Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker asks pointed, timely questions: “There are still plenty of deep thinkers out there, but who is listening? Who is reading?”
Few, I reply.
Parker references Adlai Stevenson and Dwight Eisenhower and their era as examples of erudition within civility. Good choice, I thought. The Egghead and the General, who, as Parker notes, was no “intellectual midget.”
I devour intellectuals no matter their persuasion because they allow me, cause me, to perform the highest of human endeavors: Think. As a young man and student, I faithfully watched William F. Buckley on Firing Line and read National Review, through which, along with the works of other conservative titans, I came to understand conservative principles. They’re all dead now, seemingly taking intellectual conservatism with them to their graves.
In ancient times, people found answers to life’s mysteries within context of their surroundings. Myths, superstitions, and monotheistic religions evolved to explain the inexplicable. With the telescope and the microscope, science ripped the veil from our imaginings, and we came to realize our collective ignorance.
In “Sonnet to Science,” Edgar Allan Poe calls science a “Vulture, whose wings are dull realities,” and damns it for preying on the poet’s heart. The unsettling part for many is that while science has “alterest all things with [its] peering eyes,” it presents more questions than it answers. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men,” they can neither handle the truth—known, unknown or unknowing—nor uncertainty and ambiguity.
In response, they demanded simplicity and been accommodated. Simple nostrums, 140-character tweets, and flimsy platitudes, each working to dull the minds of the masses. Deadheads. In the sixties, pot and LSD were drugs of choice to deaden the senses. Now Fox, talk radio, and bland columnists, cranking out drivel and feeding fodder to their masses as industrial agro-businesses feeds caged chickens and penned cattle hormone-laced grain, serve in that capacity. With similar results. It takes no brain trust to fathom the tweets of the POTUS or the pablum of faux news organizations and commentators that echo the echo chamber of fear and paranoia.
Capitalism-consumerism is now the universal world religion. Christians and Muslims prostrate before its god—Money—and subscribe to its one core value: Greed. More is the operating ethos in a world no longer on the margin. Less is the gravest of sins to be extirpated.
The smarts-less guy occupying the White House arrived on the heels of one of our most intellectually brilliant presidents. After applauding the valedictorian, we’ve promoted the dunce. After being instructed to resist the Seven Deadly Sins, we’ve fallen to celebrating them, elevating to our highest office an intellectually lazy, gloating, greedy, vindictive, and jealous braggart, who is acutely prone to anger and lusts after women.
The modern era began with Guttenberg’s printing press. Reading became democratized. That was aided by the Jeffersonian ideal of universal public education. But within a generation, we’ve become more than dumb; we’ve become dull. Automatons trying to find meaning in a system devoid of anything past survival. We’ve come full circle, reverted to our simple-minded Paleolithic ancestors.
Lately, state and civic leaders have been scratching their eggheads pondering the mystery of Colorado’s teacher shortage. They’re researching and holding panel discussions while wringing their hands. My response: “You’re kidding me, right?”
Since Ronald Reagan, teachers, the personae of public education, have been under assault. Ultimately, it was and remains a protracted assault on learning, free inquiry, and intellectualism resulting in the production of a compliant generation of serfs, dulled into complacency by the promise of a better life, whatever that might be, and easily manipulated by a charlatan whose interest lies not beyond his self.
Polls indicate more are realizing our malaise, but where to from here?
Parker provocatively asks, “Who among those who can contemplate the future — as opposed to retweeting this-just-happened — is even willing to lead? And what, finally, is leadership in an era when centuries-old institutions are failing and commonly shared beliefs are no longer common or shared?”
Great questions all as is her most incisive: “Who can save us from ourselves?”
To which I can only reply, “Let me get back to you on that.”