Elsewhere, I have argued the difference between physical evolution and spiritual evolution and the hope for a new ground being formed which authentically combines science and faith– the all in all of Christ– through the union of human beings and super intelligent machines, coming soon in the invention of a brave new world. This will be the next flashpoint of evolution and the ultimate challenge of the next generation. If God is left out of the equation, the outcome will be apocalyptic extremis– with a bang or a whimper it won’t matter– truly the End of Days.
My friends and I will not face it, but my grandchildren might. I wish that we could be of more support to them. I can only hope that genes of courage and integrity have passed on to them, and that they will bond with other like souls.
Let me enter a word of humility here: My current view is that nobody really knows anything. To accurately predict the future is an unreasonable quest, especially so for technological forecasting, but as the monks of Genesee Abbey “who stand at the gate for us” know, our God is a God of love and sometimes, a God of surprises.
“Despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt.” (Tolkien)
Of all the institutional damages we have experienced in my lifetime, I grieve most the killing of “the liberal arts tradition” in our colleges and universities. I would not recommend for any potential student what is left of this once supremely valuable program. I say this with gratitude for my own liberal arts matriculation many years ago in the hands of admirable professors.
One introduced me to literary criticism, another to the Socratic method — both aimed at search for the truth — and a third to history of civilization (which he sometimes taught in Latin.) Others stressed the connection of good writing and logic. There was no fierce political indoctrination such as we have today! I liked and trusted all of my teachers.
These “scholars and gentlemen/ladies” could move a circle of students to ardent discussion of factual knowledge, and very importantly, issues and value differences, without rancor or hyperbole– or at least, if these distractions came up, would try to restore the circle’s integrity. By no means did they seek conformity of opinion. While I was not an all star student in those days, almost inadvertently I discovered something magnificent that set me on a course eventually to become my professional life. It is a process of rational inquiry and dialectical arrival at conclusions.
Keep three skills in balance: Inquiry, Acknowledgment, Advocacy. There is truth to be found but none of us will ever have sole possession of it. You never know what you don’t know.
We see the world from our own perspectives. Each of us has our own story. Learning someone else’s story or side of the issue may let us see something we didn’t see before. In this learning conversation we ask questions about the information– examine the empirical data– trace our interpretations of it.
The process goal is always the same: what is the truth? Not what is most popular– or what is easiest to accept– or what or who will win an election?
Socrates stressed humility in the face of truth, but there is also room for enthusiasm! In fact, without it you can’t get very far. The method does not rob you of your advocacy but it will test your assumptions and interpretations, strengthening or refining or amending them, helping you to clarify your position. The conversation ends with acknowledgment that there may still be something missing, something more to learn. At the same time, if we are responsible for making a decision, we do not shrink from the responsibility. Rather we trust in our informed judgment.
Tough, honest criticism is essential, but throughout the process there is respect for the other guy or gal. It’s demonstrated by acknowledging each other’s position. To acknowledge of course is not the same thing as to agree. We may achieve a synthesis, or it may be that we simply agree to disagree, at least for the present. Without mutual understanding of the process it will simply stop. Embarrassed, friendly adversaries withdraw to the protection of banality.
In my youthful naivete it did not occur to me that such a beautiful approach could be undermined by our culture or threatened by another culture of death. Now there is something happening in our culture as it interacts with fantastic ideology which is threatening the process of rational inquiry and coarsening the dialogue.
Within our presumed democratic society, the decline of rational method and the resulting instability is traceable to both political excess and cultural fascination with image making and entertainment in which image is more important than truth.
We are bombarded mercilessly by images of all kinds, but the significant force is the image bending, the manipulation, distortion, even lies by professional media handlers and politicians who are very skilled and clever. They can turn the world upside down, building a mountain of irrationality– an Orwellian world– in which we are also witnessing a clash of civilizations.
Though I now observe from the outside, the evidence suggests that today’s professors, perhaps not all but too many, are more interested in particular ideologies than they are in objective scholarship and balanced search for the truth. What happened?
How did the current orientation to ideology become so strong that many of these “educators” do not even know they are caught in an ideological trap? (Freudianism, Marxism, Feminism, Deconstructionism) I suspect that schools of education and “student development” staff members have a lot to do with it. Mainly it’s what the masterful historian Crane Brenton called “alienation of the intellectuals”.
I saw it first, taken by surprise, in England in the mid-1980s, when scandalous means to control who would be allowed to speak in public forums and lectures emerged. Essentially unchallenged this fascism metastasized and is now rampant in American as well as British universities.
I did not experience it in Alfred in the 80s and there may still be other small colleges which hold onto the traditional values of academe, but I fear that most of our colleges and universities have lost their way. College administrations for the most part are feckless in dealing with assaults on campus freedom and institutional integrity.
I do not know how true this is of our grade schools: Unlike my college governance experience, it’s probably too far back in time for me to gauge the differences. I have two daughters who teach in elementary school and are committed to their students and do not share my trepidation. (I was amazed when a small group of the students from a poor environment eagerly accepted a gift of classic books.) I am glad for these tokens. So, I want to be cautious here, but we need to acknowledge some serious problems, including a wretched drug culture our kids face today that exceeds anything we knew in my youth.
Heroin is cheaper than many painkillers and is becoming more accessible even in small towns like Hornell and Canaseraga as videos can easily be pulled up on YouTube that show how to buy and use heroin, a phenomenon completely unknown in the Griffin Manor housing project where I grew up.
Big Pharma rules: America is now a fully loaded drug addiction society beginning with drugs prescribed every day at pharmacies, used/abused at hospitals, and introduced to children at an early age (Ritalin). Parents and counselors are astonished to realize how quickly the addiction can happen.
A teenager may be neck-deep in drug addiction and completely unable to break away on his/her own.
Equally troublesome (and scary) is emphasis on social media: Have you ever watched a bunch of teenagers sitting on a couch but not bothering to converse with each other, too absorbed in listening to a cell-phone connection ? — portent of a superficial plasticised existence?
President Emeritus, Alfred State College, SUNY
President Emeritus, College of Lake County, IL
Founding President, Penn Highlands College,PA
Phi Theta Kappa Distinquished President, WV Northern College
Dean of College, NCCC, Sanborn, NY