The Joe Epstein Affair
So, my man Joseph Epstein made a flash this week with his suggestion that Jill Biden drop the “Dr.” from her title while she serves as First Lady.
The uproar was pretty intense. I saw him referred to as a “misogynist,” “bigot,” and “that Jew bastard” (okay, I only saw two of those three, but the third one was, I believe, there in spirit). He was, based on the backlash, trying to deny Mrs. Biden her identity as a woman, wanted to push women back into the kitchen, and endeavoring to bring back the iron chastity belt (well, again, one of those three things was there in spirit).
I finally got to read the article.
I was dumbfounded.
Well, not really. The idiocy I see from the Left these days stopped dumbfounding me a few years ago, as the Social Dilemma has ripped otherwise-sane liberals to exotic ideological lands where they can’t be reached by wit, wisdom, or discursive reasoning.
But still, this attack completely missed what Epstein was saying. Moreover, if you’ve been reading Epstein for the past 40 years like I have, you’d realize he was merely writing about the sort of things he frequently writes about, like the humorous juxtaposition of traditional things that no longer make sense in light of how societal things have morphed.
Tradition versus current actuality. That’s an Epstein-like theme.
Epstein favors the traditional. He is, by temperament, conservative and, therefore, favors tradition. He, therefore, would honor the title “Ph.D.” if it carried the same gravitas it used to.
But it doesn’t.
And that’s the thing Epstein is poking fun at:
The Ph.D. may once have held prestige, but that has been diminished by the erosion of seriousness and the relaxation of standards in university education generally, at any rate outside the sciences. Getting a doctorate was then an arduous proceeding: One had to pass examinations in two foreign languages, one of them Greek or Latin, defend one’s thesis, and take an oral examination on general knowledge in one’s field. At Columbia University of an earlier day, a secretary sat outside the room where these examinations were administered, a pitcher of water and a glass on her desk. The water and glass were there for the candidates who fainted. A far cry, this, from the few doctoral examinations I sat in on during my teaching days, where candidates and teachers addressed one another by first names and the general atmosphere more resembled a kaffeeklatsch. Dr. Jill, I note you acquired your Ed.D. as recently as 15 years ago at age 55, or long after the terror had departed.
This is all Epstein is saying: “You want me to call you ‘doctor’ because you have a Ph.D.? No thanks. At this point in our educational system, a Ph.D. is about as meaningful as obtaining a J.D. because you graduated from law school: a fine thing, an impressive thing even, but not remotely as demanding as it used to be and far more common than it should be.”
And he’s right, of course. I read prose by “doctors” of education who violate basic norms of grammar, something that no Ph.D. would’ve done, say, 75 years ago. I also see lawyers violate basic norms of grammar, which is something no lawyer would’ve done, say, 75 years ago.
Both the Ph.D. and the J.D. have become far more pedestrian. Pretty much anyone is admitted to those hallowed titular halls if they have the time and money. Exceptional brains and drive are no longer required.
And neither deserves to be called “doctor,” but heck, if Dr. Jill Biden deserves the honorific, then I want it, too. “J.D.,” after all, means juris doctor.”
Henceforth, I’m “Doctor Eric Scheske” to you. I can’t fix your broken leg, and I did only one year of truly grueling academic work (the first year of law school is awful), but hey, call me “Doctor.” I think I’m a doctor, and it’s contained in my academic title. Why should I be denied?
That’s the kind of pretentious idiocy that Epstein is attacking, not femininity, women in the workplace, or anything else of the sort.