ve heard in some time. The antagonistic debate format is generally such a waste of time. What you need is a group of people who are not all on the same page but who are at least close enough to fairly engage with one another, and they all have to be committed to intellectual decorum and grace in the way these folks are (which requirement by the way rules out a very large number of the people holding PhDs I’ve known in the academy).
Bucknell has recently hired its very first vice president of equity & inclusive excellence. “Equity is everyone’s work,” she announces.
Here’s an excerpt from something I wrote recently that describes what people in the DIE regime mean when they say “equity” and “inclusive excellence”:
The stage of the Woke New Class’s transformation of higher education in which we currently find ourselves might well be described as The Great DIEing. DIE is the ideology of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity, now propagated on essentially every American campus today by administrative units and directives that can affect not only the curriculum and faculty composition, but the very vision of a university's mission.
DIE is nothing less than a revolutionary new ethic for higher education, which sees its purpose as the conversion of students to the Gnostic moral system of Wokeism. It seeks the total dismemberment of the original motive force that built and drove these institutions: the pursuit of the truth.
This can be seen directly in the way in which the terms of the acronym are operationalized in the revolutionized university. One could of course set about objectively investigating the effects of a social regime constructed on these three values, in line with the good of the pursuit of truth, to test the consistency of the values with the traditional academic ethic. But there is next to no interest in doing this among the members of the Woke Gnostic faith. Diversity/Inclusion/Equity are self-evidently sacred goods, impervious to empirical evidence.
The definitions of the concepts are distorted in accordance with the Gnostic view. Diversity is delimited according to the needs of that system. Diversity in the phenotypical composition of a university population is unquestionably a highly desirable thing in this view, but anyone who would dare to advocate for diversity of thought and ideas thereby presents himself as an enemy of the faith. Diverse thought might introduce ideas that challenge the DIE ideology, and that cannot be permitted. An example of what is out of bounds in the DIE-organized university is the research by Robert Putnam that revealed (despite Putnam’s desperate effort to spin his results according to his druthers) that too much social and cultural diversity in a community increases levels of distrust and creates a turtling effect in which people retreat from the inevitably conflict-laden pluralism of public life.
Inclusion might be understood simply as ensuring that no institutional blocks exist that might prevent members of any group from participating in the full spectrum of life of the university community, but in DIE practice it amounts to a commitment to discriminatory agendas. It becomes practically necessary to give a systematic advantage to candidates for positions based solely on their identity, so that all spaces of the university become diverse in this manner, though again diversity of the ideas held by these people is not a legitimate consideration. The only permissible result of such inclusion is that every field and specialization must come to consist of the same proportion of all identity groups as is present in the larger population. This requirement must be pursued regardless of any existing individual or group differences in interest, ability or performance, and indeed any such differences are to be vigorously denied and those who claim their existence denounced.
The term “inclusive excellence” is increasingly used to express a commitment to academic achievement. But the very term is a deformation of the notion of excellence, which in its broadly understood meaning describes something that is distinguished in quality from the less than excellent, e.g.,, in the classic academic grading scale, the good, the average, the poor, and the failing. That is to say, the very meaning of the term “excellence” requires “non-excellence,” or exclusion from the category. Excellence must be exclusive if it is to be excellence. But such a demonstrably hierarchical evaluative mode of ranking is seen under DIE logic as intolerable. “Inclusive excellence” in practice then necessitates changing the old hierarchical standard of excellence in order to ensure the politically desired amount of diversity among the newly defined “excellent.”
Equity is interpreted not as the pursuit of fair outcomes, which would require taking into account individual differences in interest and ability, but rather the creation of systems of patently unfair judgment, in which members of groups recognized as "historically underrepresented" are elevated and those in groups defined as “privileged” are demoted. The number of faculty job searches, for example, that are limited, either officially or in the implicit practice of hiring committees, to consideration of non-white and non-male candidates has grown considerably in recent years, and that trend can be expected to continue.
From McCarthy’s The Passenger, the writer described: “I know you. I know certain days of your childhood. All but weeping with loneliness. Coming upon a certain book in the library and clutching it to you. Carrying it home. Some perfect place to read it. Under a tree perhaps. Beside a stream. Flawed youths of course. To prefer a world of paper. Rejects. But we know another truth, dont we Squire? And of course it’s true that any number of these books were penned in lieu of burning down the world—which was their author’s true desire. But the real question is are we few the last of a lineage? Will children yet to come harbor a longing for a thing they cannot even name? The legacy of the world is a fragile thing for all its power, but I know where you stand, Squire. I know that there are words spoken by men ages dead that will never leave your heart.”
From a 1998 journal entry, my description of an academic type that was then still a small minority and that now has propagated itself immeasurably in the colleges and universities of this country:
“Just looked at that discussion page [a friend] had recommended I check out for a view of where academia is going. They were talking about a book I haven’t read with the author present in the discussion. Even without having read the book, and guessing by its title and subject matter that I would not find it amenable to my views, I nonetheless sympathized with the author as the collection of professors and graduate students there viciously attacked her from all angles, clever, hip, pomo-speak, sophistic nihilists, led by the chief nihilist and deconstructive dandy, the professor who had organized the “discussion.” It made absolutely clear to me the poverty, the terrible danger of the kind of pedagogy and the intellectual habitus and mode of discourse sponsored by these postmodernist negators.
The problem is that, if everyone takes up this persona, if the discursive space of the university becomes that space, then we are in the world of the Sophists, the mad gibbering of masters of rhetoric interested only in the destructive capacity of their arguments, in their personal victory over their opponents, and there is no hope of real conversation, of the approach to Truth. If no one endeavors to take up the position of Christ, or of Socrates, or of Marcus Aurelius, that is, if no one is willing to be merciful, to be kind, to be gracious, to be humble, to accept the things which the Sophists deny, most essentially, the notion of absolute and unconditional acceptance, the refusal to go into war mode and destroy but instead to affirm and love even in dispute and argument, then there is no possible space for any conversation to take place, and all “conversations” that do take place can be decided only in war. There can only be endless posturing, strategic maneuvering, games of masks and charades, constant attempts to best the other by pointing out how much s/he still adheres to the stupid nonsense of sincerity and honesty, those idiocies we clever ones all know to be nothing but vulgar lies, the endless assumption of the worst motives on the part of one's interlocutor. The infinite regress of the hermeneutics of suspicion: "I know you're hiding your real motives, and you know I'm hiding mine, and so the entirety of our conversation such as it is can be nothing more than mutual accusations of same."
This is incredibly clear from that discussion, from the way those people talk, from what they think about the life of the mind. No positive good can come from this. From a pedagogy based on this kind of discourse, we can create only generations of bitter, defensive, wise-ass nihilists from our students, jaded, cynical hipsters spouting superficial and incorrect Nietzsche and adhering to the most absurd political goofiness imaginable. The alternative is honesty and truth. They of course would laugh at this, but they laugh at everything. They are constitutionally incapable of taking anything seriously.”
Brilliant. The America our universities want.
Cioran, in Tears and Saints: “Organ music cannot be contained within the boundaries of the heart, for it is the expression of a sacred frisson. The organ is an instrument which makes palpable God’s distance from us. Its sound is our apotheosis, and through it we approach him in himself.”
So much insanity in our academic system. The question, and this is a bit off topic to your post, is what do we do, what is the alternative? If one wanted to get something like a comparative level of education without the stupidity what can be done? In our age of internet communication someone has to be able to come up with an alternative.