One hundred years after G.K. Chesterton penned his famous Heretics
, editor John Zmirak has produced a modern version of Chesterton's classic work. Zmirak's book, titled Disorientation: How to go to College Without Losing Your Mind
(Ascension Press, 188 pages, paperback), bring together fourteen contributors, each picking apart a common ideology found on college campuses. The book was written to give intellectual ammunition to young Catholics as they head off for higher education.
Throughout the book, top writers break down the history, analyze the appeal, and debunk the empty promises of wildly popular philosophies including:
- Sentimentalism (Elizabeth Scalia)
- Relativism (Eric Metaxas)
- Hedonism (John Zmirak)
- Progressivism (Peter Kreeft)
- Multiculturalism (Robert Spencer)
- Anti-Catholicism (Jimmy Akin)
- Utilitarianism (Fr. Dwight Longenecker)
- Consumerism (Eric Brende)
- Feminism (Donna Steichen)
- Cynicism (George William Rutler)
- Scientism (John Keck)
- Americanism (Mark Shea)
- Marxism (Jeffrey Tucker)
- Modernism (John Zuhlsdorf)
If you are unfamiliar with any of these ideologies—or “ism’s”, if you will—Disorienation
provides an enjoyable introduction. The writing is deliciously snarky—you can almost see the writer’s smirks as they pick through their topics. Though it is a serious-minded book, the topics are approached with whim and wit (to see what I mean, read Peter’s Kreeft's essay on “Progressivism”
Considering its target audience, however, the book is written at a fairly high level. Disorienation
is geared toward recent high-school graduates and young college students, but if somebody handed this book to me when I was that age I would have found it neither compelling or understandable. Even many adults will struggle through some of the chapters—especially Rutler’s on “Cynicism." For instance, here is a snippet from Rutler’s piece (p. 102):
“The postmodernist diction cynically deconstructs logic and actually ridicules it—perhaps unwittingly because it has so abosorbed the temper of illogic. And so the cynic threatens all social constructions built on values higher than the self…”
Because of its high-level content, Disorienation
may appeal more to older, college upperclassman or, better yet, the parents of young college students. If parents want their teenage children to be wary of these philosophies, they could first read through Disorienation
themselves before sharing the content with their children through casual discussion.
Finally, John Zmirak’s closing epilogue, “Will Your College Years Be a Waste of Time?”, is alone worth the price of the book. There he provides eight tips on how to piece together a solid liberal education regardless of what school you attend or how wacko your professors are. Any college student who takes John’s advice will leave college very well-formed.
Overall, I enjoyed Disorienation's
tongue-in-cheek humor, sharp thinking, and the dismantling of false ideologies. If you’re a parent considering whether to buy this book for your child, first preview it to gauge whether your child would understand it. Yet despite its difficulty, I would recommend Disorienation
to all capable readers looking for a fun, intelligent primer on today’s most prevalent "ism's".