Monday, August 11, 2014

"...with only a bare bones understanding of what it means to be alive..." PART FOUR

Here's the next part of the huge discussion which broke out on facebook after my post on the liberal arts (part two, part three):

Matt Ron, as developed in the comments, I grudgingly admit some kinship with your point. But your opening line is really arrogant and condescending - sounds like what the guy on the right would say. I consider myself to be knowledgeable and a student of the world (intellectual is too strong a word) and I have a liberal arts degree (as well as business) but I don't credit my college education with broadening my horizons. I got that from my parents, especially my Dad (engineering degree) and all the books around my house. I think assuming that one needs to study liberal arts in college is way to narrow a way to get to the effect you're talking about. And I'd just as soon those people get exposed to more science, trades, etc.

Ron Matt, c'mon, arrogant? I was responding to a really HARSH assertion, one totally devaluing not only my own life and outlook, but, as I've written, what I believe ought to be the outlook for our entire nation. I didn't fire the first shot on this, and that cartoon really is nothing but taking pot shots at the entire concept of intellectualism and enlightenment. When someone slaps me in the face, I slap back. You should take my comments in context if you want to be fair.

I stand beside what I said, will say it again, and make no apologies for it. It was not arrogant. At all.

Also, what you've described, about yourself and your father, is exactly the kind of nation I'd like to see. Also, I'd bet that your father took more than a few liberal arts courses when he was studying engineering, and very likely took them seriously. No, it doesn't HAVE to be college, but college really ought to push the humanities FAR more than they do today. Also, I reassert, college is not job training, and anybody who asserts it is simply doesn't understand college.

Also, Matt, did you even read the cartoon to which I was responding? The more I think about your accusation of arrogance, the more it seems you didn't look at what had prompted me to make those statements in the first place. I mean, arrogant? I don't even understand your point.

One more thing. This is a very old, old schism in American culture. This is not the first time a defender of intellectualism and enlightenment, as desirable and good for the nation, has been branded "arrogant." We see this kind of rhetoric going back to before the founding of the republic. Really, it's more of an oddity of history that our founding fathers were all intellectuals, a sort of cultural understanding that wealthy property owners were to be well cultivated individuals, but within a decade or two of the Constitution's ratification, politicians were being excoriated by their opponents for all their book larnin'.

What good is poetry on the frontier? Seminary learning isn't necessary when all you need is the Bible. Men of letters are too weak to do the real work of killing Indians and building a nation. All this is embedded in our cultural DNA. It's why Teddy Roosevelt, an intellectual himself, created his Rough Rider unit. It's why Hemingway hunted exotic game and fought in the Spanish Civil War. Intellectuals have been hounded by this notion of their arrogant uselessness in North America for three hundred years.

Matt I did read the cartoon. But your response came across as an attack on the other party in the cartoon (the tradesperson) versus the snobby anti-intellectual that wrote the cartoon. And I would expect a good liberal to be defending that person versus attacking them!  Or at least uniting with them in a grassroots kind of way to stick it to The Man.

Ron Matt, I'm not sure what you think I'm saying. I was responding to a cartoon that pitted the liberal arts as an area of study against trade school, with the obvious conclusion that studying the liberal arts is a waste of time, money, and life. I don't know why you think I oppose trade school. I don't and I didn't say that. What I oppose, and I think I've been crystal clear on this, is the traditional American devaluation of anything perceived as impractical, or without commercial benefit.

I just don't see how you've come to the conclusions you have about what I'm saying.

I again assert that life without a deep and meaningful study of the humanities is, in fact, dark and dim. This isn't about class. This is about anti-intellectual and anti-art attitudes.

Amy jeez. We need more trade schools and more arts. Why can't we all just get along?

Ron Exactly. I don't think these are mutually exclusive things, as the cartoon asserted. We can get the job done, and have a deep understanding of what American existence is about at the same time. I don't understand why a defense of the liberal arts is so often dismissed as snobbish elitism.

Or rather, I DO understand: study of the humanities as useless arrogance is part of our cultural DNA. I'm resisting something that is very essentially American.

Timothy Art will happen whether we like/support it or not. It's an element of mankind that cannot be separated from the rest of ones being. Some are more inclined to pursue it than others, based on skill/talent and desire.

I think you're being too sensitive to this critique, Ron. The hyperbolic critique here is that the "intellectual" in the cartoon is looking upon the "tradesman" as a "loser" when the "tradesman" has more earning potential, AND that the "intellectual" will be up to his ears in college debt with less of a way to pay it back. While this IS hyperbole, I've read and listened a number of recent news reports stating that college is becoming too expensive, but what is often the case is that those complaining "bought" a degree that has very limited earning potential.

As previously stated, one need not be a formal student of arts and humanities to appreciate and create art.

Ron Okay, but Tim, having the word "loser" coming out of the liberal arts grad's mouth paints him as an arrogant asshole. The argument STARTS with an unfounded and totally unfair attack on studying the liberal arts at all! So it's not simply making an economic calculation: it's also dismissing the humanities as worthy of study while at the same time branding such students as elitist jerks, which, like I keep saying, is fairly typical for this country.

In this respect, I find great irony in calling me arrogant for rejecting the cartoon's message. It's also a totally unfair charge--I mean, if I really was given the choice presented in the cartoon above, I really would choose to have a life of the mind over simply having a better job. But then I reject that false option, anyway, and I keep saying so here in comments, and essentially said so in the OP when I observed that college isn't supposed to be job training.

Of course, what happens when everybody in society decides it IS job training? Well, it means that college is no longer what it once was, a place in which to better understand self, others, and the world, which is what it was for centuries before.

Also, the liberal arts encompass far more than the arts. Government, history, anthropology, archaeology, psychology, economics, film, and on and on.

Timothy I concur that it's a false option. The welder could wind up using his skills to be a sculptor of metal. The "intellectual" could study economics and wind up working in business. The point here is that the "intellectual" is being considered arrogant by looking down on the "tradesman", when the "tradesman" will have better earning potential earlier.
Still more tomorrow!!!