Posts Tagged ‘liberal arts’

A Strange Fear of The Open Mind

“Culture encompasses religion, food, what we wear, how we wear it, our language, marriage, music, what we believe is right or wrong, how we sit at the table, how we greet visitors, how we behave with loved ones, and a million other things…”
~  Cristina De Rossi, Anthropologist at Barnet and Southgate College, London

Yes.  Additionally, one of the primary functions of any society is to protect, nurture, and teach its children so they can grow up and take charge without having to repeat all the unnecessary (and often stupid) mistakes made by their predecessors.  We want them to learn how to build “the better mousetrap”, and avoid the return of ignorant superstitions that lead to burning innocent people for witchcraft, or clinging to good luck charms instead of embracing scientific discovery.  However, we’ve been witness to efforts intending to stigmatize scientific discoveries as invalid, and the motive for such positions regularly seems to come from sources that make profits from the ignorance of discovery.  Ever question that, or wonder what specific motives would back up such behavior?  The bait looks delicious, but is there a hook in it?

Some will remember The Waxman Hearings that took place before congress on April 14, 1994.  The CEO’s of several major tobacco companies testified under oath that they believed nicotine and cigarette smoking were not addictive.  Well, weren’t the tobacco executives making money selling nicotine and cigarettes?  Big money?  Yes, they were.  Today we continue to hear the coal, natural gas, and petroleum industries (and all the politicians they own) take the same position–that the modern practice of using their products is not harmful to the environment, nor is it in any significant way causing changes or global warming (see http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/).  If you follow the money, you might at least suspect a bit of wool is being pulled over some eyes.  Please be aware that ignorance was not the reason for the false testimony of the tobacco industry, but their hoped for success depended to a large degree on keeping the general public ignorant, and hopefully continuing to buy their products because of such ignorance, or at least in spite of scientifically verified arguments for not doing so.

I think we’ll agree all good parents want their children to have a chance to “do better”.  So it is reasonable to appreciate mothers and fathers wanting their offspring to not only know what the parents know how to do, but to help the children to rise to even higher plateaus–of craft and skill, art, and understanding.  That’s justification to have a tradition of reading books to them, and sending them to mentors and teachers.  Unfortunately, as you well know, some parents are afraid of change.  And because of fears, are often reluctant for their offspring to take steps beyond “the way we’ve always done it”, or singing “Give Me That OldTime Religion”, as if “old” would always mean “best”, which you and I know is not always true.  Additionally there are some who seem to either not care or feel incapable of doing anything proactive about their children’s education.

Some of you remember a time when there was a  long-standing practice (tradition) of using lead in paints, food containers, water pipes, and as additives to other widely used consumer products such as gasoline.  The challenge to stop doing it when science helped us understand the harm we were doing to ourselves and our children still met with huge resistance.  And not just from capitalists and manufacturers heavily invested in lead, but from consumers as well.  There were many people figuring out ways to bypass catalytic converters during the time when some petrol was still available that contained lead.  Though it was not a wise practice, it was widely used–almost as if leaded gasoline was a tradition.

Because irrational fears about changes that could be connected to unknown or uncertain outcomes do exist, often born of ignorance, perplexing issues can surface when misunderstood risks are tossed into categories of impulse, rather than recognized as calculated.  We want discipline and accountability, which often mandates adherences to rules.  This is particularly powerful whenever individuals controlled by the rules do not understand how they could possibly do otherwise, or paralyzed by the fear of attempting to do so.  While it was a practice for a long time in warfare to march in straight lines and columns on the battlefield in bright and highly visible uniforms, the technological advances of cannons and firearms made the continuance of such to be disadvantageous.  In spite of the futility of it overall, it continued far beyond what sanity called for.  After all, wouldn’t you agree it was “tradition”?

One of the reasons was the image of power of the powerful was maintained as unquestionable, and many soldiers marched to their death as ordered.  It was what they were taught to believe, and any discrepancy of the rules faced severe consequences.  For many, it seemed better to die “bravely and dutifully” than to be hanged or shot for “stepping out of line”.  Thus, keeping an open mind when faced with “duty” is seldom allowed to be an option for consideration.

What would happen if people just decided on their own to not participate in wars anymore?  Would kings, dictators, presidents, and generals still go at it if they were not convincing or exploitive enough to raise an army to do their fighting for them?  Hmmm.  Should we consider changing the tradition?  Would changing it be disrespectful of those who fought and died in wars before us?  Perhaps one reasonably sane way to show respect for those killed in war would be for us to strive to make certain their children and grandchildren will not have to die that way.  Yet many people will never be able to see that as a viable option, because it seems to be a bit out of their control.

Even today, the concept of following command and direct orders without question is firmly instilled in the minds of military personnel world-over.  I understand it.  But outside the horrible circumstance of war, foot soldiers, pawns, and slaves might be better off than their overlords would have them be, if the dominated learned how to think for themselves.  Truth is, most would be afraid to attempt do so, because they fear the loss of the guidance they believe sustains them.  And that is exactly what they are taught to believe.  Dominators want the dominated to be compliant, so managing the phobic is often just a simple matter of managing their perceptions, and keeping them at a distance from ideas and thoughts that could lead to independence.

We raised sons, and also kept pets.  We wanted the boys to grow up to be men who could take care of themselves, solve problems, and know how to deal with adversities.  It worked.  They are all extraordinary men in those respects.  On the other hand, the dogs and cats were never expected to be educated to a level of self sufficiency.  We liked them, but there were limits of what was expected of their growth and development.

The human children, on the other hand, were expected to challenge their thresholds of self expectations.  There was real joy in seeing apparent light bulbs turn on in their heads.  That is not uncommon in healthy cultures, and is a part of…traditions.

Sometimes traditions clash, even within a culture.  When that happens there are those who have ideas for change facing off with those in fear of it.  Whichever side a person is on is not determined by rational thought as much as it is in accordance with their indoctrination.  Both sides might “feel” they are upholding a tradition.  Some reference to why I said that can be found in a book,”on_being_certain” by Robert A. Burton, Neurologist.

Beyond that, when conflict and controversy surfaces between practices that seem to oppose each other, some have to decide which traditional behavior will bring about the best result.  Unfortunately, more often the position most strongly supported by “authority” wins out.

We’ve seen this in universities that face funding issues that result in cutting programs and teachers’ salaries, while at the same time figuring out a way to give a popular coach a big raise and a budget increase in order to prevent his being recruited to a competitive institution.  The cuts are explained as efficiencies, and the off-sided boost to the coach justified as necessary and essential.  The maintenance of one program that was almost never the purpose for the institutions existence in the first place takes precedence over programs that were.

We’ve all seen this happen, and it is happening now.  Traditional curriculums of physics, chemistry, music, art, literature, and philosophy often become secondary to a recreational activity that has become tradition…and also big business for administrators.  We also see it in governance where fund-raising improves the lifestyles of politicians, but does little to advance the circumstances, long-term and short, for the constituency they are supposed to (but don’t) represent.  But after all, it is a tradition.

Some want to see that change, but such change faces the challenge of being called “progressive” as if such a term was in and of itself an indictment.  Ironically, most of the money available to finance what the public is likely to hear or read more or less subtly goes to support protecting the status quo (of bribery) than risk losing the coveted benefits of those who put up the money to pay for the game.

How do you address something if you believe it undermines-our-cultural-traditions, or in some way causes the next generation to forget or misunderstand how they got to where they are?  I’m not talking about a strict adherence to just dogmatic opinions, as they often overlook the facts required to understand growth and development.  Instead, let’s consider the current popularity, and even apparent love of reductions for the sake of efficiency that often seem to be “cost effective”, yet undermine integrity.  A simple example would be to side-step prerequisites such as not putting on a primer coat on a piece of raw wood before applying the top, or color coat.  It can be done, and it is initially cheaper.  But in the long run, the outcome is often less than desirable.

Lot’s of folks have trouble with the word liberal, and seem to have forgotten (if they even knew it in the first place) it comes from a Latin reference to that which is “worthy of a free person”.  In essence, the liberal arts do refer to an education that leads to being able to function with understanding in society, and be able to be a part of the processes of debating ideas and concepts with some background on how those ideas are constructed.

The trend of political disrespect felt by the liberal arts is an indication of a much greater problem: the abandonment of disciplines of reason. When the purpose is reduced to simply institutionalizing a system for a compliant work force that does not and cannot think for itself, there will be no real commitment to finding real solutions to difficult problems that require examination of empirical evidence. Instead, the business will be to find ways to blame problems on things or persons other than ourselves. It doesn’t take a genius mind to recognize how such as that leads to social dysfunction.

Anti-intellectualism raises its ugly head in almost every generation, and is a tool of those (shamans, witchdoctors, and charlatans) who cannot rise to, or maintain power without the aid of fear held in place with superstition.  It is the flagship of extremist reactionaries throughout history.  We saw it happening during The Crusades, The Spanish Inquisition, the rise of Fascism, the evil tactics of Joseph Stalin to take control of The Soviet Union, “McCarthyism” in our own country, ISES, and many other bigoted religious extremist groups that thrive on hatred and colossal misunderstandings.

We also see it in the power-mongering processes of the self serving who insist they get to sit in the lap of luxury no matter what the cost is to the rest of the world and its inhabitants.  And without an educated populace, working together to move ever closer to understanding: thus real freedom and peacefulness, the cultural tradition of helping the children of each generation progress towards a better and more sustainable lifestyle is in great danger of diminishing further as it goes out of style.

“When a person believes all wrongs are the fault of others, the only filter left that postpones desires for instant gratification, is fear…Teachers are not the cause of poverty and underfunded schools any more than doctors are the cause of disease and underfunded clinics…There’s no wealth in a society that cannot educate it’s children.  If you can afford it but won’t, then you’re an enemy of the children.”

 ~  things-ive-said-before

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