Wednesday, August 13, 2014

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

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,part four):

Matt Ron, just to be clear, I don't think you meant what i'm saying I heard, because it doesn't sound like you. My point is that I think you're attacking the wrong target. I'm not agreeing with the premise of the cartoon. Its excellent troll bait and it seems to have hit home on you. It plays to a stereotype and delights in it's anti-intellectualism. But I felt your original post took a shot, not at that troll, but towards a person who for whatever reason has pursued a trade degree. So I'm not saying don't be made, I'm just saying be mad at the actual bad guy here. And I also think that you are suggesting that college is the only place to learn the humanities, which I don't think is accurate. An appreciation for arts and the humanities is a mindset and it used to be much more well regarded in this country.

Ron Okay, sorry if I left you with that impression. I still feel like, at face value, I was clearly responding to the cartoon itself, and the anti-intellectual false option it offered. But also I feel like anybody who's read my stuff would take what I said in the overall context of what I usually write about, which is to say, I have an extraordinarily high regard for people who work for a living, but certainly not for people who tell us that working people should ONLY be working people, which is what I think the subtext for the cartoon is.

Indeed, I'm still confused as to how you ended up taking it that way, how you assumed I'm attacking a cartoon welder. I'm still confused about how you would call me arrogant based on even an isolated non-context reading of what I wrote. I mean, at which point was I attacking the welder guy? Where was the attack? I'm also confused as to how you would decide that I'm saying that one should only study the humanities in college. I certainly didn't say that, or even imply that. Personally, I think you're reading a great deal into what I wrote. You're attributing assertions to me that I never made or intended to make. That is, you're arguing with some guy who's not me, and who said things I didn't say.

Also, I continue to love you and think you're great. Please don't mistake the passion of my response for anything but passion. That cartoon is straight up offensive, to intellectuals and working people alike.

Tim Poking the bear...

Kim I went to a Career Services conference last week where a reoccurring theme was the need to track graduates and their employment rates/salary rate. There is a big push to qualify the cost of education against average first year salary (or at 5 yrs & 10 year.) Which is understandable with university costs going through the roof. However, here's where it gets scary. How is this data going to be used? Will it eventually be used to influence student loans? "You want a loan for an Engineering degree? Sure! 0% interest." "You want a loan for a philosophy degree? Ok, but 25 % interest." "Theater degree? Sorry. No loan."

Ron Roar!

Actually, Tim, I have no beef at all with making the observation that some degrees are much more employable than others. It's the commodification of the college degree that disturbs me. Three quarters of a century ago people went to college for its own sake. Tuition, at state supported universities, was either free or so dirt cheap as to not matter. But as states incrementally withdrew support from their colleges and universities, a trend which has been going on our entire lives and still continues, the cost of tuition skyrocketed. And that may very well be why people now look at higher education as an investment, rather than something with its own innate value.

And as society increasingly treats college as an investment, the innate value disappears. It truly saddens and horrifies me.

Ron Okay, it looks as though Matt  is done with this thread, but, after thinking about this for nearly twenty four hours, I feel like I need to address a bit more specifically his charges of condescension and arrogance.

Matt accused me of "attacking" the guy in the cartoon studying welding, and then, because I flat out reject this characterization of my words, I asked him what, exactly, the attack was. Without a response, I can only speculate about this: my assumption is that the "attack" was my description of an understanding of life without a study of the liberal arts as being "bare bones."

There are a lot of directions I could go with this, but I'm going to narrow it down to what I believe is probably the biggest payoff one receives from studying the humanities: critical thinking. If you don't study the liberal arts, it is HIGHLY UNLIKELY that you will ever master critical thinking in a way that can be generalized to all areas of life.

I'm not saying it's impossible or that nobody does it on their own. But usually, one has to be trained to think in this way, and the humanities is essentially the only field that does this. I mean, high schools, god bless them, try really hard, and often give students a good start, albeit with specific subject areas, but as testing mania and "accountability" become more and more pervasive within the public schools, abstract thinking takes a back seat to objective tests. That is, we're heading away from this being a holy grail for high schools and towards something else entirely.

So the most likely people to master critical thinking skills are the students who study the liberal arts.

Here's the crux. If you don't have the ability to think critically about numerous subjects and areas of interest, then you are effectively out of the game. You don't really know what's going on in the world, and are greatly vulnerable to demagoguery, propaganda, and social manipulation. You're very likely not going to see what's going on outside the game board you're considering. You're very likely to accept what things appear to be, instead of digging deeply to see if "the way the world works" is actually the way the world works.

Or, worse, you may very well be in the game, but you're probably messing it up really badly.

In the last decade or so, two extraordinarily disturbing events illustrate this point very nicely. In 2003, we invaded Iraq, a nation ruled by a brutal dictator, yes, but also a relatively defenseless nation, one which could in no way be considered a threat to the United States. But Americans' post 9/11 fears were adroitly manipulated by the Bush administration and their propagandist-cheerleaders. What if Iraq hands over its weapons of mass destruction to the terrorists? The Bush people pounded away at this over and over. "We just don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," said National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice. And some ninety percent of the country was convinced that we had to invade Iraq.

But it was preposterous to suggest that Saddam Hussein, a secular leader, would arm Islamist extremists who wanted him dead almost as much as they wanted Americans dead. And this was obvious at the time to anybody who was unwilling to take what they're told at face value. Even more preposterous was the notion that Iraq had WMD. There was absolutely no evidence of their existence. Just none. And, again, this was achingly obvious to anybody willing to critically analyze White House press releases. So there was no need to go to war. It was all bullshit, but most Americans believed it, anyway. And now, hundreds of billions of dollars later, tens of thousands of deaths later, well, we just don't talk about it too much these days, do we?

This is what happens when you have a nation full of people who have not been trained in critical thinking. They are incapable of performing their vital role as citizens in a democracy. And disaster is the necessary result.

The second event is less earth-shaking, but no less disturbing to me because it deals with the failure of American liberals to think critically. In 2008, President Obama managed to hoodwink the American left into thinking he was one of them, using the inspirational but vacant rhetoric of "hope and change." Of course, all you had to do was go to his campaign website and look at his actual positions, and you'd know that he's conservative on most economic issues, and a hawk, not a dove, on foreign policy--I mean, not a hawk like Bush was, but certainly no peacenik. It's been amusing and satisfying these last six years watching disillusioned Obama liberals slowly come to the conclusion I did back in '08 when I simply read his platform online, but I would have greatly preferred my liberal comrades understood what was going on in the first place.

The bottom line here is that critical thinking MATTERS. It matters A LOT. It matters in terms of hundreds of billions of dollars. It matters in terms of loss of life, and pain, and suffering. It matters in terms of understanding the difference between right and wrong. And we now have so few Americans trained in critical thinking that we are seeing the consequences. Indeed, illusion is now our dominant national paradigm, whether we admit it or not.

All of this necessarily brings me back to Matt's accusation that I was attacking the welding student guy, that I was being "arrogant" and "condescending" because I described not studying the liberal arts as being the same as possessing a "bare bones" understanding of life. It might not be pretty, but it's definitely the truth. Especially these days.

And scolding someone for speaking the truth about this does nothing but perpetuate the pervasive American attitude which says that living in a state of diminished intellectual ability is good and acceptable. I just can't possibly sign up for that. Now, more than ever, we simply MUST have a national population with the ability to think critically.

And that's just ONE of the benefits one can gain from studying the liberal arts. It's a big one, to be sure, but there are many, many more.
Still more to come!!!