This is what I believe...!

And gladly wolde he lerne
And gladly teche.
Geoffrey Chaucer

      Since a very young age, I was always a prodigious reader. Books were my loyal friends, and I would read anything and everything on which I could get my hands. In books I solved inexplicable and mysterious crimes and explored distant and exotic universes. In my imagination, I scaled the Misty Mountains with Bilbo Baggins, matched wits with ancient fire-breathing dragons, and finally fought and vanquished the Evil One who sought to enslave mankind forever. The written word transported me to smoke-filled battlefields with heroes dying all around me and to elegant dinner dances where I was surrounded by women so beautiful they took the breath away. No matter how bored or unhappy I might be as a child, a book could take me as far away as my imagination would allow. In those days my father made me a wise offer: he would buy any book I wanted no questions asked, and that translated over the years into quite a few books. This small investment my father made in making repeated visits to the local bookstore with me was returned manifold in producing a son who grew up a lifelong lover of books and learning. Growing up surrounded by print, I drank up whatever I read and found something interesting in almost every book. This intellectual curiosity was something that has stayed with me ever since.

      After graduating from high school, I was eventually accepted to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) where I studied international relations. I had enjoyed a sheltered upbringing, and living away from home for the first time in the big city presented me with a host of new experiences. It would be difficult to underestimate the MURDER VICTIM importance of these intense years on my development in an city where random gunfire echoed in the streets and a misunderstood look could get a person killed - in Los Angeles, where one could meet just about any kind of woman one could desire. Fires and riots, natural and man-made disasters, endemic violence and naked animosity, first loves and heartbreaks - all this during my Los Angeles years - back when I developed my first serious regrets in life, a development I see clearly now as the true end of my youth and beginning of adulthood.

      As a college student, I worked in the UCLA Emergency Room during the middle of the night to help pay for my studies. Consequently, I saw people wheeled in bleeding, burned, shot, stabbed, drowned, crushed, screaming, dying, etc. in that crazy place where anything could and would happen. What I did mostly was shut my mouth and observe closely the psychic trauma that occurred there night after night over the following almost three years. Dumbfounded, I for the first time watched a man die right in front of me. Seeing such a thing became easier with repeated exposure, but the impressions made then were sharp and did not leave me over time. In fact, I still think about those experiences frequently. It is not so much the violence itself that changes you as how you react to and internalize it. To watch a man die is a hell of a thing, and to look it in the face can change a person - or at least it changed me. I remember like it was yesterday looking deeply into the unseeing eyes of a fresh murder victim and wondering at the sadness of the world in the blank expression on his face and the coppery smell of blood emanating from his body bag. It seemed for a time I lived surrounded by violence, and I held it near to my heart. I tried hard to understand it, and never really was sure if I did. My mother claimed that it was during this period that I stopped laughing "like I used to." Similarly, my father complained that to an extent it hardened me: "You were exposed to certain negative experiences about five years earlier than you should have been, and it left a mark on you."

      My years in Los Angeles: love, and then loss. Loss of innocence, which never returns - the loss of that other which I squandered, not knowing its full value until it was gone forever. When I finally left L.A., I was no longer a young man in spirit, although I was not yet 30 years old. It is true I gained maturity and experience, but the wages were pain and the damage was done - I never would be entirely free from it. Yet even as it causes me pain now, it is above all things most precious. Life became a little like a dream, and I only half-way paid attention to my affairs and the world around me. Sometimes I thought I was just waiting for the years to pass until I, too, would die. I had no desire for a wife or family of my own.

      This was a watershed period of my life when in all humility I realized life is not about "happiness," or even less about finding any mystical "meaning" in life because there was none. There is no mysterious "secret of life" outside of ourselves which some wise guru or holy man can reveal to us - if only it were that simple! Any meaning our lives have we must individually discover for ourselves and then construct, nurture, and maintain. For me it all revolved around the precariousness and preciousness of life and the importance of my eventual death - 30, 40, 50 years more, it wouldn't be long now. My mother, her brain being rapidly devoured by cancerous tumors, managed to stammer out to me shortly before she died: "Love life, Richard! It's so much easier that way! Love life!" That was the challenge. Or as a former lover once told me in the darkness late at night, "Happiness is just letting life flow through you!" Yet how much was I willing to allow myself? How much love? How much joy?

      It was a different story when I first arrived in Los Angeles reckless and full of enthusiasm, wanting to know and experience everything. That first year or two at UCLA were the happiest of my life when I was blissfully ignorant and full of hope and self-confident ambition. Romantically, I looked out upon the society of women as exciting new lands waiting to be explored. I did my share of exploring in a variety of different roles - including that of an idealistic Reserve Deputy Sheriff where I met people in the county lock-up who would kill you with their own hands as soon as look at you (and not wash their hands before eating afterwards). I learned much about human nature in the bitter stink of jail and jail-culture where men live and hate in cages like animals in what might be just about the most soul-killing thing I have ever done. Yet the cure of young and wild gangmembers out to make a name for themselves and hardened convicts who would kill you for a pack of cigarettes was clearly beyond my skill and throwing violent people in jail who would not change their subsequent behavior seemed to me a singularly fruitless job. I also had trouble building righteous indignation at the dispirited souls who often run afoul of the law: the poor, the drug addicted, the desperate, the down-trodden - those just struggling to survive. I found that I absolutely did not want to shoot anyone unless it was utterly unavoidable. I discovered I did not like carrying a gun. I encountered cops who were little better than those they sought to put away.

      And in the larger societal picture it seemed impossible to see who was "right" in the world, and if nobody was entirely "bad" it seemed impossible to find anyone worth following. So much appeared futility enshrouded by hatred, competition and the desire to have one's way - and the "rebels" were the worst scoundrels of all! Structural improvements and legislative action seemed clearly of only limited value in the reformation of human hearts. I came to agree with the Emperor Claudian when he confessed, "When I saw the impenetrable mist which surrounds human affairs, the wicked happy and long prosperous and the good discomforted, then in turn my belief in God was weakened and failed." Perhaps it is not so much that I stopped believing in God as I stopped believing in mankind. My interest and faith in the politics and issues of my day began to dwindle as my interest in philosophy and art began to increase. My parents hoped that as I graduated from UCLA I PARAMEDICS might go into law or government. However, after studying the social sciences for so many years and having some bitter real-life experience, those professions no longer held much interest for me. Man seemed a very sorry creature indeed, and the affairs of mankind appeared especially wearisome and ignominious. I just wanted to do something in which I could look myself in the mirror every morning without feeling ashamed. This, coupled with my love for books, led me to become a teacher.

      So if this stage of my life saw a part of me die in a context of urban violence and disorder, it in turn gave rise to loves which have lasted ever since. I began to read and think deeply about those hidden aspects of mankind which lie beneath the surface and dictate his actions both good and bad. I read and re-read the poets and philosophers new and old, and gradually came to see art as more important than political events in of as themselves. I tried to penetrate the conventional disguise of ordinary events and prosaic rhetoric and see the first causes. I wanted to see beyond the superficial and see why and how things happen as they do and not otherwise; so many explanations seemed to me obviously at least partly deficient and left my mind unsatisfied. I wanted to go to the heart of the matter and not be satisfied until I could understand it. "Life has meaning," as Robert Browning said, "to find its meaning is my meat and drink." I never wanted to languish a prisoner in Plato's cave groping at shadows; I wanted to see as much of the light outside as my mind could grasp. I wanted to understand.

      What is real? What is important? Why are we here? What can we truly know? What does it mean to be moral, to live a good life? What is the difference between right and wrong? What is beautiful or ugly, and what makes it so? What is the obligation of one generation to the next? What is the best form of government and what are its functions and responsibilities with respect to the citizens? Where should be the balance between individual freedom and social order? Does human history have any meaning, pattern, or purpose? It was a time of profound questioning and searching which in many ways has continued up until today.

      It was during these fruitful years that I devoured great tracts of Western literature and music including Dostoevsky, Cicero, Rachmaninoff, Kafka, Yeats, Blake, Homer, Aeschylus, Melville, Mozart, Herodotus, Hemingway, Milton, Tolstoy, Plato, Bach, Steinbeck, Grieg, Dickens, Whitman, Turgenev and many others. I taught myself Spanish and adventured through the works of Cervantes, A. Nervo, de Gongora, Sor de la Cruz, de la Barca, Bécquer, Jiménez and other masters of that beautiful language. I thought, read and wrote in the UCLA Emergency Room, the county jail and police academy during breaks, in my classroom during my conference period, as well as anyplace else. Their thoughts and messages ran through my mind in the middle of violent riots, economic recession, fire storms, and earthquakes of those chaotic years in Los Angeles when I was a young man. It was a time of turbulent personal passions both in my personal and intellectual life (the two often blending seamlessly) with the sound of the gears of history grinding in the background. It were the authors of these so-called "great books of mankind" which gave voice to what was inchoate in my soul.

      With the passage of time, I began to see social problems as little interesting by themselves (in what I saw as an irreparably failed world), except whereas they influenced individual human destinies and fate, loves and faith - there being beauty even in the bitterest tragedy and cruelest circumstances. I was (and still am today) preoccupied principally by those eternal questions concerning the meaning of life and the mystery of death.

Some famous thoughts on the meaning of life.
Some thoughts on the mystery of death.


When confronting basic human questions such as these, everything else for me recedes into the background. Sitting in my apartment among the ancient and time-worn texts containing the immemorial wisdom of my ancestors, tempered and enriched by the impact of events across history, I have never been bored. Surrounded by the authors on the bookshelves in my room, I have never felt alone or irredeemably lost in my life. Along with my family and friends, this is all which is closest to my heart. All else is secondary.

      The philosopher wants to know things as they are, rather than they seem to be - this is the heart of Plato and his Forms and Ideas. As Betrand Russell romanticized it some 1,500 years later the establishment of Plato's Academy: "Truth is a shining goddess, always veiled, always distant, never wholly approachable, but worthy of all the devotion of which the human spirit is capable." Thusly I tried to make full use of my mind to search for such a truth (or truths), and if it conflicted with self, family, city, country, and even the gods - so much the worse for them. The philosophers were always in a sense my constant companions - my brothers! - and their voices spoke to me across time. As Allan Bloom described the larger legacy of human thinkers:

"The real community of man, in the midst of all the self-contradictory simulacra of community, is the community of those who seek the truth, of the potential knowers... of all men to the extent they desire to know. But in fact, this includes only a few, the true friends, as Plato was to Aristotle at the very moment they were disagreeing about the nature of the good... They were absolutely one soul as they looked at the problem. This, according to Plato, is the only real friendship, the only real common good. It is here that the contact people so desperately seek to be found... This is the meaning of the riddle of the improbable philosopher-kings. They have a true community that is exemplary for all the other communities."

I am not so sure about the last assertion, and I wonder if every one of us in our own way are not philosophers. Yet in following the various great minds echo and dispute each other over the centuries I found what gave sustenance and meaning to the question, "What does it mean to be human?"

      Augustine refutes Homer who stands opposed to Socrates who clashes dramatically with Nietzsche who absolutely despises J.S. Mill who hardly has a thing in common with Hegel who is anathema to Sir Isaiah Berlin (not to mention Thomas Jefferson or James Madison!) while Lenin and Marx held those "old liberal" thinkers as their greatest mortal enemies in the fight for communism. All these individuals had at least something of value to say to humanity and I never grew bored with that great conversation. To one degree or another I looked upon them all as my teachers - even the ones to whom I was totally opposed. And I learned. Slowly and painfully perhaps, but I learned.

      It was strangely liberating. I was no longer truly afraid of anything. Or rather, I was afraid of many minor things such as jobs, taxes, car, finances, the leaky faucet about to break yet again, picking up the dry cleaning, etc. - the thousand quotidian responsibilities and preocupations which pervade our lives. But as to the Big Questions, I was cool. How different had it been when I was a scared recent college graduate taking my first tentative steps into the "real world!" This provided me with a certain peace - an anchor to my life, so to speak. As Bruce Springstein said, "God help a man who doesn't know what he believes in."

      This does not mean that I turned inward and ignored the world around me. I loved my country - even when it exasperated me! - and believed along with the Founding Fathers that the love of freedom would preserve the country, and that the love of our country would preserve our freedom. I dealt with the world from the perspective of Coleridge where humanitarianism expands outward "like the circles of a Lake - the Love of our Friends, parents and neighbors leads us to the love of Country to the love of all Mankind." Beyond such a conventional patriotism, I was not overly inclined towards the tumult of politics. Yet in my own way I did my part for the manner of government which I passionately believed in: democracy. To this day I cannot read the better parts of Pericle's funeral orations without feeling deeply moved.

      Much is made of political and military heroes who effect some dramatic feat of glory; I would argue that a democracy is more successfully undertaken when millions of less dramatic heroisms occur day-in and day-out: a businesswoman runs her company honestly, a father spends time with his wife and children, two people diametrically opposed to each other's opinion respectfully agree to disagree, a teacher shows up everyday and teaches his/her students through all the good, the bad, and the ugly while moving the class up a grade-level in knowledge each year. This is the more mundane heroism which keeps society from collapsing (and even then barely does). This was what my life was about. (The other kind of heroism is important also, as my good friend Keith Kauffman the decorated police officer demonstrates in risking his life to enforce the law in a violent community. From different angles, we both serve our country.) I particularly liked the quote from Adlai E. Stevenson when almost 50 years ago, "Democracy cannot be answered by supermen, but only by the unswerving devotion and goodness of millions of little men." Any polis needs inspiring and capable leadership; but if a democracy has any chance at all in surviving it must be the "little men and women" who make it so.

      Sometimes I despaired for my country and its intractable problems and contentious democratic national spirit. I empathized with Jefferson and his egalitarian view of the swelling masses as a benevolent force in political life. On the other hand, I also could understand Alexander Hamilton who in the nascent United States of America described the chaotic throngs outside his window: "Your people is a great beast!" The age old struggle between order and liberty seen in the disagreements between John Adams and his friend Jefferson became no less tiring or bellicose over time, and one wearies of the tension in a free and pluralistic country where change occurs gradually and incessantly instead of in great sudden spurts. And the brilliance of the American constitution loses something of its luster in the custodianship of flawed and often less than exemplary officials. "We the People", of course, often fail to live up to the responsibility that freedom confers upon us. Everyone demands justice. Everyone is aggrieved. Everyone wants their fifteen minutes of fame - whether they deserve it or not. Yet I could see nothing to argue against the truth of Churchill's assertion that democracy is indeed the worst form of government - "except for all the rest." The only alternative was to come back and try yet again to improve our already more than 200 year old experiment in democracy. Even after a particularly inauspicious and discouraging day of teaching, I returned the next morning and tried again.

      I was born and raised in the United States; my formation and initial frame of reference is American and for that I have no apologies (although some would seem to demand one). I loved America in my own quiet way. I would work for her future, even fight for her if necessary. And I loved the Europe of Descartes, Galileo, and Lope de Vega in my mind when I read at night, as well as the wonder and awe I felt when I personally visited that great continent. However, I have never wanted to be limited or conditioned by geography or boundaries or culture or creeds. If a man really wants to be free, he has to be able to circulate freely not only in physical space but among cultures, languages and beliefs. It is has always been my ideal to be a citizen of the world and to explore ideas or countries anywhere and everywhere in the world. I have never wanted to feel like a foreigner anywhere.

      I liked the way Edward Abbey - one of the only truly honest and independent thinkers of our time, hated by the Left and the Right equally - put it:

Fond of America, proud of her, curious and hopeful about her future, I nevertheless renounce America. My loyalties will not be bound by national borders, or confined in time by one nation's history, or limited in the spiritual dimension by one language and culture. I pledge my allegiance to the damned human race, and my everlasting love to the green hills of Earth, and my imitations of glory to the singing stars, to the very end of space and time.

I tried not to let geography, culture, or dogma limit my imagination or curiosity. This is what civilization and being a civilized person means to me. And, more than anything else, I try to be a gentleman like my father and avoid doing harm to others, if at all possible. I have usually succeeded.

      But I also had trouble living in a "modern society" all too often drowning in a cacophony of celebrity, sensationalism, and unadulterated junk (look at television!). I honestly didn't think it was very healthy for either my mind or soul. Therefore, I consciously crafted my life to find the silence which for me was indispensable for any kind of serious contemplation and concentration. It was no different when I was a child. My mother was fond of telling the story of how when she and my brother used to argue loudly at the dinner table I would leave the table, go outside into the hallway, and listen to Bach's "Brandenburg Concertos" on my tape deck. "Here's this five year old child listening to Bach! I thought you were the weirdest kid in the world!" my mother often recounted later as she laughed to herself. I just remember the music calming me down and allowing an element of order back into the world! Now that she is dead I think often about that story which my mother used to love to tell. I see her marveling at the novel uniqueness of her first born son - her own flesh and blood yet different, clearly its own creature.

      In the same way, I have become more and more of a reader in the classical and archaic sense of the word with the years. My heroes are retiring and unassuming individuals (my heroes!) who had devoted their lives to learning and erudition: Sir Isaiah Berlin, Barbara Tuchman, Will and Ariel Durant, Thucydides, M.I. Finley, Mortimer J. Adler, Henry Steele Commanger, Walter Lippman, and Daniel Boorstin to name a few (because those persons and their work were not "popular" doesn't mean they weren't more than worthy of great attention). I identified with the spirit of the 18th century English intellectuals who, according to Russell, were "socially minded citizens, by no means self-assertive, not unduly anxious for power, and in favor of a tolerant world where, within the limits of the criminal law, every man could do as he pleased. They were good-natured, men of the world, urbane and kindly." Locke, Montesqieu, Voltaire, J.S. Mill, Lincoln, Brandeis, Madison - liberal lovers of individual freedom and political pluralism, these were my heroes. (I never warmed much to Hegel, Marx, Sartre, Sorel, Freud, Lenin, Nietzsche, Heidegger, or any of the other 19th and 20th century secular European prophets. It seemed to me like only so much noise and fury signifying nothing from societies that thought they knew more than they actually did.)

      But it was somewhat of a shock for me to arrive at adulthood. Growing up surrounded by affluence and in attending college, I thought that studying hard and doing the "right thing" would result in material success. I discovered this to be otherwise as I embarked on a career as a teacher and found myself living a very different lifestyle from that of my childhood. I can hear many of my fellow Americans thinking that to be a teacher I was a sap and a dupe who unlike them paid rent instead of owned a house, was unable to take luxury vacations, live surrounded by creature comforts, enjoy the good life, etc. It was true that I had to watch my money carefully, and this was, in a sense, profoundly humbling. In fact, I would be less than entirely honest if I did not admit that the miserable pay of a teacher was not a source of some bitterness to me in light of the obvious importance of the job and education it requires. (On the other hand, my friends often expressed jealousy over my relatively large amount of free time, as they began to feel like grapes being squeezed mercilessly by their employers with hardly a free moment for themselves. They would tell me with a mixture of dismay and astonishment, "Someone is stealing my life from me!" I reckon there are pros and cons to every job in this world.)

      And the hypocrisy and lies, mindless cruelty of man to man, apathy and indifference, vanity and greed in society - these were all real enough. This, of course, is the stuff which feeds the moral fury of perpetual youth - the rage of those unlearned in the false subtleties of the world. And scrambling to make a living or to simply keep their heads above water, hardly anyone cared about poetry or philosophy (which were everything to me!) by itself. But to gnash one's teeth solves nothing; I didn't set myself in angry rebellion or seek to make war on the world but instead to be a man inside it - warts and all. I tried to take responsibility for choosing my path in life as a teacher and human being and sought to take gracefully the good with the bad. And if it never made me rich in terms of money, the patient study of the humanities over decades made me rich in life.

      I found I needed very little anyway. I didn't want to be king of all I surveyed, a captain of business with servants to wait on me, or a celebrity with my name in the papers and on people's tongues. I had a job, a roof over my head, food in the fridge, a couple of bucks in my pocket, and, most importantly, the freedom to walk the earth my own man - free to gaze at the frozen moon or fiery sun, free to think my own thoughts and feel the pulse of my soul in peace. This was more than many people could claim, I realized in all humility. My mother - having been both poor and more than comfortable during her lifetime - put it well: "There is a big difference between having enough and not enough. But there is only a small difference between having enough and more than enough." I entered into a modest agreement with life: I would be more than content to simply have more good days than bad ones. I would consider myself fortunate to be able to enjoy the fruits of my own labour while avoiding for as long as possible any of the misfortunes a person can fall victim to in their life (murder, disease, fire, car accidents, etc.) - holding on to the little one has can be difficult enough on this earth which can be slippery as hell! I wanted to live my life, do my work, love my family and friends, and afterwards let not a stone mark where I lie.

      I very much would like to make a good death - to die with pride and dignity. A person's death is such an intensely private thing - such an important event in life. Yet so many people dread the approach of their deaths. It reminds me of Francis Bacon when he said, "Men fear Death, as children fear to go in the dark... I hope to make a good death when that time comes.

      Yet nowhere did I find anything more objectionable than the 19th century ideas of Karl Marx that I learned laboriously as a college student which pooh-poohed all the previous learning in history by summing up the entire condition of man's relation to man as a result of an individual's employment and place in the economic infrastructure which inevitably and completely "conditions the whole process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, it is their social existence that determines consciousness." I begged to differ with Mr. Marx and refused to allow myself to be pigeonholed into some category of class membership in a shallow and materialistic conception of humanity and human society. I was infinitely more complex than my credit rating, bank account balance, choice of career, or socioeconomic position in my country. I had a heart, a mind with which to think, and, most importantly, a soul. I was much more than the sum of my social circumstances, and I found those latter-day apostles of Marx and Hegel who inhabit the universities as if they were their personal seminaries where they could preach the "objective truths" of "scientific socialism" and "dialectical materialism" to be the most intellectually dishonest of them all.

      The American universities and the social "sciences" are still rife with the residue - if not the pure alloy - of the fantastic claim that we can understand all history as well as both the present and the future by acknowledging certain "objective laws" and "impersonal forces" discerned by social historians. The Marxist and Marxist-influenced intellectuals were essentially latter day austere Calvinists - simply replace the predestination of God's "chosen" or "elect" of this vale of tears with the "working class" of Marx's march of history. I found them to be the most intellectually dishonest of them all, and I learned an antipathy for the American university system which survives to this day.

      I always very much preferred individual reflection to the saintly self-righteousness of priests and politicians and collective moralism - I wanted to do homage in the chapel of secular collectivist belief as little as in the Catholic church across town which my father obliged me to attend every Sunday until I turned eighteen years of age. I never was one for the "fire and brimstone" scene no matter if the context be secular or religious and believed as little in the inexorable inevitability of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ as I did in the Proletariat Revolution. I suffer through the intolerance of the Medieval Ages and rejoice at the rise of the Renaissance. I loath St. Augustine and hold Petrarch to be a hero to mankind.

      And then there was Frederick Nietzsche who argued so powerfully and poetically an ideal man beyond good and evil - morality being the mere trappings of a degenerate (ie. Judeo-Christian) civilization where conventional morality is nothing more than a tool of the weak to subjugate the strong and power. Nietzsche saw life as a battle where genius of natural aristocracy were kept down by the superstition of the ignorant masses in a world where the acquisition of power and the highest goal of human beings. He claimed said there was "no such thing as facts - only interpretations," and thinkers ever since took the ball and ran with it. Virtually the whole 20th century is pervaded by the spirit of Nietzsche, and until his day is over I wonder if we can truly move past this adolescent stage of development we find ourselves in. Hubris has always been something which the gods have punished in mortals, and we would do better to follow in the humble spirit of Will Durant when he claimed, "Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance." Yet everywhere one encounters in the last century or so one encounters these radical philosophers who act as if they never encountered an intellect greater than their own.

      Most Americans, to their great credit, have been too shrewd to bind themselves to modern philosophic programs or utopian political change; this tradition of moderation and pragmatism perhaps more than anything else explains why neither the United States nor Great Britain ever embraced the radical totalitarian ideologies. No less an American than George Washington claimed: "In all the changes to which you may be invited, remember that time and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of governments, as of other human institutions; that experience is the surest standard, by which to test the real tendency of the existing constitution of a country; that facility in changes, upon the credit of mere hypothesis and opinion, exposes to perpetual change, from the endless variety of hypothesis and opinion." There is much wisdom in this. Yet it begins to run contrary to the times even in the United States - especially in the universities.

      History to me seems so infinitely complex and an incessantly changing mankind so maddeningly ambivalent that I held it very much in an attitude of humility and awe; I never was going to bind myself to the militant orthodoxy of a political theology that sought to explain anything and everything (ie. Marxism). I did not look at politics as combat and would never submit art, history, or literature to ideology or dogma - this was a mistake made all too often in the 19th and 20th centuries to the great shame of human intelligence and learning. The most offensive people I ever encountered were those who would deign to use art or philosophy as a weapon to destroy and break down instead of to illuminate, support, and give meaning to life.

      Society always has a constant need for change to compensate, reconcile, and balance among free yet secure peoples who wish to live lives compatible with individual dignity; but the change need occur through careful consensus and the popular will expressed in political pluralism. The myth of the austere and honest "enlightened dictator" of Rousseau in the style of Lycurgus of Sparta is just that, a myth. The 20th century is replete with tyrants who would claim to be almost divinely inspired and led to bring their peoples into a new golden age, but instead they brought only unbelievable suffering to their own and other peoples. and we should reject as charlatans those who claim to propose all-embracing systems of knowledge and history which make the fantastic claim of being able to end violence, poverty, cruelty and unhappiness among humanity (ie. Marxist prophecies about the eventual withering of the State and true beginning of the history of humanity) - if only we will give them absolute control, that is. We should now know better than this.

      A typical "progressive" social thinker in this century is the communist Italian intellectual Antonio Gramsci calling for the development of the "national-popular collective will towards the realisation of a superior, total form of modern civilisation" of a monolithic Society embodied in the State producing a single Consciousness in an evolutionary Process moving in one single direction with the People together towards Harmony and Brotherhood. It is a philosophy of power - maybe an intoxication of power? - and its development has been greatly injurious to Western civilization which at times can be accurately seen as having decivilized, in my opinion.

      The reality of the lack of pluralism and true political freedom has not changed since Alexander Herzen wrote the following about his illiberal Russia of the 19th century nearly devoid of any tradition of individualism: "With us the individual has always been crushed, absorbed, he had never even tried to emerge. Free speech with us has always been considered insolence, independence, subversion; man was engulfed in the State, dissolved in the community." Yet in our time too many philosophers and politicians have come to see social power as more important than the power of the individual; it is the society and social forces which will transform the individual and not vice versa in their minds. And these ideas so foreign and contrary to the tradition of pragmatic pluralism of the United States have invaded the country through the universities.

      Russell describes well the descent of thought in being "modern minded" and reason since the Enlightenment:

Throughout the nineteenth century the True, the Good, and the Beautiful preserved their precarious existence in the minds of earnest atheists. But their very earnestness was their undoing, since it made it possible for them to stop at a halfway house. Pragmatists explained that Truth is what it pays to believe. Historians of morals reduced the Good to a matter of tribal custom. Beauty was abolished by the artists in a revolt against the insipidities of a philistine epoch and in a mood of fury in which satisfaction is to be derived only from what hurts. And so the world was swept clear not only of God as a person but of God's essence as an ideal to which man owed an ideal allegiance; while the individual, as a result of crude and uncritical interpretation of sound doctrines, was left without any defense against social pressure.

This is very much in the spirit of our time where the ceremony of innocence seems drowned in a sea of blood. We still live in the shadow of postmodernism and existentialism where man is not free and meaning and truth are only relative terms (2 + 2 = 5 if the powers that be say so). I wonder if the social/political crisis in Western civilization has really been only an intellectual crisis brought about largely by deterministic thought ("man is not free!") and a type of war waged against reason and the spirit of the Enlightenment. But, of course, ideas that start in universities have consequences in real life - unfortunate consequences, in recent times.

      Is art and the human intellect presently out of love with life? What ever happened to the True, the Good, and the Beautiful? What ever happened to the nobility and power of the individual presently so threatened by vast impersonal forces in the form of markets, bureaucracies, societies, and ideologies? Why do people write experimental literature and not romances? Why does nobody anymore write the great Romantic novels I read in my youth: "The Count of Monte Cristo", "Doctor Zhivago", "Les Miserables", "Eugene Onegin"? Where are there modern counterparts? What ever happened to the epic love novel?

      I think perhaps a certain humility is called for in the contemporary intellectual. It is commonplace to say that the more one learns, the less they know; and that the questions become more important than any possible answers, etc. However, I suspect the most important is to let go of such grandiose theories and instead in a context of limited human intellect look upon all ideas as working hypotheses and to remember that people are more important than ideas - truth should be sought to serve human beings and not vice versa. Or better put, any truth which cannot be taught to men and women so that they freely accept it in their hearts is not "truth" - one cannot point a gun at someone and order them to believe! To be exact, perhaps we need more Pasternak's writing "Doctor Zhivago" and fewer V.I. Lenin's writing "What is to be Done?"

      My stomach turns at the very thought of that inhuman party machine, Lenin. He is the modern spirit of the Medieval Catholic Inquisitor from the worst moments of Catholic oppression visited on the earth again to bring mankind screaming and kicking into the promised land. Humorless and abstemious, animated by the spirit of zealotry, enlightened in the truths of the "true" religion, Lenin with knowing smiles looks down upon the sinners without the slightest pity. The infidels? Let them burn as an example to the others! Of course, the Bolsheviks were able to rationalize the gulag in only the most advanced scientfic terms - according to Soviet Communist Party hack Nikolai Bukharin: "Proletariat coercion, in all its forms, from executions to forced labor, is, paradoxical as it may sound, the method of molding humanity out of the human material of the capitalist period." And Stalin was only the ugly flower grown large from the seeds of Lenin.

      Of course, there were tyrants and authorities that demanded obeisance, but it was nothing compared to the pressure on individuals in our modern socially-minded times! In my opinion, all this is a regression and not a progression. Thinkers scrupulously ignore the past today as a burden to the future, and develop only the most current and "advanced" philosophies which will supposedly improve the lot of mankind and free him of his chains. Such has not been the result. Ironically, it seems that the more dramatic the attempt to remake mankind, the more violent and destructive has been the course and the more ineffective the end results. This whole idea of burning everything down to build a new paradise of the ashes of the old is the most dangerous nonsense! Even 150 years ago an individual could live their life in peace and still be free to think independently. It is all so wrong now.

      Recent history is littered with examples of the potential for philosophy to kill untold millions and lay waste entire countries (ie. communism, fascism). It would not be difficult to argue that philosophy in modern times is no longer a friend or ally of humanity. It has acquired the worst aspect of traditional religion where people blindly believe in a higher being and identify everything good as coming from a deity (ie. class or race) and everything bad as the work of Satan (ie. bourgeoisie or Jews). Let us call it by its true name: fanaticism! The distance between such a philosophy and violence is - and has always been - a short one. This century has been too fond of radical change and revolution with the spirit of the knife much more in evidence than the power of reason and persuasion.

"...inferior races, inferior cultures, subhuman creatures, nations or classes condemned by history..."

      As Sir Isaiah Berlin described the often retrograde motion of humanity in recent times:
The divisions of mankind into two groups - men proper, and some other, lower, order of beings, inferior races, inferior cultures, subhuman creatures, nations or classes condemned by history - is something new in human history. It is a denial of common humanity - a premise upon which all previous humanism, religious and secular, had stood. This new attitude permits men to look on many millions of their fellow men as not quite human, to slaughter them without a qualm of conscience, without the need to try to save them or warn them. Such conduct is usually ascribed to barbarians or savages - men in a pre-rational frame of mind, characteristic of peoples in the infancy of civilisation. This explanation will no longer do. It is evidently possible to attain to a high degree of scientific knowledge and skill, and indeed, of general culture, and yet destroy others without pity, in the name of a nation, a class, or history itself. If this is childhood, it is the dotage of a second childhood in its most repulsive form. How have men reached such a pass?
I would argue that intellectuals and professors playing politics have much to answer for in this development. "I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers," commented the psychoanalyst and concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl. Caution is called for, lest we overextend ourselves and create another monstrosity.

      Now politics and political philosophy will always be important to a society, and perhaps mankind never realizes this better than when things are going terribly wrong. Nevertheless, if there have been recently murderous political philosophy and false prophets, no amount of cursing politicians and their ideas will make politics or political philosophy go away. Ideas often have results that are the opposite of those their authors anticipated as consequences are rarely those expected or hoped for by the original thinkers. We should instead look pragmatically at what has gone wrong and try to learn the lessons and move on to a hopefully better social arrangement. Yet the cure of bad or misapplied ideas is not the refutation of ideas and thinkers but better and corrected ideas. As Socrates defended philosophy to Crito shortly before he was unjustly put to death:

Do then be reasonable and do not mind whether the teachers of philosophy are good or bad, but think only of Philosophy herself. Try to examine her well and truly; and if she be evil, seek to turn away all men from her; but if she be what I believe she is, then follow her and serve her, and be of good cheer.

      It were thoughts like that of Plato above which ended up drawing more and more of my attention. They were often demanding and complex reading ("treasures of wise men of old") which required months of reading to arrive at only a superficial understanding, but nobody ever said anything worth doing was easy. And the investment of time and effort nearly always paid off handsomely in the end as the books and their messages left a deep and lasting enrichment. Even as they remained relatively unknown, I always found those books and their authors to be peerless companions on a free afternoon or before bed as I relaxed. Despite the Internet, television, and a host of other distractions clamoring for attention, I still found the most value in silence where I could pour over the great works of genius which never failed me as sources of wisdom and great insight. This was never something I could do with other people. "Conversation brings understanding, but solitude is the school of genius," Edward Gibbons once wrote. Not that I laid any claim to genius, but only alone could I hear myself think and understand the voice of my heart.

      What was most important to me? A well-formed paragraph which expresses completely and artfully an idea or feeling with eloquence and insight... a student at the end of the semester who with a big smile says, "thank you, teacher!"... a photograph, painting, or statue which captures precisely the essence of a moment of passion or tragedy... the sting of salty sweat in my eyes after an arduous workout under the hot desert sun or the smell of sagebrush from the arid foothills of southern California which always reminded me of my childhood... the vulnerability and pathos of a woman in love curled up in bed crying softly to herself.

      This is not to say that in thinking thusly I am a bad neighbor or apathetic citizen of the country in which I live. I stay abreast of what happens in the world and make conscious decisions in voting for candidates or issues. I answer my summons to jury duty when it arrives. I also endeavor to treat others with respect and be responsible in my own life. As a teacher of anyone who wishes to learn, I try to present in my classroom an example to young people which will help them to grow up straight and true. I like to think that as a teacher I am planting seeds in the minds of my students who may (or may not) choose to water and care for them until one day they bloom into beautiful flowers. I have tried to present what I have learned to my students in the hope that they would find some of it useful. God knows they will need all the tools they can get when they face the trials adult life offers! I have TEACHER invested myself in hundreds of my students who will soon be adults in all walks of life, and I think the ideal student/teacher relationship only slightly less sacred than that between parent and child. It may be neither very dramatic nor sexy, and my profession may not garner much respect (or wages) from the greater society, but I bet I have done at least as much good as anyone who passes legislative bills or brings about protest marches for a living.

      I carry the vocation of teacher in my soul and feel fulfilled in my work. To identify the intersection of my career as an English teacher and my personal beliefs is not difficult: my job is an extension of my most intimate thoughts and convictions. Even though all my formal education is in political science, I am an English teacher at heart. Even when I taught other subjects, my passion has been in literature. How many times have I tried to show the beauty or passion of a poem to a group of young people? I would almost pay someone for the opportunity to continue doing so. At the same time, teaching is the job I go to every day whether I want to or not and leave from exhausted at the end of the day. Like in any job, I have my better and my worse days. With a few notable exceptions, I have found it enjoyable and enriching to work with young adults. I never wanted to teach in a university (as some have urged me to try to do) because in high school, in my opinion, a teacher makes a more profound influence: not only do you teach, but you exemplify a pattern of interest in learning and thinking to young people at an absolutely critical juncture in their lives - teenagers being like still unpolished stones in need of some work before they go out into the world. As opposed to the more rarefied atmosphere of the university professor, to live and teach among middle and high school students is akin to drawing palpably close to "the savage heart of life" (in the words of Clarice Lispector).

      Yet especially in my professional life, I have often felt out of place in the United States. The American education establishment in the twentieth century has come to look upon educators not so much as kindred souls of Socrates on up trying to encourage others to search for truth, but as agents of the State responsible for socializing their students into agreement with what they see as the approved precepts of society. According to "progressive" educator John Dewey:

I believe that
- the school is primarily a social institution.
- education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.
- education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform.
- all education proceeds by the participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race...
- education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness...

I find this to be a slippery combination of poignant insight into the educational process and overweening arrogance. Who is to define what "social progress" should be, and why do we assume that students should/will believe in it also? What does "social consciousness" mean exactly, and is there only one of them? Next, look at the following statement by Sir Isaiah Berlin:

But to manipulate men, to propel them towards goals which you - the social reformers - see, but they may not, is to deny their human essence, to treat them as objects without wills of their own, and therefore to degrade them.

      When we educators in the schools start taking aggressive social positions and argue one political position over another we do a disservice to our students, in my opinion. We become propagandists, not unlike the political officers whose job it was to hype the "new Soviet man" and "socialist brotherhood" in the gratefully now defunct Soviet Union. V.I. Lenin was as ambitious as Dewey when he said, "Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted," or Saint Francis Xavier of the Jesuits who asserted, "Give me the children until they are seven, and anyone may have them afterwards." Even at an early age I remember feeling angry and putting up a mental block when teachers told me how to think or what to feel. It is a fine line as an adult to try to influence a young person for the better while still respecting their individuality and capacity to think independently.

      I sided with Betrand Russell, "The teacher should love his children better than his State or Church; otherwise he is not an ideal teacher." Russell goes on to say: "...Education has become part of the struggle for power between religions, classes, and nations. The pupil is not considered for his own sake, but as a recruit: the educational machine is not concerned for his own sake, but with ulterior political purposes." Rather than be taught to embrace one position or another, I wanted my students to learn to choose intelligently through use of their own reason between two positions. Instead of implanting preordained beliefs and convictions in their minds, I wanted them to search out and find what was useful and right for themselves. I considered the role of teacher like Socrates who said that a teacher should be like a mid-wife, bringing forth in students that which was already present. The idea of educators as a "socially progressive" vanguard elite which illuminate the hidden but historically predestined path of humanity for the ignorant masses seemed to me the highest and most dangerous form of charlatanism in anyone who ascribes to the noble moniker of "teacher." servants of the state

      The influence of John Dewey remains overwhelming in the educational system of United States. Dewey rebelled against the "cold dead hand of the past" which represented itself in the traditional liberal arts education. He distrusted book learning and theoretical speculation and favored experimentation and science. One gets the idea from Dewey that literature was a sort of disease handed down from weaker and less rationally organized societies on the evolutionary scale, and I always suspected in Dewey more than a little rebellion against an elite and cloistered education of abstract ideas from dead languages which dominated the time before him. The past is bad and flawed, and the future is all that we have the courage and strength to make it into.

      Dewey called for a new and improved "modern" education which the industrial age and the rise of science demanded from human beings. The germ of Dewey's idea is thus: "We don't need more idle speculation on these old fashioned problems and ideas - we need to embrace and perfect science to improve the lot of a mankind in a society moving ever and ever upward." Dewey has the characteristic 19th century optimistic belief in the ability of science and collective enterprise to lay open the undisputed road to a better future through social action - the social Darwinian belief of change as naturally moving mankind towards a more efficient and more highly evolved future.

      It is a philosophy like that of Marx in that man through his unaided power of intellect remakes himself and his environment in the March of History. The only difference is that where Marx places change for the good as coming through communism Dewey replaces democracy made more realized through education of the "right society." Dewey fantastically believes that instinct and a belief in a supposedly unchangeable human nature are seen as what keeps us chained to a violent world and unjust societies. Science is the key to a progressive future, books and book learning the anchor the past of unjust societies and a violent world. Like Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche, Dewey views philosophy as a form of power.

      Such an optimistic belief in the potential for a pragmatic science through collective social action to transform dramatically the human condition strikes me as an astounding. Dewey makes the fantastical assertion that anything is possible if we can just educate our children "progressively" in a rationally and justly organized society applying to our lives what science supposedly illuminates for us. Dewey's belief in the ability of mankind to change himself and his universe with the unaided use of his intelligence is akin to a sort of hubris and arrogance which would make mankind unlovable even to Prometheus! - the idea that we can somehow cure mankind of the ancient sin of Cain and Abel. Such a 19th view of science as the key to human happiness does not long survive even a cursory look at the 20th century. And if science in our time has given us the answers to certain questions it has also given rise to many new more puzzling and complex questions which lead us to feel less certain than ever in what we truly do know (a development Dewey seems to have not foreseen).

      It is difficult today to read Dewey's optimistic faith in the future at the end of the 19th century in the inevitable "social progress" without it seeming highly naive and frightfully dated. After all, it was only a few decades later that the most educated and "socially conscious" country in the world democratically elected a madman and then put several millions of persons in ovens and murdered them. Dilemmas of humanity such as justice and freedom and good and evil are more important today as ever - and science seems unable to help us resolve them. Science has failed to enable us to transcend those pesky ancient questions which Dewey thought irrelevant to our "modern industrial" society, and individuals such as Dostoyevski's Mitya in "The Brothers Kamarazov" who "don't want millions but an answer to their questions" have not found a magical elixir in modern science. Sometimes in contemplating the immensity of the universe or the intricacy of the subatomic world, I have wondered if the mystery human soul is not most complex still.

      Are we essentially any better today having divorced ourselves from so much of the learning that in the past formed our Western civilization? Are we any less prone to error with the scientific method? Despite Dewey's assertions to the contrary, I would argue that the incredibly difficult concept of "right social development" has not been made more easily identifiable by the scientific method nor has humanity been irrevocably transformed by the unique social conditions of the modern age. Wisdom and an "progressive" improvement in humanity have not proved concomitants of advanced scientific knowledge. In fact, experience shows us that it is possible for a society to acquire a high degree of scientific knowledge yet still act as violently and unwisely as any "barbarian" cultures of the past! We recognize as mistaken the assumption that all change is good since it inevitably leads us "progressively" forward. We are not gods nor are we the most important and powerful forces in the cosmos able to bend fortune and human nature to our whim.

      With a new humility, let us undertake to do what is actually within our mortal powers and not overextend ourselves with vain philosophies of utopian transcendence referring to the march of humanity towards a future of harmony, unity and universal love. We should not mix overly much religious themes (coming from the university or church) with political life. And neither should we look upon science as a religion or guide towards Gramsci's "superior, total form of modern civilisation." Such is madness, and the first step towards the drawing up of lists of contrarian dissidents and the eventual burning of infidels and books.

      Dewey sees the "proper social order" as something discernible to all mankind which has the education and intelligence through modern ideas to uncover myth and superstition. This century has amply shown us what happens when a society believes it can identify the one true road to the just society. In my opinion, the only real alternative is a pragmatic and pluralistic liberalism where any single idea of "progressive change" is rejected and many different approaches and ideas can compete in the flux and flow of the free marketplace of ideas. We kid ourselves if we think that the struggle between mutually antagonistic values such as liberty and security will ever be permanently settled in a new age of harmony and peace. It is not true that all change is good; and change should be carefully considered before undertaken through the gradual evolution of ideas felt throughout society, and not force fed to the people by arrogant elites who feel that by virtue of a "scientific" education they know the "true path." That has been the path which continental Europe followed to disaster. It is because America and Great Britain never relinquished the essential foundation of pluralism that we escaped totalitarianism, but now our universities are so influenced by the ideas from continental Europe which have already caused so much damage there.

      I would argue that the average old and wizened man or woman sitting in the park watching the world go by has more to tell us about ourselves and our society than Ph.Ds schooled in the "science" of sociology writing scholarly articles in their university offices. We need less facts and raw data and more wisdom in seeing the larger picture and recognizing what is truly important. We do not need more contemporary thinkers on the cutting edge of advanced scholarship teaching us to view the world through the lens of "deconstructionism." We do not need more Freudian or Marxian interpretations of history and society. And science has given us longer lives, increased food stuffs, easier labor, unparalleled material prosperity, and a mountain of information about ourselves. Yet are we any happier today than in the past? Do we know any better where to go in the future? That is an important question in this century of murder and upheaval.

      This popular idea of Dewey that the past and tradition is more of a hindrance than a guide and a warning need be amended; we only ignore the merits of the traditional liberal arts education and the study of the classics (the so-called "great books of mankind") at our collective risk. Is it true that mankind learns best by absorbing the circumstances and exigencies of the immediate social surroundings? Is the salvation of man best presented in sociopolitical terms? Or do we learn better by studying mankind over the thousands of years of accumulated history in the desperate hope of not repeating any of a vast universe of tragic mistakes and bloody crimes? In the age of the Gulag Archipelago and the Auschwitz death camp, the claim that "those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it" takes on an added urgency.

      John Dewey claimed that the teacher should "realize the dignity of his calling" through serving as a "social servant set apart for the maintenance of proper social order and the securing of right social growth." I might have been this as a teacher, but I had little desire to paternalistically order the belief systems of my students (although I knew I inevitably affected students thusly in ways large and small). When I think about my best students and the operation of their minds even as young adults, I find it hard to imagine them as criminals or fanatics, or any kind of an enemy of "right social growth" - there seems to be something about the accumulation of study and knowledge which leads most men and women to eschew destructive and violent paths. Yet whether my students eventually chose to accept the values and goals of the "proper social order" and work towards "right social growth" (whatever that might be) or not, that was a decision I would leave to them.

      I was no god trying to take away the choices each of my students had to make in their lives. This was my ultimate act of intellectual respect towards my students: the freedom to choose between two course of action or thought by use of their own free will (as long as they followed certain rules of behavior in my classroom). This is freedom in its most valuable and important aspect, but only through letting go and moving to the sidelines could it happen. Without being trusted, young people will never prove themselves worthy of trust. I never was going to look at my students as blank slates prior to "right" social indoctrination. That is arrogant and overplays the power of the teacher and degrades the enormous potential for young people to forge their own destinies (with the help of teachers). I think the distinction is subtle but absolutely crucial. Too many teachers - now and in the past - violate the sovereignty of their students.

      I always identified with the following passage from Xenophon where Socrates defends his manner of teaching and learning to the Sophist Antiphon:

Antiphon, as another man gets pleasure from a good horse, or a dog, or a bird, I get even more pleasure from good friends. And if I have something good, I teach it to them, and I introduce them to others who will be useful to them with respect to virtue. And together with my friends I go through the treasures of wise men of old which they left behind written in books, and we peruse them. If we see something good, we pick it out and hold it to be a great profit, if we are able to prove useful to one another.

This seems to me deceptively simple, but then the true way should start out being simple (even if it rarely stays that way).

      Both as a teacher and human being, I rejected determinism and predestination and instead passionately counted myself among those who had traditionally prized human responsibility and intellectual and moral freedom - as Sir Isaiah Berlin described "those who value liberty for its own sake, believe that to be free to choose, and not to be chosen for, is an inalienable ingredient in what makes human beings human." It is only in this way that I can in good conscience consider myself an honest teacher who does not violate the sanctity of my student's minds and hearts. Young people must be free to come to you of their free will - you cannot force it. If you force it, it can be tantamount to intellectual or spiritual rape at worst, oppression and a simple lack of respect at best. This is especially true with young and fragile minds which need to be handled with care. The precious commodity of intellectual freedom is much more threatened today than we commonly realize, in my opinion.

      I would quote again Russell, whose views on education are perhaps his least studied and most contraversial. I never read anything by him in my education classes, and nowhere does he speak to whether it is better to learn in groups or individually, by use of auditory or manual instruction, through "student based instruction" or by repetition and rote memorization, or any of the thousand other violent contraversies that rage in educational circles today. No, Russell never talks about method but only about motivation, aims, and goals; he heakens back to a better time when education was more a noble art and less a dismal science. Nonetheless, what he says strikes me as a teacher:

"The man who has reverence will not think it his duty to 'mould' the young. He feels in all that lives, but especially in human beings, and most of all in children, something sacred, indefinable, unlimited, something individual and strangely precious, the growing principle of life, an embodied fragment of the dumb striving of the world. In the presence of a child he feels an unaccountable humility - a humility not easily defensible on any rational ground, and yet somehow nearer to wisdom than the easy self-confidence of many parents and teachers. The outward helplessness of the child and the appeal of dependence make him conscious of the responsibility of a trust. His imagination shows him what the child may become, for good or evil, how its impulses may be developed or thwarted, how its hopes must be dimmed and the life in it grow less living, how its trust will be bruised and its quick desires replaced by brooding will. All this gives him a longing to help the child in its own battle; he would equip and strengthen it, not for some outside end proposed by the State or by any other impersonal authority, but for the ends which the child's own spirit is obscurely seeking. The man who feels this can wield the authority of an educator without infringing the principle of liberty.

This was the kind of teacher that by instinct my soul moved towards; and this was what I considered a civilized person generally. In my opinion (and I would bet in the opinion of Russell), once an individual starts from such a place of "reverance", the details and methodology would come naturally as the teacher discovers through trial and error that which is most efficacious and suitable for him.

      I never was going to be a teacher gleaming educational cues and techniques from the latest social theory or scientific survey. I never would serve in the spirit described by John Dewey: "I believe that every teacher should realize the dignity of his calling; that he is a social servant set apart for the maintenance of proper social order and the securing of right social growth." The difference between the two visions of the function of the teacher might be subtle, but they are absolutely vital in modern times, in my opinion. It is all comes down to respect for students and the vital importance of individual integrity and intellectual independence in education. Without all that, a teacher is nothing better than a propagandist no matter might be their class, religion, or country, or nation. I reject the spirit of Dewey's idea of "progressive education" which has overweeningly dominated our universities and schools for nearly a century. Social growth in the nature of Darwin is hardly foreordained, and it simply is not true that all learning is "social" (nor need be "socially useful").

      Yet I have often felt pressure as a teacher to present material in such a way to students that reinforces a particular political position. "The private is always political," goes the two-dimensional thinking of the social changer, "and if you are not a part of the solution you are a part of the problem. You are either with us or against us!" I would counter that the whole history of the fratricidal 20th century is a testament to the rape of the private by the collective and reducing all relations as dependent on power and will. People should hold nothing so dear to themselves as the independence and integrity of their own thought, and it is precisely this that has been so violated by "true believers" with a social agenda, whether they be German Nazis, Islamic mullahs, the Inquisitors of the Roman Catholic Church, Soviet or Chinese commissars or a plethora of other scoundrels. There needs to be an affirmation of the sovereignty of the individual, lest a person become a beast of the herd again ready to blindly perform some new barbarity. If the blood-drenched 20th century should teach us anything, it should teach us this.

      But to even talk in terms of "individual free will" and "reverence" or "liberty" like Berlin or Russell in the current academic environment is too risk using supposedly "ancient" and "obsolete" arguments already proved untrue by rigorous modern scholarship. I would argue that in claiming to know so much today we are far stupider as a species in many ways than we once were. And as for those who would paternalistically attempt to create a perfect mankind by sociologically or biologically toying with the human soul, I consider this to be perhaps the biggest blasphemy of all! God has created us with the free will to choose between the good and evil - that is true freedom. Who would we take away what God has given us? From whence this cosmic impiety? Where is the appropriate fear of such overweening and shocking hubris? Men and women setting themselves up as gods!

      It is in this context that I eye suspiciously those who would seek to unleash the populist passions of the "people," as they have all too often shown themselves more interested in social control than social justice. I strongly suspect calls for radical social change come from people demanding from society not so much liberty as equality - and willing to sacrifice even liberty for the sake of equality (or political control). I sided with Voltaire in believing the long slow evolutionary course of change through reason and education as the only real cure for we homo sapiens. I suspect violent change - not to mention totalitarianism! - as almost certainly a medicine worse than the original malady. Violent revolution should be the last resort of a people to tyranny when no other exit is possible. If you look at the countries in the world where violent change has been the rule rather than the exception, they are almost without exception Godforsaken places where poverty cowers the people and brute force dominates political life.

      Only a fool would imagine that guillotining thousands of persons in "the name of the people" (that godamn odious phrase!) would bring about a better and more just world. Such a course of action in France brought about the military dictatorship of Napoleon, endemic warfare, and then renewed monarchy. The bloody French revolution was the death knoll for the Divine Right of Kings, but it did not bring about political stability and only slowly and with fits and starts improved the situation of the average man and woman in France. On the other hand, the more moderate and conservative English and American revolutions brought about a more lasting political change and legacy of peaceful reform. Yet the French Revolution and Jacobin extremism style of social change through radical collective action has been more often been the model in the last two hundred years. In such places of extreme and violent change, education almost always means indoctrination in practice. The students and the young are almost always looked upon as soldiers in the cause. And the germ of this disease has caught on in the United States.

      The spread of this mindless militant groupthink through political action masquerading as "education" is evidenced nowhere better than in the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution - a truly representative event of that era. Deeply suspicious of learning or higher education, Mao Tse-tung unleashed the "power of the people" by encouraging the young to rebel and thereby unleash the "tremendous energy of the masses" against anyone who did not show strong enough interest in the vigor of the proletariat revolution and validity of socialist ideology. "I do not approve of reading books. The method of examination is a method of dealing with the enemy. It is more harmful and should be stopped..." Mao claimed, seeking to destroy 4,000 years of Chinese culture and education through the mass chaos and violence of mobs of rampaging Red Guards destroying famous art and publicly humiliating college professors and classical musicians (the "spectacle wearers"). In reality, Mao used those young enough not to know better to terrorize those skeptical of accepting him as the new god of China ("From the Red East rises the sun; / There appears in China a Mao Tse-tung!"). The result was old and learned professors forced to clean bathrooms or work in the countryside in the hopes of "reforming thought" by "re-educating" their "corrupted" minds through hard physical labor. As Mao described his affinity for the young as agents of revolution, "A clean piece of paper has no blotches and so the newest and most beautiful words can be written on it." This is not education but indoctrination.

      You still think that the "social consciousness" cannot be wrong? You still believe that millions and millions of living and breathing adults can be completely wrong? As evidence to the contrary, consider the following: When Joseph Stalin died, a hysterical crowd of thousands rioted in a last minute attempt to get a last glimpse of their beloved leader, and at least 1,500 died. This!, after he had raped Russia for decades and murdered approximately 30 millions of Russians! This only goes to prove you can condition millions of people with a combination of the sheer terror of a police state, extreme social pressure, and ubiquitiuos propaganda. In the Soviet Union of the 1930s, people really did wander among the giant posters of Comrade Stalin's face hanging in public areas and in people's homes treating and thinking of him like a god. In the hysteria whipped up by terror and the state media, the majority of people actually came to look at him in this way! It takes enormous courage to speak the truth when everyone else is lying; and it takes a hero to speak the truth when the penalty for doing so is death or banishment! The incredible arrogance of Stalin and his Soviet Union is nowhere better seen in his attempts to bend the natural laws of genetics as discovered by Mendel to those of "socialist" science as supported by the people.

      You think this is ancient history which does not apply to us? Think about the death of the "great father" Kim Il Sung who died only recently in North Korea. Despite having kept the country impoverished and isolated from the rest of the world and launching a disastrous war against the south, Kim Il Sung was worshiped like a god in North Korea for over 50 years. Despite living in a society which spent billions on weapons as the people lived in penury (and later starved), the glory of Kim Il Sung was extolled tireressly in nearly every school, factory, and homestead in the country. After he died, the whole country went into mourning, and I remember seeing images of thousands upon thousands of despondent North Koreans crying their eyes out and pulling out their hair in honest grief. Just like the love in "1984" that citizens had for Big Brother, the North Koreans had been conditioned through to love their country and the man who stood for everything they had been taught to belive in: Kim Il Sung, a commonplace tyrant and military dictator. You would have thought in watching the funeral procession that every North Korean had just lost both their mother and father in an tragic unexpected car accident. It is the phenomenon of people resorting unthinkingly to the herd instinct.

      And it is not only in totalitarian countries but in all nations. Do you feel a lump in your throat when you stand and sing the "Star Spangled Banner" at the beginning of a baseball game? Do you feel proud seeing the American flag wave in the wind? Why do you feel that way? Is it simply a feeling of communial nostalgia for home and hearth or is it something broader? Have you ever actually sat down and read the "Federalist Papers?" Do you know that Madison was the second president of the United States and is not only the capital of Wisconsin? Has the Constitution ever been much more to you than something to be invoked Sunday school prayer fashion? (As Hutchins said, without the Constitution and Bill of Rights, America is nothing more than a piece of land between Canada and Mexico) What do you believe in? And why?

      I have met many American teachers who had as ambitious a social agenda with regard to their students as any communist political officer or fascist killjoy looking at their students as means to their nationalistic or internationalistic ends. Yet only in the United States would the radicals and revolutionaries with an ax to grind flock to the educational establishment in such large numbers. From on high the enlightened few from Education Departments in universities nationwide would issue standards, guidelines, curriculum, textbooks, and try to train tomorrow's teachers with an ideology which through the schools seeks to engineer and eventually bring into existence their vision of the ideal society. In my career, I have had to suffer them and their ideas endlessly. It might seem like a unimportant conflict on the margins of popular attention, but it is important since education seeps into the lives of virtually every one of us who ever went to school. Many teachers in America join that profession more out of a desire to change society than out of any inherent love of learning or teaching. This might again be a subtle distinction, but I think it important.

      For example, according to a New York state department of education report and other similar documents I have read that the traditional educational system and larger American culture are characterized by "intellectual and educational oppression that has characterized the culture and institutions of the United States" where "deep seated pathologies of racial hatred" impose "ego starvation" on all but the elite whose "arrogant perspective" produces "intellect-victimization" and "cultural oppression" and "invisibility" and "marginalization" and "dehumanization" and even "genocide" of a malignantly "Eurocentric" society rife with "sexism" and "ageism" and "lookism." Now this is unremarkable prose in a century rife with such revolutionary rhetoric, yet one cannot help but wonder what crimes people who would do such violence to language would commit if given any real power. We can look to recent history as a guide.

      Some knucklehead from Italy schooled in "Newspeak" recently e-mailed me: "Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present CONTROLS THE PAST!" This is typical of that postmodern sensibility of seeing power as the dominant and defining factor in society and in societal relations by humorless intellectuals who inexorably see the classroom as an "arena of struggle." It reminds me more than anything of the Hobbesian man in a war of all against all in "a perpetual and restless desire for power, that ceaseth only in death." Ergo Marxism, Nihilism, Feminism, and a plethora of other -isms in education and politics (the two, unfortunately, becoming nearly synonymous) which have become the tools of militant intellectuals who more than seekers of truth see themselves as critics of liberal democracy. It all comes back to social control and dogma, which my mother always described as "what is true for me b>and what is true for you too." There is the implicit idea that conflict and division are inevitable and learning and education is more about understanding these divisions rather than persuading and trying to convince through reason and conversation between free individuals.

      In our time this has come to resemble the world of scientific brainwashing in Orwell's prophetic book "1984" which effectively captures the mood of the nightmare of what modern life was becoming in the 20th century:

Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know what no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me...

...There will be no laughter [in our future Utopian society], except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science. When we are omnipotent we shall have no more need of science. There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness... But always - do not forget this, Winston - always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot on a human face - forever...

This is the spirit of the "will to power" of Nietzsche again talking in our century where there are "no such thing as facts - only interpretations." Orwell only expanded on Nietzsche when he wondered in "1984" if there even existed such a thing as "truth." "Reality," so the ruling all-powerful Party holds, "is not external. Reality exists in the human mind and nowhere else... whatever the party holds to be truth is truth." Or, in other words, 2 + 2 = 5 when it is expedient for the powers that be. "Peace" can really mean "war" and "love" be "hate" if only social elites can reshape human though through coercion and language. This attitude of social engineering by socially-minded linguists and sociologists is like a poison in our system. The dark side of science is seen in the use of mind altering drugs by government in the disutopias of "Brave New World" and the vicious and unlimited use of torture and brainwashing in "1984." Reason and the power to reason is laid bare and vulnerable to power and the will to power; the end of man as we know it seems not only inevitable but immanent, and recent history seems to back up such a claim.

      Those books should be warnings to cultures which had discovered new terrors as they had unlearned old truths. They should illuminate for us no "old truth" more important than the following: that knowledge divorced from goodness is profoundly dangerous. The human soul in such a way is threatened, comes under attack, and struggles for its survival nearly every single day, and it should be almost the first duty of a writer or thinker to continue the good fight against the hostile forces which would subvert it or even deny its very existence. We need not let the tragedies of the last few decades destroy a two-thousand-year-old Western tradition of hope dating back to Homer and transform it into despair. It is not enough for the Good to have existed and spoken in the past. The Good needs followers today. We need let the individual be subsumed and "engulfed in the State, dissolved in the community" - permanently perverted into something other than "human" (If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot on a human face - forever...).

      As bad as things are presently, they clearly can get worse - and we should not forget this in contemplating change. We today can see clearly that the oppressiveness of the Russian Czar was not alleviated but made measurably worse by the Bolshevism which replaced it so violently. Yet intellectuals more than almost anyone embraced Lenin's Revolution and even apologized for it when all the evidence pointed towards the monstrosity of Stalin's Soviet Union. "The myth of the Revolution serves as a refuge for utopian intellectuals; it becomes the mysterious, unpredictable intercessor between the real and the ideal," explains Raymond Aron. Responsible adults seek to diminish misery and injustice in the world we actually inhabit instead of conjuring new Utopian societies out of their imaginations (creating nightmares in the process); the task of government should be to minimize unhappiness and avoid unnecessary suffering of its people and not to burn everything to the ground so as to build a new and improved world on the ashes of the old. It is the human heart which controls human institutions, and until there is a revolution in the hearts of men and women we should not expect too much from our social institutions (nor should we tolerate too much). If there is no change in the human heart, oppressive old institutions will simply be replaced by oppressive new ones.

      Yet when you move into the realm of politics (especially radical politics), you immediately separate everyone into those who agree or disagree with you. More importantly, any semblance of rational or courteous interaction between persons all too often vanishes and the mind collapses in upon itself in a pressure cooker atmosphere of angry passions and prejudices. Nowhere have I seen this better evidenced than in the American higher educational system. The American universities are on the verge of becoming like those in Latin American where contentious students spend more time arguing politics and confronting authority than they do reading and studying. They are at risk of coming more under the sway of those who shout down others than those who would reason and persuade.

      Instead of pursuing truth towards the goal of undertanding reality, they attempt to reshape reality to fit the ideal. Instead of the intellectual freedom of the mind to reflect and speculate on the most important questions of humanity, American universities have become centers of cultural criticism of American democracy ("bourgeois society"). Philosophy as we have traditionally known it and reason itself seem to be on the verge of extinction (forgotten?) - to be replaced by only psychology, sociology, anthropology, and comparative literature. This, in my opinion, is a step backwards instead of forwards.

      In this uncivil era of political rectitude, can anyone really claim that universities today are places that cultivate free thought or foster the open inquiry of the mind? In the United States, where many educators spend more time arguing fratricidally amongst each other than they do teaching their students? Where the Left and the Right hate each other so much that civilized discourse seems impossible? Where we seem to have forgotten the truth of Thoreau's assertion, "It takes two to speak the truth - one to speak, and another to listen"? Here in this graceless age when social protest scholarship is held in higher esteem than love poetry? "Love poetry!" - the very term strikes us today as archaic and quaint!

Love poetry?

(Perhaps a love poem is the most revolutionary thing a person can write in our age. Maybe the most truly revolutionary person in the 20th century is someone who simply lives a kind and decent life. The romantic revolutionary at the very beginning of the 19th century was the great poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley. In the 20th century, this estimable role was filled by a very different Ernesto "Che" Guevara: a man with a gun. Now perhaps the esteemed reader begins to understand how I developed a strong distaste for the age in which I live.)

      In our culture replete with "educated" persons with advanced degrees in business, engineering, sociology, computer science, etc. from modern "research universities" who have studied next to nothing of the humanities and never, except incidentally, looked at education as a path to wisdom? I have nothing against those professions which are so necessary for the sustaining of life; but in relegating the study of the humanities to a historical footnote, we Americans have made life duller and less human, in my opinion. And even as we have unprecedented levels of technology and information, our problems seem if anything more intractable than ever.

      And it is not just "politics" - I would feel no more comfortable in an aggressive Catholic school which required me to teach the veracity of the message of Jesus Christ. To have such a political agenda in your teaching and to wear it on your sleeve is to disrespect your students. Unfortunately, Americans all too often try to find the quick fix, make it simple and universally accessible, attempting to reduce an incredibly complex world into a soundbite, slogan, political platitude, or conveniently comfortable idea instead of looking beyond the surface for the difficult truth. It makes for poor education.

      In my experience, students who are taught a sanitized and politically correct version of life smell the hypocrisy of the cant and reject it. The result is that not being challenged or pressured much to exert themselves intellectually, students become bored and fail to rise to the occasion. We end up dumbing down the curriculum and students begin to look at learning as a chore towards little more than hopefully one day landing a job (the preposterous idea of an education ending sometime after adolescence instead of it being a lifelong activity - our real education begins after we leave school). Interscholastic sports, partying, cheerleading, gossiping with friends during lunch all become more important school activities than reading, thinking, and learning. Add this with a half-hearted "multicultural" mix of Black History Month and quesadillas for lunch occasionally, and you have the superficiality and mediocrity which is all too often the American K-12 education.

      Think of the difference between "tolerance" when it is the election of an open mind or that of an empty mind. The first is the informed understanding of those who have searched long and hard and the second is the lazy and facile product of the "I'm OK-you're OK, we're all OK" relativistic thinking. Such a philosophy, unfortunately, can lead people (especially young people since they lack life experience) to drift into the seductively comfortable realm of relativism and nihilism where demagogues and manipulators of opinion and fashion can too easily maneuver thought (and consequently, action) into unhealthy and perilous areas. It unglues a society from the culture which came before it and turns us away from the giants of thought which provide any semblance of wisdom we can possibly claim for ourselves. As someone once said, "A person who believes in nothing will believe in anything."

      In practice, the "tolerance" which is all too often preached in America today leads to "I'm not OK-you're not OK, none of us are OK" thinking. An education of this sort leads us down the slippery slope which ends in a society ignorant of tradition, unable to distinguish good from bad, and openly hostile to the idea of quality and excellence. To talk about the search for human truth today is to sound singularly out of place: it is the way we are intellectually trained. We are urged to accept all ideas as equally valuable and this masks, in my opinion, the larger failure which is to truly believe in anything. I would much rather a person hold mistaken beliefs or be prejudiced rather than believe in nothing. It is often the individual with the most sophisticated and subtle mind whom falls victim to specious philosophies and the false doctors of the souls who would expound them. Yet there is always hope for a reformation and those who have been liberated from bad ideas can make the most potent thinkers of all. But for those who don't care? Well, that is a different matter entirely.

      Similarly, in delegating all literature (and, indeed, all learning!) as political (the tyrannical troika of RACE, SEX, and CLASS!), campus leaders have waded into the dangerous waters of intellectual trendiness and highlight how good intentions can make for bad education. We start getting Ph.Ds in Cowboy Western Movie Studies and graduate seminars on the sociological implications of comic books. We begin to encounter barbarous verbiage in obscure scholarly articles written in the fantastic jargon of an arcane sociobabble such as the following: "If such a sublime cyborg would insinuate the future as post Fordist subject, his palpably masochistic locations as ecstatic agent of the sublime superstate need to be decoded as the 'now-all-but-unreadable DNA' of a fast deindustrializing Detroit, just as his Robocop-like strategy of carceral negotiation and street control remains the tirelessly American one of inflicting regeneration through violence upon the racially heteroglossic wilds and others of the inner city." Or whatever that means. It reminds me for all the world of what Gibbon said in his "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" about literature and learning in the age of Antonines where "...a crowd of critics, of compilers, of commentators, darkened the face of learning."

      Despite being so unfashionable in academia, Shakespeare remains (and probably will remain) today the central author in our literary pantheon precisely because he never disrespects language or his audience in such a manner. Shakespeare is more popular than ever centuries after his death because he doesn't try to define or explain life but portray it in all its beauty and terror. Shakespeare is neither puffed up in trying to defend or cajole mankind in all its ignominies and triumphs nor does he self-righteously attack humanity for imperfection (16th century England had priests for that; Shakespeare has priests for that in his plays). He has that generosity of spirit and easy tolerance of others which always appealed to me. Even when I was a kid Shakespeare was such a breath of fresh air because the bad people could be really bad and the good usually at least partially flawed - or in danger of tragedy. I felt like I was seeing people and dilemas which were true to the grit of life, and not viewing some pedantic morality play with its heart on its sleeve intended for the edification of we poor dumb sons of bitches. Yet if Shakespeare does not overly sermonize, readers of good conscience will hardly fail to make judgments in the dramas so vividly (and often, bloodily) recounted. His dramas have a consistent ethic of the world where good does not always triumph. And even when it does, the evil commonly stains the world with its poisons before dying; and this strikes us as true to life where religious/moral allegories and tendentious fairy tales come across as superficial and ultimately fail to satisfy.

      Why should we try to cram ideas down each other's throat, impose our ideas on our neighbor, or look at learning and education as a means for political and spiritual control? Why not in this spirit of humility accept confusion and incompleteness as natural and in turn consider discovery as delightful? "Out of timber so crooked as that from which man is made nothing entirely straight can be built," claimed Immanuel Kant and he is right, in my opinion. In the oceans of our human ignorance and frailty, we can perhaps chance upon some thrilling islands of knowledge and understanding. From that point, anything we learn we can hold as a great advantage. Boorstin observed, "I have observed that the world has suffered far less from ignorance than from pretensions to knowledge. It is not skeptics or explorers but fanatics and ideologues who menace decency and progress. No agnostic ever burned anyone at the stake or tortured a pagan, heretic, or an unbeliever." Voltaire put it more plainly: "Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd."

      Very few are the ideas that have not been broached before, and maybe if we are lucky a handful of individuals in our generation will be able to contribute something that has not been said better in the past. When we indulge every new iconoclastic "activist" author or idea as "revolutionary" and more deserving of study than the canon of the past three thousand years, we come to resemble the Tower of Babel. It is a sort of collective narcissism. We should look for something more important than only ourselves and the problems of our time as we try to make sense of the world. As G.K. Chesterson wrote, "The voice of the special rebels and prophets, recommending discontent, should, as I have said, sound now and then suddenly, like a trumpet. But the voices of the saints and sages, recommending contentment, should sound unceasingly, like the sea."

      Look at the following assertion by William Whewell, the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, some 150 years ago:

Young persons may be so employed and so treated that their caprice, their self-will, their individual tastes and propensities, are educed and developed; but this is not Education. It is not the education of a Man; for what is educed is not what belongs to man as man, and connects man with man. It is not the Education of a man's Humanity, but the Indulgence of his Individuality.
That comes across as arrogant and high-handed in our democratic age. I also find it hard on the ears. But I still cannot avoid thinking Whewell has more than a little to say to us and we discount his advice at our own peril. The measure, in my opinion, of a good teacher is someone who can contribute to such an "Education" without being a pedant, and I suspect the best case might be to indulge the individuality of students by using the great books of humanity as a centerpiece. Few are such books that I could not relate in some vital way to my own life.

      Clearly this is an elitist view of education in our age of radical egalitarianism where so much pressure is put on all people and all ideas to be equal. However, I would argue that in a democratic society which stumbles under the weight of public opinion and crass sensationalism of popular culture it is important that someone inject a sense of what is more permanently valuable and profound (that which is forthcoming from reflection and contemplation of the theoretical life). We become nothing more than consumers dancing to the tune of marketers and find ourselves with lifestyles instead of lives. And make no doubt about it: A steady diet of television sitcoms, rock music videos, and Walt Disney movies will rot your mind as surely as candy will rot your teeth. A serious study of life demands more than what popular culture can provide. We begin to lose that perspective of the world and human history which might lead us at times to look upon our degenerate race of human beings presently inhabiting this squalid, corrupt, overcrowded and miserable world as a disaster, and deserving of nigh total despair. But after so much powder and fluff - the wholesale substitution of social truth for actual truth - once again, we begin to prefer the comfortable delusion to the cruel truth. Let's not mince words here: This is sheer intellectual sloth, and it makes for shallowness in a person. I wonder if this has much to do with the enormous spiritual sadness I see in America today, so many of us wondering at the pointlessness of our lives.

      Conversely, in the aristocratic age of Whewell's 18th century Cambridge more "indulgence" of individuality was most likely apposite and long overdue in societies where learning was an ostentation or procrustean bed of conformity. This kind of education too often results in bland mouthpieces reasonably fluent in dead languages with all the spunk and passion bred out of them. That is also certainly less than ideal. There needs to be a balance between the study of the particular of our time and the universal of Humanity (as Whewell would put it). In my opinion, we have gone way too far towards the particular and risk placing student's reading on a perilous and flimsy footing of the here and now, with the consequent loss of perspective. Living and pursuing our fortunes in the here and now, we become experts of the particular. It is much more difficult to branch out and colonize the past and the immortal. Students today deserve a more rigorous reading and less parochial perspective (the here and now) than what they are getting.

      In the great works of the past we see authors in the ongoing dialogue of civilization. Great authors constantly copy each other, and their originality is in the way they say things reflecting their unique personality and the temper of the their time. There is the ancient quarrel between the conservatives and the radicals, optimists and pessimists, Sophists and Deists, and now the Ancients and the Moderns - all with something important to say, in my opinion. In following these dialogues, our minds expand to examine the full range of human complexity across the centuries. Yet today literature has become a tool of social-value professors who look at books, reading, and education as more a tool of socio-economic justice/therapy of our culture rather than a philosophical or metaphysical search for something which will speak to readers long after we and the immediate social and political concerns of our day are long forgotten.

      I look back at the second rate writers and their third rare novels I was forced to read about injustice so that "those of us with varying degrees of social power and status must now move away from the center, so that other more marginalized voices... may be heard." The condescending idea is that we will have more equality when the sanctified "marginalized" voices are included into the list of literature we read. The idea is that in dismantling traditional oppressive patriarchal institutions we will come into a new era of egalitarian bliss. That alway struck me as only so much muddleminded muck. I learned far more about the nature of damage of injustice and the barbarism of primitive ideas of revenge in reading Aescylus's "Orestia" than I ever did in reading some second rate Negoress poetess or handwringing homosexual bemoan their dire fates. One gets the unpleasant feeling that these books and their authors are praised and read not so much for the power or creativity of their writing as the relevance to certain problems in our society. It is literature as as a bone thrown to the "marginalized" of our own time in the hopes of using it as a bone to for "injustice."

      I cannot help thinking life and we human beings are so much more violent and chaotic than the sainty-saint contemporary social reformers in charge of literature would have us think. The wolf is always just beyond our view, the turbulent passions just beneath the civilized exterior ready to burst through to wreak destruction. When we debone and bleed white our literature for the sake of moral edification and take out the disturbing and unpleasant, we end up substituting social truth for actual truth - settling for the comfortable delusion rather than the cruel truth.

      I get mad in retrospect when I think about how I completed 16 years of formal schooling reading a plethora of topical and current authors who wrote for the age while reading hardly anything by those who wrote for the ages: Aescylus, Homer, Plato, Juvenal, Cicero, the authors of the Old and New Testament. I feel I was cheated by the American educational system - not so much at the university-level where I had the freedom to choose what I studied but at the K-12 level where I was supposed to learn the basics and fundamentals. I cannot believe I graduated from high school without even attempting to read "Sophocles Rex," The Book of Job, "The Trial of Socrates" or "The Republic." I cannot believe I never studied one philosopher as such nor read even one of the famous Roman speeches. I never read anything by Rousseau, not one word of Machiavelli. I feel cheated by an American public school system mired in mediocrity and superficiality. And I attended what was supposedly a "prestigious" high school! I hear the Education professors claiming that such material is too "difficult" for teenagers and only marginally relevant to our progressive multicultural world. You think about that condescending attitude for a moment.

      On the other hand, think about the high school student who when pushed by a passionate teacher takes it upon himself/herself to try to read Don Quixote de la Mancha in the original archaic Spanish. Think about the 17-year old who attempts to wrestle with the ideas of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard or Shoepenhauer. Now that's exciting - tackling the most complicated problems! Therein lies the potential for real learning! Living on the edge of failure! Hell, even failing sometimes! There are clearly worse things in the world than failure (apathy, laziness, unfulfilled potential) - it can be a learning experience par excellence. Anything less defrauds and cheapens the potential of education and results in unlettered, inarticulate, and shallow young adults instead of thoughtful and reflective ones. It cheapens life itself.

"A liberal education [should] free a person from the prison-house of his class, race, time, place, background, family, and even his nation."
Robert Maynard Hutchins

      I was well into my 20s before I could honestly say that I had read, thought, and suffered life experience enough to have developed a liberating creed at the core of my being for which I would be willing to fight and even die. Yet I agree with George Santayana when he said: "Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect, and it is shameful to surrender it too soon or to the first comer: there is nobility in preserving it coolly and proudly through long youth, until at last, in the ripeness of instinct and discretion, it can be safely exchanged for fidelity and happiness."

I discovered most of what I found useful outside of schools and universities; I learned most of what I found useful on my own rather than absorbing it through osmosis from the larger culture or having it drummed into me by teachers. Yet I think this only made it much more meaningful for me.

      I recently took a couple of university classes with my father and saw that nothing in the university had changed. Used to the hypocritical cant and sermonizing of the American university, I was able to easily just tune out when all the sanctimonious "multicultural" baloney started issuing forth from the professor. I was trained through long experience to find the nuggets of gold in the garbage. However, my father after forty years absence from the university had no such filter and was absolutely shocked at all the sermonizing and political correctness, moralizing, cant, etc. And then I signed up for a class on Plato and in a university of some 15,000 only six other people had enrolled in the class! Instead of a lecture hall, we met in a tiny library anteroom and simply sat around a large table. One would think that I would have found the university my natural surroundings, but this did not prove to be the case. I would always love university libraries and bookstores; but the self-important lifestyle and superheated political climate were anathema to me. I would do all my searching and learning elsewhere.

      I wonder if it is not one of the most foolish ideas of our time which equates going to school and having a diploma on the wall with being "educated." Does passing various tests and writing expansive essays for professors necessarily equal an education? How much can a person learn in four years anyway? And where did we get the idea that our education finished when we leave school? Learning gathers momentum and feeds upon itself as it gains profundity and dimension; our educations should only truly be getting off the ground as we matriculate from college and there is no reason why it should stop before we die. I personally garnered an amazingly diverse number of outstanding and failing marks in my classes. If I liked a teacher and a subject, wild horses could not stop me. If not interested, I would do absolutely nothing and stare stubbornly into the teacher's glare. I never was one to let school get in the way of my education.

      Look at the following concept of the ideal university as conceived by Mortimer J. Adler:

Suppose there were a college or university in which the faculty was thus composed: Herodotus and Thucydides taught the history of Greece, and Gibbon lectured on the fall of Rome. Plato and St. Thomas gave a course in metaphysics together; Fracis Bacon and John Stuart Mill discussed the logic of science; Aristotle, Spinoza, and Immanuel Kant shared the platform on moral problems; Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke talked about politics.

You could take a series of courses in mathematics from Euclid, Descartes, Riemann, and Cantor, with Bertrand Russell and A.N. Whitehead added at the end. You could listen to St. Augustine, Aquinas and William James talk about the nature of man and the human mind, with perhaps Jacques Maritain to comment on the lectures.

In economics, the lectures were by Adam Smith, Ricardo, Karl Marx, and Marshall. Boas discussed the human race and its races, Thorstein Veblen and John Dewey the economic and political problems of American democracy, and Lenin lectured on communism.

There might even be lectures on art by Leonardo da Vinci, and a lecture on Leonardo by Freud. A much larger faculty than this is imaginable, but this will suffice.

Would anyone want to go to any other university, if he could get into this one? There need be no limitation of numbers. The price of admission -- the only entrance requirement -- is the ability and willingness to read and discuss. This school exists for everybody who is willing and able to learn from first-rate teachers.

It is all that simple. We are every one of who has access to a library or the World Wide Web empowered to educate ourselves to whatever extent we are willing to exert ourselves. We do not need teachers or schools. I do not agree with Dewey when he says that education is necessarily a social process. It is this of course; but it is so much more than only that. We are every one of us empowered to educate ourselves without going to school. Guides? Cheerleaders? Mentors? Yes, we all need those; but learning is essentially a solitary and individual process. We find help and support from other thinkers - usually in the form of books - and then we internalize, digest, and add to those ideas ourselves. No great book or treatise was ever authored by many persons - genius is not a group activity.

      Nevertheless, Dewey stressed that element of literature: "I believe that at present we lose much of the value of literature and language studies because of our elimination of the social element." That assertion has been taken to the point today where we read authors primarily because they are a certain gender or ethnicity. Historically, ideas have transcended race, gender, and even time itself. But that idea has fallen out of favor and now authors are chosen very often precisely because of their gender, sexual preference, skin color, in what might just be the ultimate condescension to an author (and to reader). It is literature as social therapy. It is ethnic or gender cheerleading. As Salman Rushdie warns us:

Beware the writer who sets himself or herself up as the voice of a nation. This includes nations of race, gender, of sexual orientation, elective affinity. This is the New Behalfish. Beware Behalfism! The New Behalfism demands uplift, accentuates the positive, offers stirring moral instruction. It abhors the tragic sense of life. Seeing literature as inescapably political, it replaces literary values by political ones.

It is the murderer of thought. Beware!

Yet a voice like Rushdie's runs counter to the current of the times and will always be outside the literary and educational establishment, clamoring in isolated dissent against the cant of what is accepted as best by the most distiguished minds sitting in universities and publising houses. The concept of all learning as assertively social and political is the educational dogma of our "democratic society." The traditional idea of scholarship as revolving around books and solitude - the quiet introspection which Aristotle claimed brough man closest to being Godlike - has no place in this style of social education.

      For example, as a teacher in public schools I was always pressured to use "group activities" more than anything else. I once had a prominent Los Angeles businesswoman lecture me and a group of other teachers that it was our job to prepare young persons to work in groups so that they would learn the teamwork necessary to make good workers so her company could successfully compete in the new global economy. I could see her point, and I wanted my students to be able to work together as a team. However, I also wanted them to be able to work and hopefully think independently without having to rely on others as a crutch. I wanted them with their unaided intelligence to be able to think critically and to grow up to be unique individuals who could stand out from the crowd through superior achievement. That is much rarer and more difficult than merely learning teamwork. And it is ultimately more valuable, in my opinion.

      I am sure teachers in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany received the same lecture about producing "heroic workers" for the Motherland. The role of the teacher should be more profound than that. I remotely cared about this lady and her company, but I overwhelmingly considered important my children and their possible roles in the ongoing conversation of Western civilization. I would try to make my students critical thinkers and independent scholars first, valuable employees and citizens second. Dewey claimed that the teacher is a "social servant set apart for the maintenance of the proper social order and the securing of the right social order." I know nothing of any of this; I cannot even claim to know what is the "right social order." I almost belive that anyone who can deign to know what is the "proper social order" should be ignored on offhand! I did care about my country and my society. But I cared infinitely more about the ongoing saga of the human mind which starting with Homer and reaching all the way to us today. My loyalties are to the human intellect first, to the country and culture into which I happen to have been born secondly. It is an important distinction.

      In my teacher training classes I was constantly told to bring the familiar and "relevant" from the outside democratic society into my classroom. At first, I disagreed on instinct. I hated as a student studying about myself or my immediate surroundings. I already knew that well enough and it bored me. I wanted to know something different. Later, through conviction I concluded that it is the role of education to expose individuals to experiences and ideas that they cannot have in their own specific environments. It is when we restrict ourselves to the narrow experience of the here and now that we lose perspective and live in the infinite shallowness of an eternal presnet. One virtually need be a "trained" teacher to understand how contrary to the temper of the times such an idea is, however. Education has become all ourselves, our society, our brief moment on this earth - all is vanity. Yet my classroom has been my castle and I have run it as I saw best.

      I believe an educator has a duty beyond his own culture and time to all of Humanity. I was taught in my teacher education classes that education was about learning what was "useful" and "relevant" to modern democratic society. I was told that education was the primary way in which to reform society for the better by persons whom I suspected would only make things measurably worse if their conception of the "right social organization" ever became a reality. I was taught that education is the primary mode in which students come to "share in the social consciousness" - subsumed into it, I would counter, and all the more empoverished for it in a consumer society dominated by mass marketing and popular entertainment! I heard over and over again that I needed to develop the "communication skills" of my students so as to make them good employees. Nevertheless, I thought my job as a teacher was to pass on the intellectual, imaginative, moral and emotional inheritance of the past to the present though books and thinking (poetry and philosophy!), as my students would in time pass it on to future generations in their own time. If there not be at least a goodly number of such individuals understanding the larger intellectual heritage, how can we even pretend to consider ourselves a civilized people?

      In the society in which I lived, I never was going to get caught in the trap of prostrating myself to the howling masses of poor for their support, or bending my thoughts or teaching style into a sycophancy to the aloof rich. I was never going to do something rediculous like write a poem in honor of that demagogue Stalin, as did Pablo Neruda, in the hopes of furthering the fight for social justice. And I never was going to be an unquestioning mouthpiece of the comfortable powers that be, as were so many educational administrators whose opinions I read and even met in person. Some clamor for "justice" above all things, and I knew that intellectual independence and honesty would be the first thing they would sacrifice as they catered to the herd-instinct of the masses. Others wanted me to simply produce competent and efficient workers for the work force, and they were equally suspicious of the truly wide-ranging intellect and what conclusions critical thinking might lead to. What if people chose to reject the power structure and money chasing as a way of life? True learning is always dangerous in that nobody knows where it might lead to. The influence of governments, markets, and popular mass movements already have far too much power over us today as they currently enjoy a global reach, vitually unlimited supplies of money, fabulous new technology, weapon systems dramatically more powerful than anything previously seen on the earth, etc. It is not right that teachers should cater to this trend, in my opinion.

      Yet this mania of mass organization and the prioritizing of the collective over the individual continues. For example, I was told by the "powers that be" that the outstanding students in my classes should go and help the slow ones so that they would not lag behind in their lessons. The idea that a student who excels should naturally stop their own progress and help those behind rather than fully develop whatever talent they might have is indicative of our society which increasingly prizes equality over excellence. Yet a more talented student who did not wish to spend their time tutoring their slower classmates would be labled "anti-social." The fact that those "slow" students most likely still will not understand makes no difference. This thinking leads us to the teaching practices and subject material where I taught in public schools which were all too often designed and presented in a dumbed-down fashion to make it "universally accessible" so that even the dimmest bulb in the bunch could supposedly understand it. And the curriculum of the history classes were developed in a framework placing overwhelming emphasis on our contemporary societal problems and we humans who just happen to be walking the earth at the present time. Such transient triviality and lack of perspective was not my idea of what education could and should ideally be. But perhaps the most telling difference is the fact that many teachers I met looked upon themselves more as youth counselors or social activists rather than as independently curious scholars or intellectual explorers. There were even many who loudly called for making the pathetically easy teacher qualification tests even easier in the desire to open up teaching to those "academically challenged." And then we wonder why so many students leave the system hardly knowing anything!

      Chester Finn, Jr. put the modern quandary well: "Our educators in general are so transfixed by cognitive skill that they have concluded that as long as you are thinking, it does not really matter whether you know anything; as long as you are reading, it does not matter what you are reading; as long as you are able to analyze, it does not matter whether you possess knowledge worth analyzing." I was told over and over again in my teacher credential classes to teach the student, and not the subject. I was instructed to focus on "problem solving," "higher order thinking skills," etc. instead of basing my teaching on Romeo and Juliette, the Age of Pericles, the violent rise of the steely men of fascism and communism in our own century, and identifying what is the good life and why is that important. Perhaps this is the inevitable result of our school system which tries to teach too many facts, concepts, and skills under the aegis of preparing young people for our "democratic and diverse technologically advanced society" while we skirt, and ultimately avoid, what, in my opinion, should be the central and basic question of education: How to live and what to live for. If you can learn this, all the rest will come naturally. It comes back to education. From the first day of class to the last, I have my students repeating over and over again the Latin expression: "NON SCOLA SED VITA DECIMOS!" (We learn not for school but for life!)

      Yet still we are graduating from college students who barely know what they should have known when they left high school. One will no doubt find well prepared 22-year olds matriculating from American universities (I stumble across them constantly on the World Wide Web), but all too often they are learning material students in other countries mastered at the secondary level. The American educational system is producing too few individuals who can call themselves "educated" in the sense of the 18th or 19th century: having read the major works of literature, understanding the broad periods of history into which the world's past is divided, being able to communicate ideas in an insightful and nuanced manner, appreciating the physical laws of the universe and biology of earth. As Englishman Paul Johnson commented: "No other society in human history has placed such a strong and consistent emphasis on education at all levels as the United States has from its very inception. But there has been a failure somewhere... There is a universal complaint in Europe and North America that the young emerge from high school (and often from university) with only tolerable literacy, unable to write their own language well, ignorant of other languages, knowing little of their country's history, literature, and culture - fitter candidates for a mob than for a citizenry." The newspapers are filled with reports of huge numbers of high school graduates unable to write an organized job-application letter, read a bus schedule, do elementary algebra. Even in the universities, there are scandoulsly large numbers of students who on the eve of graduation cannot tolerably speak a second language, find Thailand or Venezuela on the map, know that "each according to his need, each according to his ability" was written by Marx and not the Fouding Fathers, write a sophisticated essay on a complex theme using clear diction and grammar, etc.

      And the universities themselves have much to blame for this. A thorough acquaintance of the past and thinkers of the past (in the words of Russell) should be "an essential part of the furniture" of any educated mind. Yet we are eviscerating the traditional humanities requirements in exchange for courses in the "science" of sociology where we learn about our own society. We already know a lot about our own society by virtue of living in it. We do not necessarily know about the past and I would argue that our time and effort is much better spent studying that. How individuals are supposed to engage the ideas and events of the past without a complex and thorough understanding of them is beyond me. Through sheer educational incompetence we threaten to surrender to shallowness as we cut ourselves off, like orphaned children, from the great figures in the past who have brought us to our current stage of civilization. We live in danger of having to learn the same painful lessons over again.

      So much technology and knowledge and learning not keeping pace! What does it matter that the great works of literature and philosophy are now freely accessible online when many people cannot read well enough to understand them? Or, more likely, if they don't care? I again and again conclude that in education everything is mindset and attitude. It all comes back to education again.

      I am tired of foreigners saying to me in personal conversation, "In my experience, "90% of Americans are so poorly educated and narrow minded. Americans are so 'plain!'" This hurts - especially since I know there is more than a grain of truth to this (although the large number of American Nobel Laureates is proof that there are as many "educated" people in the United States as anywhere else). We spend more money than ever yet still the American educational system is in crisis - especially at the K-12 level! Horace Mann would be properly shocked to tour the Los Angeles Unified School District where I started my teaching career in a school rife with academic failure and gang intimidation - where students and teachers walked the halls in fear for their personal safety and uniformed "school police" with guns patroled the grounds. Mann would have been aghast to see what a part of modern America had done with his idea of the public school; I would have loved to have seen the great scholar of democratic education John Dewey teach one of my classes in the ghetto. I doubt when Mann and Dewey spoke so powerfully of "education" they had in mind schools where students hardly knew how to read and write upon graduation.

      Yet the school in a combat zone near downtown Los Angeles where I taught my first classes was only a few yards away from the prestigious University of Southern California where some of the most advanced study in history of the world to date was taking place! "In the midst of unprecedented learning popular ignorance flourished," as Durant described the paradox of learning in modern times.

      Perhaps it is not so much a problem of American schools as American society. After all, the schools to a large extent are only a reflection of the greater culture, and young people mostly imitate their parents and what they see on television, at the movies, and hear on the radio. I sometimes wonder if Americans are really serious about education and learning. I thought all too typical the following statement by actor Bruce Willis in response to a negative review of one of his movies: "Reviews are mostly for people who still read reviews. And those people are mostly going the way of the dinosaur." This remark is more illustrative of the superficiality and banality of Mr. Willis and too many other Americas than it is of the ancient fellowship of readers, writers, and the written word. Local Los Angeles punk rocker Exene Cervenkova, in criticism of popular culture, similarly exclaimed, "Technology has replaced culture. We have no culture. It's really scary. But people haven't noticed it yet." She is wrong. All one need do it look for it. As Spinoza wrote in the last sentence of his "Ethics": "Sed omnia praeclara tam difficila quam rara sunt" (but everything great is just as difficult to realize as it is rare to find).

      Now that is one of my heroes: Baruch Spinoza. A kindly and brilliant if unassuming philosopher, Spinoza was a quiet man of books and independent thinker who defied the dogma of his time and was execrated by Christians for the following 100 years (Spinoza as "the most impious atheist that ever lived upon the face of the earth") and excommunicated by his own Jewish brethren in Holland (even as his philosophy fairly wreaks of the God-like and the Good). Or Viktor Frankl, another Jew of incredible erudition whose example of finding goodness in people and meaning in life in the middle of a Nazi concentration camp never ceases to amaze me in its profound yet quiescent humanism. He also ran afoul of his community in not moving to Israel after World War II, calling too loudly for reconciliation with Nazis and the German people, and for marrying a Roman Catholic woman. Spinoza and Frankl were outsiders, and I always empathized with them (being a natural outsider myself). Yet these men had a moral and intellectual core and discovered luminous truths that transcended their times which still sparkle like gems of humanity. Of course, they arrived at an exalted level of knowledge and wisdom only after a lifetime of reading, writing, reflecting, and, most importantly, suffering.

      As Russell described it, Spinoza lived in a more gentle and independent age than ours. Even as he was excommunicated and lived through the foreign invasion of his country, the Renaissance gave him a degree of intellectual freedom: He could develop his philosophy unmolested living out his quiet life polishing spectacles by day and writing at night. In our age of mass movements, violent revolution, and wars hot and cold, even in a parliamentary democracy Spinoza would have been forced to choose between enlistment, conscription, and prison. In a totalitarian country, he would have had to choose between total obedience to the State or the concentration camp and gulag (where indeed Frankl did find himself). In countries like Nazi Germany, concentration camps are where honest thinkers of good conscience such as Frankl and Spinoza most naturally belong.

      The idea of the independence of the individual has never been more imperiled than in our times. We face pressures to conform that are newly powerful and deceptively omnipresent. Television and its influence pervade nearly every household; marketing bombards us with messages incessantly in search of our patronage. The cult of popularity and celebrity are rampant and overwhelmingly powerful; the concept of silence and reflection have never seemed more archaic. Fewer and fewer adults make their presences felt in the lives of the young and the rich and the powerful have become our heroes instead of the wise. How is it we let movie stars and atheletes - often overpaid and behaving atrociously - become our role models? Where are the heroes worth following? I would argue that history is replete with great personages from whom we can learn from and find clues to how to confront the challenges of the present. As Russell writes:

The great are not solitary; out of the night come the voices of those who have gone before, clear and courageous; and so through the ages they march, a mighty procession, proud, undaunted, unconquerable. To join in this glorious company, to swell the immortal person of those whom fate could not subdue - this may not be happiness; but what is happiness to those whose souls are filled with that celestial music? To them is given what is better than happiness: the know the fellowship of the great, to live in the inspiration of lofty thoughts, and to be illumined in every perplexity by the fire of nobility and truth.

How many college sophomores today can tell you who is Virgil or one idea propounded by Aristotle? You will find some who could speak all day about them; you will find many more who have not the slightest clue what those men had to offer humanity. A young scholar two years into college should not have to reach for a reference guide when reading serious literature which might routinely mention such figures and assume we will understand the context.

      For my part, I believe in intellectual heroes as important as they serve as inspiration and guides for us today and in the future. I agree with Spinoza when he argued that we should constantly keep before our eyes a sort of exemplar of human nature (idea hominis, tamquam naturae hominis exemplar). I believe in heroes even in a constantly changing world where culture and history provide diverse experiences for different peoples - that their messages are no less heroic in an age of science and the rapid rise in technology. The dialogues of Plato, the Iliad and Odyssey, "The Lord of the Rings," and the Gospels all hold up heroes worthy of imitation and presenting a view of the world which is coherent and edifying amidst the hostile struggle of life and immanence of our deaths. I do not agree that past saints and sages are mere relics of earlier times unequipped to speak to us in our "novel and unique social circumstances."

      Similarly, it surprised me how the question of the existence of God remains almost the central question 100 years after Nietzsche joyously declared that God is dead (and decades after most intellectuals seemed to believe him):

We have killed him - you and I! We are all his murderers... Whither are we moving now?... Do we not now wander through an endless nothingness? Does not empty space breathe upon us? Has it not become colder? Does not night come on conditionally, darker and darker?

      "Another reason people are interested in spiritual issues today, at the turn of the century, is because of rapid change. We've always had rapid change in America. But what's changed is the speed of change. Whenever things are in a uproar, people feel uprooted." "The message is still relevant and powerful today. It's unchanging. But the methods we share with it, the methods of the churches, have to change with every generation." We have developed a view of education that is heavily skewed towards the natural sciences and have neglected the humanities and the traditional liberal arts education. I would argue that we do this at our own peril. It comes back again to John Dewey, a man whose influence is still felt throughout the American educational system. And it comes back to John Dewey again whose theories about education still dominate the American educational system. In Dewey, one finds the attitude that reading ancient texts of the traditional liberal arts education are only keeping us back from true reformation of human societies along a new and better route. Learning should stress the pragmatic sciences and the "rational organization of society" in a more practical manner dependent less upon abstract principles and more upon experiment and trial and error.

      I sometimes wonder if our time of technological revolution is should not be equally understood as an age of rampant disbelief and alienation. And in this the science which has changed our civilization so profoundly has had a heavy hand. Look at the uniquely scientific modern point of view of faith as described by Betrand Russell in the first of his Skeptical Essays:

I wish to propose for the reader's favourable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it is true. I must, of course, admit that if such an opinion became common it would completely transform our social life and our political system; since both are at present faultless, this must weigh against it.
In other words, why believe in a God which cannot be proven through measureable scientific means to truly exist. Note the heavy sarcasm of Russell's last sentence; he seems hardly able to imagine that the cure for Christianity would be worse than the original illness, but events have shown otherwise. In my opinion, Russell's rational atheism and theoretical philosophy is a creation only mathematicians could passionately embrace and find metaphysically sufficient.

      What ever happened to persons like Aristotle, Bacon, Jefferson and Franklin who were accomplished men both of letters and science? Where are scientists like Newton, Descartes, and Leibnitz who could integrate their discoveries into a larger framework of human society and moral order of the universe. There day seems to have past as philosophy and science have divorced and nobody seems to be able to synthesize them again to offer a life affirming vision of mankind and learning. Will Durant put the quandary well in our scientifically tempered age:

Human knowledge had become unmanageably vast; every science had become a dozen more, each subtler than the rest; the telescope revealed stars and systems beyond the mind of man to number or to name; geology spoke in terms of millions of years, where men before had thought in terms of thousands; physics found a universe in the atom, and biology found a microcosm in the cell; physiology discovered inexhaustible mystery in every organ, and psychology in every dream; anthropology reconstructed the unsuspected antiquity of man, archeology unearthed buried cities and forgotten states, history proved all history false, and painted a canvas only a Spengler or an Eduard Meyer could vision as a whole; theology crumbled, and political theory cracked; invention complicated life and war; philosophy itself, which had once summoned all sciences to its aid in making a coherent image of the world and an alluring picture of the good, found its task of coordination too stupendous for its courage, ran away from all these battlefronts of truth, and hid itself in recondite and narrow lanes, timidly secure from the issues and responsibilities of life. Human knowledge had become too great for the human mind.

All that remained was the scientific specialist, who knew "more and more about less and less," and the philosophical speculator, who knew less and less about more and more. The specialist put on blinders in order to shut out his vision all the world but one little spot, to which he glued his nose. Perspective was lost. "Facts," replaced understanding; and knowledge, split into a thousand isolated fragments, no longer generated wisdom. Every science, and every branch of philosophy, developed a technical terminology intelligible only to its exclusive devotees; as men learned more about the world, they found themselves every less capable of expressing to their educated fellow-men what it was that they had learned. The gap between life and knowledge grew wider and wider; those who governed could not understand those who thought, and those who wanted to know could not understand those who knew. In the midst of unprecedented learning popular ignorance flourished, and chose its exemplars to rule the great cities of the world; in the midst of sciences endowed and enthroned as never before, new religions were born every day, and old superstitions recaptured the ground they had lost. The common man found himself forced to choose between a scientific priesthood mumbling unintelligible pessimism, and a theological priesthood mumbling incredible hopes.

Add the politicization of learning which has turned intellectual life into a power struggle, and you have the confusing and ambivalent state of human learning. The fact that Duran penned those observations almost fifty years ago and yet still they describe exactly our plight highlights precisely how deep are the roots of this problem. In all honestly, these questions seem too big for me; but I have hope for my students when soon enough they will come into the full bloom of their intellects. Perhaps soon we will enjoy another renaissance of the mind to propel us past this adolescent stage of development where we have more technology and science than we reasonably know what to do with, more information than wisdom. I dare to hope so - it is an absolutely vital question in the age of thermonuclear weapons.

      There are some who are completely bewildered by the unprecedented rise in science and technology and argue that we should wholesale reject it. I read recently in Newsweek magazine describing the earlier Industrial and current Information revolutions as "outstripping our capacity to cope, antiquating our laws, transforming our mores, reshuffling our economy, reordering our priorities, redefining our workplaces, putting our Constitution to the fire, shifting our concept of reality." The context of the article was laudatory towards technology and how it has affected us, but it is not hard to see such a comment in a threatening manner. The Internet, globally digitalized banking, World Wide Web, loss of jobs to robots, genetic engineering, satellite communications, cloning of living organisms, exotic new biological viruses, damage to the environment by pollution, the omnipresent microprocessor - the dizzying array of machines and products of machines have led to the perception that technology has gotten out of control and a feeling that we might as well enjoy the ride while it lasts before everything comes crashing down around us. Increasing numbers of neo-Luddites call for abandoning modern lifestyles and going back to a more "natural" and "human" way of life. Some even advocate violence and sabotage of the modern economy and society to prevent the "high tech onslaught" of the "tyrannical machines." It comes back to the question, "Are we happier today with all these machines and the changes they bring to our lives?"

      It is a question worth asking, but I think the arguments of the Luddites alarmist nonsense. As Henry David Thoreau put it: "All our inventions are but improved means to an unimproved end." It is the same as it ever was, different than it ever was. All we need is the education and wisdom to be able to assimilate new technology into our lives and use science in such a manner as it serves human needs without annihilating ourselves in the process. A return to a traditional liberal arts education supplementing the study of science might help give us the wisdom to make judicious use of science which has so far evaded us this century. As Durant put it: "Science tells us how to heal and how to kill; it reduces our death rate in retail and then kills us wholesale in war; but only wisdom - desire coordinated in the light of all experience - can tell us when to heal and when to kill." These age old questions will not be made more malleable by scientific terminology or an improved knowledge of the laws of the physical environment; referring to the central problems of human existence purely in the language of rational science will not be sufficient. Yet look in our time at the amount of money spent funding the sciences versus the humanities. More importantly, look at the vast amount of people thinking about science-related issues compared to the number thinking about the humanities and questions of faith.

      The nomenclature even reflects this as the subjects traditionally considered the humanities (politics, human behavior, history) are now members of the "soft" social sciences. Those who see society through a lens borrowed from some scientific discipline often fail to understand the reality of political life outside the sterile classroom. As Dewey fantastically states, "...with the growth of social science, adding to our knowledge of the right organization of individuals, all scientific resources can be utilized for the purposes of education." After decades under the reign of the social sciences, we can hardly claim to understand what should be the "right organization of individuals" any more than we could two hundred years ago. Oh, that it were so easy! We look to the university for help us make sense of a confusing world, and all too often they just hand us maddening detail and arcane drivel which makes little sense to us. We cannot look to the American university for help, so populated in recent times by techno-academics in Dewey's spirit who have rationalized themselves into ever smaller pigeon holes happy to simply search for a small but definite space within a supposedly orderly universe of dessicating science. We have to look into the heart of the matter ourselves. And the theologians have similarly failed us in recent times.

      Is it impossible to envision a rapprochmente between science and faith? In my opinion, that is an essential question for us. The confrontation between science and faith dating back to that fateful day in 1633 when the Catholic Church placed Galileo under house arrest for contradicting the Biblical verse, "God fixed the Earth upon its foundation, not to be moved forever." Ever since there has been an ideological war between reason and revelation. This is sad, because humanity badly needs them both. I have often wondered about how the most elite scientists have claimed religious-style moments of revelation when they made sudden scientific breakthroughs. And I have not missed the fact that many of the most prestigious scientists such as Einsten hold an understanding of the universe and its physical laws in a manner which places faith and God as central and indispensable components. As Francis Collins, a devout Christian and director of the Human Genome Project at the National Institute of Health, puts it: "When something new is revealed about the human genome, I experience a feeling of awe at the realization humanity now knows something only God knew before. It is a deeply moving sensation that helps me to appreciate the spiritual side of life and also makes the practice of science more rewarding."

      The 18th and 19th century utopians placing their faith exclusively in science as the savior of mankind has proved a disaster - Dewey is just the terminal point on this declension. Science is not enough for human beings who have spiritual needs which cannot be satisfied by purely rational investigation into that which is only provable or quantifiable. Perhaps a symbiotic relationship can be formed between reason and revelation in the future? I would repeat it once more: human beings need both science and religion. This running war between the two limits the human mind, in my opinion. We need the human mind to operate like never before. If human intellgence has partly gotten us to this difficult pass, the answer is not to be found in less intelligence.

      All this in the context of present ennui, alienation, and feelings of disconnectedness in a society where the nuclear family and organized religion are things of the past. We go to the cinema or rent a movie instead of the theater or opera and surf the World Wide Web and send e-mail around the globe rather than go to the city center or meet our flesh and blood neighbors. Our competitive global economy provides us with the accouterments and money to enjoy the "good life" yet is incapable of freeing us up to actually live it. Those who have jobs can't afford time to be with their families. Those who don't have jobs can't afford homes in which to raise families. Our time is aptly labeled by Auden the "age of anxiety."

      We find ourselves adrift in a world permeated by the unpredictable winds of rampant disbelief (even nihilism) and materialism, mindless violence and naked cruelty, economic change and job insecurity where the traditional rules and structures are no longer sufficient. We are forced to construct our own reality and actively find meaning in life without much help; we navigate our way through life with fewer markers and guideposts than in the past (and less repression and resistance). I think this has a lot to do with the rise of cults, the resurgence of belief in astrology, pop mysticism, and the popularity of self-appointed gurus. Education and human learning should be about tracking our progress, illuminating the paths we've found, and learning from one another. Yet there are tools and teachers everywhere if we take the time to look! But sometimes in feeling so overwhelmed we don't take the time to look. And there is the most important question: Are we happier now than in the past?

      We feel overwhelmed by vast impersonal forces which leave us feeling powerless to make decisions as to how to live lives compatible with dignity. Yet I would argue that we should always regard life as a challenge and then use our reason and free will to plot our futures as far as possible. It might not be easy, but it is better than giving up and simply letting exterior forces rule your life. It is not true that individuals are powerless in the modern and postmodern ages! That is so much balderdash - and an easy way out for sophists. God has given us all the gift of free will (freedom!), and it lies heavily on our shoulders both as an liberating opportunity and a crushing responsibility.

      At my most pessimistic, I wonder if Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor was correct when he claimed that the vast mority of men cannot bare true freedom and that it is unkind to burden him with it. "Hadst Thou respected him less, Thou wouldst have demanded less of him, and that would be nearer to love, for his burden would be lighter," the Grand Inquisitor told Jesus before he burned him in an auto da fé, taking freedom away from men for their own happiness in His name. "Nothing has ever been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom," the old man had concluded. As another Russian, Constantin Pobyedonostsev, the Supreme Procurator of the Holy Synod and defender of Romanov absolutism, similarly claimed: "This doctrine [democracy] presupposes the capacity of the people to understand subtleties of political science which have a clear and substantial existence in the minds of its apostles only. Precision of knowledge is attainable only by the few minds which constitute the aristocracy of the intellect; the mass, always and everywhere, is vulgus, and its conceptions of necessity are vulgar." There is much undeniable truth in this borne out by thousands of years of human history; and I often wonder if democracy (and Christianity) is an agreeable but impossible ideal. I had clearly seen enough of the noble concept of "liberty" in my own country degenerate to nothing more than rank license. Yet in my soul I fully sided with Milton's God who respects mankind enough to give him the choice between good and evil; and I hope I would have the courage to fight the Grand Inquisitor and be burned for my beliefs like Jesus, kissing the grim unpleasant man with brotherly love at the end in acquiescence.

      As a teacher, I would likewise respect the beliefs and ideas of my students and allow them either the credit or the blame for their own intellectual and moral challenges. Unlike the Grand Inquisitor, I would not make the burden my students suffer any lighter than it need be (nor would I make it heavier). That some will fail there can be no doubt; but it are those who struggle and win that we follow in this world. I will have many such successful students!

      I agree with Kierkegaard when he said that too many people had come to look at Christianity (and democracy!) as a consolation when it should be a demand. Too many people don't take up the challenge of life and look at our stay on earth as an unintelligible vale of tears to simply be endured. A lady recently wrote me about my webpage beginning her comments with: "I am not a big fan of we homo sapiens but..." That is too easy a thing to say; we are a species both better and worse than commonly supposed, I believe. I receive a lot of e-mail making similar disparaging remarks about our species and our world here in the year 1997. Such pessimism is only half the story; there is so much good to be found among us today if we only look! But sometimes we stop looking!

      As we begin the third millenium, there is pessimism in our souls. I wonder if the debasement of our civilization in terms of atomic warfare, genocides, fratricidal conflicts costing many millions of deaths and billions of dollars have all not yet worked its way out of the soul of mankind. The melancholy musings of Gibbon with respect to the "inevitable mixture of error and corruption" of this world "among a weak and degenerate race of beings" has never seemed more poignant and apt than during the 20th century.

      I often wonder if such pessimism has something to do with the enormous popularity of science fiction where we peer into the far reaches of outer space to look for answers which we seem to be unable to find here on earth. "Star Wars," "Star Trek," "ET," "Aliens," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Men in Black," "Independence Day" - space travel, fabulous technology, extra-human phenomenon - these massively popular science fiction movies have enjoyed enormous success and obviously tapped into something vital in our national psyche. And now the Heaven's Gate cult members from San Diego recently committed suicide in the fantastic desire to join themselves with an apocryphal alien space ship behind the Haley-Bopp comet! As the popular TV show "The X-Files" even has as its slogan: "The truth is out there somewhere!" That is an easy out; the truth is not to be found in a distant galaxy but inside our hearts and souls if we are only willing to search hard enough for it. Or, better yet, the truth is everywhere people can find it (Spinoza again: "Everything great is just as difficult to realize as it is rare to find"). And maybe very few of us will ever arrive at any approximation of the "truth," but the search is everything! There are no easy outs. (Ask the scientist patiently laboring in the lab. Ask the essayist trying to translate an ephemeral thought or emotion into the common currency of language.)

      Yet WE live on earth - for the time being, at least - and not in outer space. I have no doubt one day our descendents (the children or grandchildren of my present students, or maybe even my students themselves) will leave earth to colonize space and thereby start an exciting chapter of human history. Yet as long as humans are "human," I doubt the age old problems which have plagued homo sapiens will go away no matter what the modern thinkers John Dewey, Karl Marx, or Frederick Nietzsche say; I would bet almost anything they will still be pouring over the debates between Socrates and the Sophists hundreds of years from now in outer space and finding them as fresh and relevant as we do today: same as it ever was, different than it ever was. Only in knowing where we have been in the past can we hope to know where to go in the future. The future! I think it so important to have faith and strength enough for the struggles of the future! Any possibly auspicious and prosperous future demands nothing less from us.

      Yet even if offered the opportunity, I do not think I would go exploring the stars. Maybe it would be different if I were younger, but my entire life and everything that is important to me are here on earth. And it is here on earth where I wish to die, leaving the future to others better able to understand it. When I am old and grey and sitting by the fire, I would like to be a member of the fraternity of wise old men and women who after a lifetime of thinking and teaching can look back and say, as did another of my heroes Will Durant, when he said: "We are all imperfect teachers, but we may be forgiven if we have advanced the matter a little, and have done our best. We announce the prologue, and retire; after us better players will come." Let better players than I go to the stars; I know eventually they will.

The earth, that is sufficient
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.
Walt Whitman


      In my own life and career, I just wanted to try to show the beauty and wonder of ars poetica to my students in an increasingly post-literate society, maybe portray to a willing few the joys inherent in the life of the mind. I was never happier than when I was ranting and raving across my classroom reciting Shakespearean love sonnets to students who thought I was the weirdest guy they had ever seen. Often the students would respond lackadaisically to even the most celebrated literature in history, but I did not let this faze me; we read in school as teenagers so that, later, we may re-read with greater and greater understanding as adults. In my own life, I wanted to do just two things before I died: write an honest book or two myself, and litter the world with literate former students of mine who had gone forth to adult lives of prosperity and happiness in their own times.

      And if I never wrote a book, that would be OK, too. As John Milton wrote of the literary treasures of humanity, "Many a man lives a burden to the Earth; but a good Book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life." In passionately believing in these authors and in their books and messages, I was helping (in my own small way) to propagate the "life blood" of this "life beyond life." Whenever I turned someone on to a famous idea or book, I felt a personal kinship with those original authors in serving partially as a link which connects the present and future to the past. Perhaps it was my way of thanking the author and doing reverence to these book which had always been my faithful companions. In the darkest moments of my life, books have been beacons of light helping me to find my way to a better place.

      I never was going to found a city, discover the cure for a disease, run a business, invent a new machine, or win a battle. I was not a "practical" man. Yet when I was able to show to someone an idea or concept they found useful in their life, it made me feel good. When I saw that I had brought a little bit of the light of education to a place that would have been darker without it, I felt perhaps I was not a "burden to the earth" and had helped to preserve and pass on a little of this our common human saga. As a teacher, of course, I could never know where my influence might end in the future through my students.

      Half of life is just showing up on time, and I wondered if I did more good in being a stable and benevolent adult presence in the lives of my students than anything I taught in class. "What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say," claimed Ralph Waldo Emerson, and I think this is especially true with teaching. Some teachers love their subjects but find the actual teaching a burden and a drudgery; I wondered often if I did not learn more from my students than I imparted. They tired and often exasperated me, but working with teenagers always kept me feeling comparatively young. I believe in the concept of a "vocation" in that we are driven to do that which we find interesting for reasons we cannot fully explain or understand. And there is, of course, infinite value inherent in doing a job that you love. How convenient that those jobs we love are precisely the ones we most often do well!

      We all need to live for other people or something larger than ourselves in one way or another. As visionary scientist and humanist Carl Sagan wrote shortly before his death to his daughter in the dedication of his fascinating book "Contact" about the vital themes of technological evolution and the conflict between faith and science at the end of the 20th century: "For Alexandra, who comes of age with the Millennium [2000]. May we leave your generation a world better than the one we were given." Luckily, we will find teachers like Mr. Sagan in a nearly infinite variety of guises everywhere we look, but sometimes people don't even bother to look. This is not the fault of children but of adults who should be the teachers. I sometimes reflected in discouragement that America was a great place to be a professional athlete, popular entertainer, fighter pilot, enterprising entrepreneur, but not always an easy or popular place to be a teacher.

      Experience and study might have made me a short-term pessimist, but in the long-run I was optimistic about the future of my own country and mankind. I never failed to respect humanistic idealism when it was tempered by a strong dose of reality - I believed with all my heart in the human quest for freedom, knowledge, and understanding among peoples. The bad among us get all the press and attention; the good are no less numerous or important in the larger picture, even if they be more quiet and reticent. Those are the ones who live forever and whom people model their lives after and look to for advice in times of crisis. I believe in evil as a force by itself, and not some mere accident of misfortune or result of unhappy social circumstances; but I also believe that - in the long-run, I tell you! - goodness and truth have more staying power and speak to what is more permanently inside us human beings. As Euripides described over 2,000 years ago, "When good men die their goodness does not perish, but lives though they are gone. As for the bad, all that was theirs dies and is buried with them."

      If in our time Hitler was plotting mass murder and Stalin raping a quarter of the earth, Sir Isaiah Berlin was at the same time deeply probing the nature of freedom, Daniel Boorstin marveling at the discoveries of human genius, and John Steinbeck writing testaments to the human soul that would live long after 20th century totalitarianism remained only an unpleasant memory for mankind. Their books, along with the ancient "treasures of wise men [and women] of old" of the past which Socrates talked about, would be the armor against tyrants for humanity in the struggles of the future. For I do not believe the crimes of "the men of steel" which have so besotted this century are only warnings to we who live in their wake but for all men and women in the future. I have no doubt that there will be further Hitlers, Maos and Stalins who whose ugly heads will reappear in future societies and aspire to power.

"We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a new fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is... I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed."
John Steinbeck
"East of Eden"

Steinbeck is no less an important figure on the stage of human history than are Hitler and Stalin, even as he received incomparably less attention than them in their era (Which of those three is held in the highest esteem today?). Our time has similarly produced minds and messages as dignified and noble as any other epoch which will be properly recognized decades from now - despite the muddleheaded thinking in our universities. Henry Kissinger in his senior thesis as a Harvard undergraduate was overly sanguine when he spoke of the 20th century in the following: "No person can choose his age or the condition of his time. The past may rob the present of much joy and much mystery. The generation of Buchenwald and the Siberian labor camps cannot talk with the same optimism as its fathers. The bliss of Dante has been lost on our civilization."

      I prefer the way famous 20th century biologist/humanist Lewis Thomas so eloquently summed it up:

The drive to be useful is encoded in our genes. But when we gather in very large numbers, as in the modern nation-state, we seem capable of levels of folly and self-destruction to be found nowhere else in all of nature.

But if we keep at it and keep alive, we are in for one surprise after another. We can build structures for human society never seen before, thoughts never heard before, music never heard before.

I am eager to see what original works of genius and new ideas will emerge from humanity in the future. Our century of spectacular crimes notwithstanding, it is an exciting time to be alive! Perhaps about to be born is a future philosopher with more fire in his or her belly than Plato, a musician with a soul more beautiful than Mozart! Maybe dwelling among us already is a future playwright and poet with greater wisdom and wit than Shakespeare! Yet only in studying geniuses can we hope to have a culture that will produce genius.

      Just as Petrarch blasted the sickly air of Medieval Christianity in reexamining ancient learning, can we not hope for a new hero of the mind to bring about a new Enlightenment in the arts and letters? An extraordinary person with the sufficient intellect to bring light into our darkening intellectual skies? An individual with a genius capacious enough to bridge the current chasm between faith and science? To re-inject vigor into the moribund body of modern philosophy? I will dare to hope so. I think maybe I am waiting for the next stage of intellectual history to begin, unhappy in the one I find myself. When will it begin? When will we see again the opening of the American mind?

      My esteemed reader might look at all this as mere platitudes and high-minded gibberish, but no amount of bitter life experience or study of the crimes and follies of mankind or shortsightedness and superficiality of current thinkers has caused me to lose hope. Hope is the most precious of things, the only good left at the bottom of Pandora's box of human misfortune, weakness, disease, death. Not that I ascribed to any inherent theodicy in the universe; but along with Steinbeck I believed in the resiliency and immortality of the human soul. Not that my faith has never been tested (quite the contrary), but I never lost faith in mankind. In my opinion, assertions put forth about the death of the human soul in the darkest hours of concentration camps and totalitarian brainwashing are unfounded. I concur with William Faulkner when in the darkest days of Cold War and fear over nuclear annihilation stated proudly in accepting the Nobel Prize: "I decline to accept the end of man!"

      Yet if you look around there seems so much suffering and pain, so much sorrow. It seems hardly a week goes by when my heart doesn't fall to my shoes in reading some stunning new example of man's inhumanity to man: the brutal kidnapping and murder of a little girl, a newborn baby abandoned in a dumpster, a deadly terrorist explosion in a crowded city center, the tragic suicide of a promising young person, a helpless old man murdered for almost no reason at all, a police officer killed in the line of duty - or a country in chaos where in a frenzied couple of days half the country butchers the other half with machetes (Rwanda), the naked millennial genocide of millions (Cambodia). And just sitting in a sidewalk cafe and watching people walk down the street it seems so easy to recognize the tired look of the heart wounded etched in the faces of men and women - people weary and worn down by the vicissitudes of an inclement and often inhospitable world. Well did I know that look.

      And what could I say to the 14 year old student of mine whose best friend was just killed in a car accident? I see clearly the stamp of that first permanent loss of innocence on her as she cries hysterically on my shoulder - the enormous sadness of this failed world flowing forth in her tears. What can I tell her to make sense of such a tragedy? Absolutely nothing. I am completely without words. But I have never lost hope - neither for others nor for myself. Even as I have often been bewildered, shocked, and even had my own heart broken, I have so far seen nor experienced anything which has caused me to lose hope.

      There was a dark period in my 20s when I became a little too serious and stopped smiling. But I slowly recovered looking to the spirit of Voltaire the "laughing philosopher" who rarely made the mistake of taking either himself or life too somberly: "If Nature has not made us a little frivolous we should be most wretched. It is because one can be frivolous that the majority do not hang themselves." Or as Voltaire wrote to Frederick the Great, "Dulce est desipere in loco. Woe to philosophers who cannot laugh away their wrinkles. I look upon solemnity as a disease." It is difficult to envision either Marx or Nietzsche saying such a thing, and that has a lot to do with why I have always felt more at home in the 18th or even the 19th century than the present one. I was happily able to find thinkers and ideas which made sense to me and helped give meaning to my life - this is what education means to me.


      Knowledge is power, and with power comes responsibility - the responsibility to teach the next generation, to lead by example, and to employ knowledge in the service of the good. I tried to make this the fundamental tenet of my adult life. (It is not true that the good will inevitably win out over the evil - this is a myth too often believed! We need fight for the good!) Above all, I owed this much to my parents - especially my father. No matter how much I read, wrote, or learned, I never would be as smart as him. Above any other influence, I owed whatever knowledge I could claim to my dad and this debt need be repaid to others. All this was enough for me. It was more than enough to live for.

      Perhaps it is all just comes back to loving poetry (the most "lordly" of the arts) so much. I always thought the important subjects nothing less than the eternal and universal themes of life and death, love and hate, the human predicament, and the vagaries and ambiguities of history. We human beings are the inheritors of a long and distinguished written legacy going back centuries and I have always hoped that my students might examine this and add their own voices to the ongoing story. Every one of us is unique and has something special to say. The ability, however, to communicate effectively and artfully this message to other people through the written word is the arduous and unending labor of a lifetime, in my opinion.


      The distilling of the human spirit into prose or verse is the work of the gods, and anyone who honestly and patiently strives to write from the heart can claim fellowship with the masters Donne, Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Chaucer, etc. across the centuries. It are the poets who hold the keys to those secrets of the past which are no more or less perplexing than those of the present or future. It are the poets who link us to our collective past. Politics, on the other hand, are often only as important as the latest opinion or disagreement - or worse, directed towards nothing more profound than getting your way or garnering resources. Politics by themselves are inherently transient, like (according to Harold Bloom) last month's rapidly yellowing newspapers yelling yesterday's headlines. The truly immortal ideas and the most compelling and powerful books that elucidate them written by the best and wisest of us all do not become dated or less relevant with the passage of time.

      What is so important about our age and our politics? What is so outstandingly important about America in the late 20th century? Why are we so special and unique in the larger context of human history and thought? Narcissistic and self-absorbed, it is the bankruptcy of American intellectual thought today!, so bestilled by the cold dead hand of political orthodoxy (where no one really says what they feel or think) with the flower of free thought and human tradition withered in this strident and superficial age. Where we think the most important thing is ourselves, our society, our brief moment on this earth - all is vanity.

Has the Church failed mankind, or has mankind failed the Church?
When the Church is no longer regarded, not even opposed,
And men have forgotten
All gods except Usury, Lust and Power.

Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the Knowledge we have lost in information?
The world turns and the world changes,
But one thing does not change.
In all of my years, one thing does not change,
However you disguise it, this thing does not change:
The perpetual struggle of Good and Evil.

T.S. Eliot

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