Crybaby Students

I attach below a portion of the editorial from the Washington Post written by Kathleen Parker on November 24th of last year. It should provide a sense of what I have been complaining about for years on my blog and elsewhere. It is a problem we cannot simply ignore.

“It would be easy to call protesting college students crybabies and brats for pitching hissy-fits over hurt feelings, but this likely would lead to such torrents of tearful tribulation that the nation’s university system would have to be shut down for a prolonged period of grief counseling. Besides, it would be insensitive.

Instead, let me be the first to say: it’s not the students’ fault. These serial tantrums are a direct result of our Everybody Gets a Trophy culture and an educational system that, for the most part, no longer teaches a core curriculum, including history, government and Bill of Rights.

The students simply don’t know any better. . . .

The first sign of the epidemic of sensitivity we’re witnessing was when parents and teachers were instructed never to tell Johnny that he was a ‘bad boy,’ but that he is ‘acting’ like a bad boy.

Next, Johnny was handed a blue ribbon along with everyone else on the team even though he didn’t deserve one. This had the opposite effect of what was intended. Rather than protecting Johnny’s fragile self-esteem, the prize undermined Johnny’s faith in his own perceptions and judgment. It robbed him of his ability to pick himself up when he fell and be brave, honest, and hardy in the face of adversity.

Self-esteem is earned, not bestowed.

Today’s campuses are overrun with little Johnnys, their female counterparts and their adult enablers. How will we ever find enough fainting couches?

. . . Concurrent with  these episodes of outrage is the recent surge on campuses of ‘trigger warnings’ in syllabuses to alert students to content that might be upsetting, and ‘safe spaces’ where students can seek refuge when ideas make them uncomfortable. It seems absurd to have to mention that the purpose of higher education is to be challenged, to be exposed to different views, and, above all, to be exhilarated by the exercise of free speech — other people’s as well as one’s own.

The marketplace of ideas is not for sissies, in other words. And it would appear that knowledge, the curse of the enlightened, is not for everybody.

The latter is meant to be an observation, but on many campuses today it seems to be an operating principle. A recent survey of 1,100 colleges and universities found that only 18 percent require American history or government, where such foundational premises as the First Amendment might be explained and understood. . . .

Such is the world we’ve created for young people who soon enough will discover that the world doesn’t much care about their tender feelings. But before such harsh realities knock them off their ponies we might hope that they redirect their anger. They have every right to despise the coddling culture that ill prepared them for life and an educational system that has failed to teach them what they need to know.”

 

I couldn’t agree more with Ms Parker — except to say that American history and government ought to be taught in all our high schools, along with a good stiff course in logic and critical thinking. This might lessen the number of fools who lap up the drivel that spews from the mouths of so many of the politicians seeking national offices. This is especially true since many of our citizens never go to college. But, in any event, what started out as a sincere desire to alleviate suffering among society’s victims has brought about an era of entitlement in which everyone claims to be a victim. There aren’t enough fainting couches to go around.

 

 

The Master Negotiator

A recent article, parts of which I will attach below, tells us all we need to know about what sort of president this man would make — if we didn’t know already. He is beyond ignorant, because he has no idea how ignorant he is.

Donald Trump gave an interview this week [on CNN] all of his potential supporters should watch. In his own words, Trump lays bare the very reasons why he would be such a disastrous choice for president. . . .

Trump proclaims his familiar boast that he is the best deal-maker ever and the best negotiator ever, and that the Obama administration completely botched the negotiation with Iran. And then Trump graced us with an inside account of how he, as a master deal-maker, would have negotiated the agreement with Iran and obtained a much better outcome for America.

Primarily, Trump would have spared America from having to pay $150 billion to Iran. (I won’t quibble with the dollar amount even though it is likely inaccurate).

As Trump explained, he would have said to the Iranians:

“Fellas, we [as America] owe $19 trillion [in debt]. We’re a country that has no money. We can’t give you the $150 [billion dollars].” The Iranians would have said, “But we want it!” And Trump would have responded, “We can’t give it! We don’t have it! We don’t have it!”

Trump would have stood his ground and absolutely refused to pay the $150 billion. At that point, the meeting would have broken-up with no agreement. But then, two days later, the Iranians would have folded by calling Trump and saying, “Let’s make a deal.” Iran would then have agreed that America would not be required to pay the $150 billion.

Wow. Now there’s a genius negotiator for you. What an amazing display of virtuosity.

Unfortunately, however, there is one little problem with Trump’s entire analysis. And this problem is that the $150 billion was, in fact, readily available. The reason it was readily available is because all of this money actually belonged to Iran, not to America. This was Iran’s own money. This was Iranian money that America had seized and frozen. It was never American money. Not one penny. American money was never at stake. Rather, America was simply returning Iran’s own money that America had seized and was holding in frozen accounts pending the resolution of the sanctions against Iran. [Italics added]

Trump obviously had no clue that this money belonged to Iran. Trump was utterly ignorant about the facts of the deal. Yet this did not prevent Trump from spouting off and denouncing the deal to the American public. This is classic Trump. Even though he may appear to some to be authoritative, the truth is that his demeanor is superficial and he actually has no idea what he is talking about in substance.

One gets the idea that “all of his potential supporters” would agree with him, unfortunately. That’s a huge part of the problem.

In any event, when this man opens his mouth I have the notion that we are all watching a Saturday Night Live sketch. Surely, it’s funny. No? If not it borders on the insane. The man is from Wonderland. He reminds me of Humpty Dumpty except that he isn’t that funny. I fear he is not funny at all and we are not watching a comedic sketch. This is the Trumpet’s reality show. It’s time he took a bow and left the stage. Enough is enough.

My Top Ten

No one asked. But a blogging buddy who posts by the name of “Cafe Book Bean” recently posted five of the Classics she has on her bucket list. It gave rise to some reflection on my part: what novels would I list as my top ten? I exclude great books in philosophy, psychology, or the sciences — such as Darwin’s Origin of the Species. This list includes novels that I have the highest possible regard for, though I would add that in the case of most of the authors you can’t go wrong in reading anything they wrote! Huxley is the exception since Brave New World is his only literary work, to my knowledge. But in the case of such authors as Austen, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Wharton, and, of course George Eliot you really cannot go wrong. So (wait for it) here’s the list:

  1. Eliot: Middlemarch
  2. Dostoevsky: Brothers Karamazov
  3. Conrad: Heart of Darkness
  4. Austen: Pride and Prejudice
  5. Tolstoy: War and Peace
  6. Wharton: The Age of Innocence
  7. Melville: Moby Dick
  8. Narayan: The Guide
  9. Balzak: Lost Illusions
  10. Huxley: Brave New World

I have omitted novels by such excellent writers as Wallace Stegner (whose Angle of Repose is superb) and Barbara Kingsolver who is also outstanding –one of the very best who is still writing. And I might also note that the Book Bean also recommended to me novels by Amy Tan and I have read The Hundred Secret Senses. She is a remarkable writer and I look forward to reading more of her novels. But for now, that’s the lot.

Please note that I have omitted other great books by such authors as Dante, Plato, Camus, and Kant because their works are so decidedly philosophical and I have tried to stick with literature, per se. But they also warrant reading for those who have the time and the inclination. Strange to say, the list is hard to come up with because I didn’t want to leave off such great works as Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky and House of Mirth by Wharton, Victory by Joseph Conrad, and Sense and Sensibility by Austen. I would also add that I do not regard Huxley’s novel as great literature, but it is one of the most thought-provoking and engrossing novels I have ever read and it demands a place on this list.

One final comment about the list: I highly recommend the translations of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy by Pevear and Volokhonsky. They have translated all of Dostoevsky’s major novels as well as War and Peace. Their translations (I am told by those who read Russian) read about as close to the original as a translation can hope to do.

As I have noted in previous posts, we live at a time when many both within and without the Academy regard any such list as bogus, because, they say, there is no such thing as greatness. I regard this claim as spurious and suspect at times that those who make the criticism have not read most, if any, of the books they reject. A great book, like any great work of art, is so because it still has something to tell us, it is extremely well done, and it invites repeated visits. Each visit brings with it new insights and a flood of new ideas. Great books provide hours of pleasure and expand the mind. The books on the above list fit those criteria. Thanks for reading!

Tribal Sovereignty

E.S.P.N. broadcasts a most informative program called “Outside The Lines,” which often turns over rocks in the sports world that many would have us ignore. They recently broadcast a program dealing with the failure of Baylor University to investigate the allegations that several women were raped by one of the Baylor football players. This report came on the heels of the report that Florida State recently paid nearly a $1 million penalty to Erica Kinsman who claimed that Jameis Winston raped her while he was a player at that school.  Florida State’s handling of the case has been described thusly:

‘ . . . the university did not even approach Winston about Kinsman’s accusations until January 2014, after the Seminoles had won the national championship; . . . the Tallahassee Police Department’s investigation was so slipshod that the local prosecutor threw up his hands when the case finally landed on his desk; . . . Kinsman was shunned by her fellow students, called a slut and a whore and a liar, and essentially forced off campus as the football-mad student body rallied around its quarterback . . .”

Florida State University found Winston without guilt, but the fine was based on the fact that colleges and universities are required to report and fully investigate all allegations of rape. Apparently Florida State did not follow the protocol. According to “Outside the Lines” Baylor can now stand proud alongside Florida State.

In the meantime, the young women who are involved in these allegations are frequently stonewalled, told not to proceed because it’s a “he-says-she-says” situation and women seldom win in such cases. In a word, the football player (who is usually the one involved) claims that the act was “consensual” and no crime has been committed. In the Baylor case, several young women, including one who claimed to have been a virgin, testified to “Outside The Lines” that they reported the rape and were simply brushed off.

These are allegations, of course, but they are repeated often enough to give them credibility. And they raise the question of whether the football programs at major universities are not, in fact, separate nations, laws unto themselves. I liken them to the Native American nations, that are legally regarded as having tribal sovereignty, though I am not claiming that rape is a common practice among native people. I simply point to the fact that native communities are in some sense “above” the civil law of the states within which they reside. As a brief report in Wikipedia tells us:

Native American recognition in the United States most often refers to the process of a tribe being recognized by the United States federal government, or to a person being granted membership to a federally recognized tribe. There are 566 federally recognized tribal governments in the United States. . . .

The United States recognizes the right of these tribes to self-government and supports their tribal sovereignty and self-determination. These tribes possess the right to establish the legal requirements for membership. They may form their own government, enforce laws (both civil and criminal), tax, license and regulate activities, zone, and exclude people from tribal territories. Limitations on tribal powers of self-government include the same limitations applicable to states; for example, neither tribes nor states have the power to make war, engage in foreign relations, or coin money. [Italics Added]

The similarities here, as I have said, do not attach themselves to the behavior of the native people as compared with that of university footballers. The similarities simply attach themselves to the fact that both groups are relatively autonomous. But where the autonomy of the native tribes is a function of treaty and law, the autonomy of the footballers is a result of avarice and entitlement. These players are spoiled rotten and they bring millions of dollars into the colleges and universities where they play games. The universities in many cases look the other way and basically allow much greater leniency to those who play for their teams than they do to the rest of the student body, including those women who seem to be the victims of something that often looks like “roid-rage.” Whatever the causes of these attacks, it seems clear that the institutions are reluctant to pursue any sort of serious investigation until or unless they are forced to by outside pressure. Clearly, those teams have something very much like tribal sovereignty.

 

Bernie’s Battles

Bernie Sanders says all the right things — well, almost all the right things. He has been soft on gun control which is troubling. But, then, he is a politician and must say things to get himself elected to the Senate in Vermont that he may not really believe. That’s the name of the game. In any event, he truly wants to do the right thing by his country and he is certainly operating outside the mainstream of politics for the most part. As I noted in a previous post, he knows that the real battle in this country is not between the Republicans and the Democrats. It’s between the very wealthy together with their corporations and the rest of us.

Sanders' Official Senate Portrait

Sanders’ Official Senate Portrait

The problem, of course, is that so many of Bernie’s dreams are just that: dreams. They are pie-in-the-sky. Radical change that flies in the face of present politics-as-usual. He is labelled a “socialist,” which is inaccurate. A socialist wants the state to own the means of production. Karl Marx thought Socialism was a step toward Communism where there would be no private ownership, all would share things in common — not unlike the hopes expressed in the New Testament. So far as I know Bernie Sanders does not want that to happen. He just wants those who own the means of production and who just happen to make 300 times as much money as their average employee to share some of their wealth. He would raise taxes on the rich which, as history has shown, might just help this economy get back on track. We were never as fiscally healthy as we were when the wealthy helped bear their share of the burden of government. You know, before Ronald Reagan’s “trickle down” nonsense. As things now stand there are so many tax loops for the wealthy they hardly help at all. Bernie wants to right the ship.

But, as I say, his are dreams that seem will-o’-the-wisp, hardly the sorts of things the Congress will help him achieve. And, as I have also said in a previous post, without the help of the Congress the president cannot do much of anything. I dare say Bernie knows this and it would appear that he has in his sights a much larger prize: complete political reform. He wants to sweep into office with a majority of the Congress behind him. That would certainly make it more likely that he could actually initiate much-needed reform. And if he can light a fire in the electorate and get enough of the idealistic young on his side he may just do that. It’s a long shot, but it does inspire hope at a time when hope is a slender thread connecting dreams and reality.

The only thing that bothers me about this scenario is whether a Congress, be it Democratic or Republican, would actually put their collective careers on the line for radical change. It is likely that the majority of the Congress any new president would have to work with would still be beholden to the corporations. The wealthy support politicians on both sides of the aisle, just in case. Bernie may succeed in his attempt to free himself of all corporate ties, and might even gain a majority in the Congress, but it is unlikely that those in Congress could get elected — or if elected remain in office — without corporate support. That’s Bernie’s largest battle. It’s not about getting elected. It’s about beating the corporations in order to be an effective president.

Nevertheless, it is a hopeful sign that there is someone in the political arena who has the courage to say the right things, even though they are not the things the wealthy want to hear (because they are not those things?). As I read recently, Hillary Clinton is the person running for president who could work most effectively in the present political arena. Bernie is the one who wants to change the game entirely and play it more or less the way the founders wanted it played at the outset, reversing the current trend toward oligarchy. You have to admire his vision and his courage. Whether he will win the battles ahead remains to be seen.

While Rome Burns

We all know that Nero fiddled while Rome was burning, though we aren’t told with whom he was fiddling . . .(sorry). In any event, we now find ourselves pretty much in his shoes, fiddling while our water dries up. I’m not speaking about the horrible event in Flint, Michigan where thousands of citizens were allowed to drink water contaminated with lead. Nor am I referring to our mindless waste of water as we flush the toilet with a cup of pee in it, take long showers, run the dishwasher for six plates and a dirty frying pan, leave the water running while we brush our teeth, or water our lawns (or golf courses). What I am referring to is the unconscionable act of “fracking.”

A recent story tells us about the steps that the European Union are taking to stop fracking, a procedure to get gas and oil out of the earth while contaminating between 1.2 and 3.5 million gallons of water per well each day in the process:

Studies by the European Commission, released last Friday, find the risks associated with large-scale shale gas development and fracking to be high and in some cases very high. The studies draw special attention to the cumulative environmental impacts of multiple shale gas wells. Eight key pieces of the European Union (EU) environmental acquis (acquis communautaire = agreed upon laws and regulations in the EU) are identified as being ill-equipped to deal with the water, waste, liability, air quality and other issues of large-scale use of hydraulic fracturing.

As a result, four countries in Europe have outlawed fracking. A growing list of others have placed a moratorium on the act. However, with the exception of a few states in this country, we continue to engage in an activity that is known to cause earthquakes in addition to drawing millions of gallons of water from the aquifers daily and rendering the water unusable. We ignore the fact that our water is becoming increasingly precious. Many think it will be the new gold. But actually it is more precious than gold, because we cannot live without it.

Some would chalk up our frenzy to draw oil and gas out of the earth to free enterprise. I would chalk it up to raw, unmitigated greed. As noted, growing numbers of countries around the globe see this as a very dangerous practice indeed, as are so many of the practices in this country we engage in daily — while we fiddle. We can continue to ignore the assault we have initiated against the earth, but we cannot do so much longer. And while I realize that this claim will be dismissed as mere nay-saying, chicken-little pessimism, glass half-empty exaggeration of our present situation, we need to consider that those who reject the dire prediction of scientists have a hidden agenda. The scientists do not. They simply tell it like it is. We need to start to listen to them. The money isn’t going to do even the wealthiest among us any good if they have no water to mix with their bourbon.

In my bleak moments I sometimes imagine that the very wealthy who pursue this deadly path have a jet plane ready to whisk them away from our dried up country to some place safe, one of those countries that has outlawed fracking and now relies on renewable energy — you know, the ones that will manage to hang on a bit longer. It’s not unlike the villain in a James Bond movie with his boat ready to whisk him away to safety before the British Secret Service can put him away. But this is real life, not a fiction: there are no jet planes that can take anyone far enough away.

At other times, in my more dreamlike moments, I imagine that the story in the Old Testament about the Garden of Eden is not a tale about what happened in the past. Rather, it is a prediction about the earth we all share, which is indeed a Garden of Eden. The serpent of avarice has offered us the apple of greed and we have eaten of it and we are now, slowly, being evicted from the Garden as a result of our own stupidity.

Reason In Ethics

One of the most common questions when it comes to ethical disputes is “Who’s to say?” This question reveals the skepticism so many of us experience when it comes to ethics, the conviction that it is really all just a matter of opinion. I have argued in previous posts that it is a good deal more than that, that ethical disputes are capable of resolution, there is a “right” and a “wrong” answer in ethics — if we can only find it. In the end, my claim rests on the notion that some arguments that support ethical conclusions are reasonable and others are not. But, one might say, who’s to say what is “reasonable”? To the goons who took over a federal park in Oregon their behavior is quite reasonable; to the rest of the world (excepting other goons) it is unreasonable, if not criminal. But, then, am I rejecting everyone who disagrees with me with a sweep of the hand as “goons”? Let’s take a look. I might say at the outset, however, that to jettison reason in ethics means that the only way to reject, say, Fascism is with the pathetic cry, “that’s just not the way we do things here in our neck of the woods.” This is absurd on its face.

A reasonable conclusion to an ethical argument resembles reasonable conclusions in any other field of inquiry: there is something stubborn about a reasonable conclusion that is absent in an unreasonable argument. But, who’s to say it’s “stubborn”? Isn’t this a matter of opinion as well? Not entirely, though subjective feelings certainly enter in. But a stubborn argument is one that is regarded as stubborn not only by the one advancing it but also by a neutral person who might be standing by. The British philosophers liked to talk about “the man  in the Clapham omnibus,” but since we are not British and we have no idea what the Clapham omnibus might be, this bears no weight whatever. American philosophers like to talk about “the man in the street,” but we now know that this is sexist and heaven knows we want to avoid sexism at all costs. So what’s left? I suggest that what is left is a jury of your peers.

What this means is that an ethical argument, like any other argument, can be tested for soundness (stubbornness) by asking whether a jury of our peers would be persuaded by that argument. For example, if I make the claim that discrimination is wrong and base it on the factual evidence that shows how discrimination renders the working place unfair to women — because we know about the “glass ceiling,” or that the average wage of the woman in the working place is so much lower than it is for the average male, etc. — and then if I add that this disparity violates the ethical principle of fairness, then I have put together a rather strong argument, one that is reasonable and can stand up to scrutiny by a neutral panel of my peers. But, someone might object, the so-called principle of fairness is itself subjective. I think not, and the case can be made by simply asking one who raises this question if he would regard it as fair if he were paid the same wage as the average woman doing the same job. Is it fair that two people doing the same work be paid differently? In other words, putting the shoe on the other foot engages the imagination of those who argue and makes the “stubbornness” of the argument apparent. In all honesty one cannot insist that he would in fact accept the same wage as another person who was paid less — unless he is perverse and simply wanted to argue for argument’s sake.

Ethical arguments involve ethical principles at some point, and there may be various ways to understand those principles. But the principle of fairness is fairly straightforward: just ask a 6-year-old child if it is fair that he (or she) be given a smaller piece of birthday cake than the child next to him (or her). It’s that simple. And another fundamental ethical principle is the principle of respect for persons. This principle is incorporated in the so-called “Golden Rule” and simply requires that we acknowledge that all persons ought to be treated with respect, ourselves included. It’s what we want and therefore what we can imagine everyone else wants as well. These two principles form the warp and woof of every major religion on earth and our collective social consciousness as well.

Thus, the notion of “reasonableness” in ethics is a notion that has weight. Arguments that are reasonable are ones that we ought to agree with whether we want to or not, even if it is terribly inconvenient. Thus, it is highly doubtful that those who insist that their stand in the federal park in Oregon was morally justifiable could put together an argument that is reasonable, that will stand up to the scrutiny of a jury of their peers. I dare say that will soon become apparent.

Predicting The Weather

Consider meteorology for a moment. It’s a pseudo-science in that it tosses around numbers but ultimately depends on intuition. The meteorologist will have several computer models based on a large number of variables and will choose the one the seems to him or her to be most likely. They also like to say things like “The chance of rain is 0% ” which is absurd. In probability theory 0% means that it is logically impossible. Similarly with the suggestion that “there is 100% chance of snow later today.” That would mean it cannot NOT snow, which is also absurd. Meteorology is a pseudo-science. There are many.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to watch the Weather Channel and see the folks there surrounded by all their elaborate equipment and their L.L. Bean coats telling us with straight faces that there is 0% chance of rain when I know that cannot possibly be the case. But they are pretty people even if they never learned the word “in.” They say things like “It’s raining into Chicago right now,” when we all know that they should say “It is raining in Chicago right now.” The word “into” suggests movement whereas the word “in” suggests place. The Weather Channel folks don’t know that, apparently. But then, they are meteorologists, whatever that means. It certainly doesn’t mean they are scientists, or even that they are well educated.

The pseudo sciences draw on probability theory and the notion that if we have numbers to support our claims, then we can call ourselves a “science.” This rests on the indisputable fact that the hard sciences (the REAL sciences) rely heavily on mathematics. I have a good friend who is a physicist and I once asked him what the latest developments in physics were. He answered that there hadn’t been many lately; the physicist must wait for the mathematician to develop the tools for them. But the social (pseudo) sciences abound in numbers convinced that thereby they will pass muster as real science. We are all suckers for numbers. Just think about the polls!

In any event, disciplines like psychology and sociology are pseudo-science because they have nothing more than probability to back them up, and probability theory is a mere shadow of the mathematical calculations on which the physicist and chemist relies. The latter yield certainties, the former not so much. Albert Einstein, for example, knew that his relativity theory was a certainty well before any experiment was devised to verify it. He knew it because the mathematics was correct and that was sufficient of itself. The hard sciences do not rely on probabilities, they rely on exact calculations. Prediction, when it is made, is certain– or as certain as experiments can be when devised by human agents.

In the end, we can still enjoy the pretty people on the Weather Channel with all their state-of-the-art, fancy equipment and their computer models predicting what will happen tomorrow “into” Chicago while, at the same time, we recognize the fact that they are playing at being scientists. It’s just make-believe, like so much on television.

 

 

 

Educate For Freedom

I have blogged a number of times (some would say “endlessly”) about the shortcomings of our educational system. It is a topic close to my heart, given that I spent all of my adult life in schools and colleges. I have even written a book about the nature of education, focusing mostly on higher education (so-called) but also mentioning in passing what seems to be going wrong in the lower grades.

In any event, I have been consistent in my defense of a liberal education at the collegiate level — though as Robert Hutchins said many years ago there is no reason why we couldn’t pursue a liberal education at the lower grades. And there are some schools that have actually returned to the fundamental notion of the seven liberal arts to form the core of their grade-school curriculum for kids. But, by and large, the liberal arts, which many confuse with the Humanities, are an intellectual challenge and seem to a great many students and their parents to be irrelevant to their real-world needs after college, not practical, not the kind of thing that will lead to a job and success in later life. I would challenge that.

I recently chatted with a professor of cardiology at the Mayo Clinic who majored in philosophy as an undergraduate. When I mentioned that most of today’s students avoid such subjects as impractical he said that philosophy was the most practical course of study he had ever taken and he found himself every day drawing on his undergraduate major at Vanderbilt University. I have also known liberal arts graduates who have been successful in the world of investment banking, business, the ministry, and law. It provides a broad base of study that allows the student to take different directions as times change.

We have known for years that young people growing up in the work force change their jobs many times before they are 40. Nowadays the “millenialists” change jobs even more — perhaps because they don’t like being told what to do! This is a spoiled generation, to be sure, used to getting what they want when they want it. If it requires real work, many are simply not interested. And the liberal arts require real work.

Let’s be clear at the outset, however, that the liberal arts include not only the Humanities but also the sciences. Originally they formed the trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric and the quadrivium of geometry, music, astronomy, and arithmetic. Note the heavy emphasis on mathematics and science (music being regarded as a mathematical science, carefully ordered as it is and reflecting as it does the harmony of the universe!) These subjects seem esoteric these days and those seven original liberal arts — “liberal” because they free the mind held captive by bias, immaturity and shrunken perspective — have given birth to hundreds of college courses all of which claim to free the mind. But, as we know, most of those subjects are really job-training in disguise; they cater to the students’ current whims while putting blinders on them thereby forcing them into a narrow track from which they find it very difficult to escape later on.

But the original liberal arts were designed to free the minds of the young and open to them new horizons to explore. As I like to say, they put the young in possession of their own minds. This seems especially appropriate today, given the changes in career paths mentioned above. The liberal arts prepare the student for a world of change, and change is the only thing we can be certain about in this world of ours. If we ask (demand?) of the young that they take subjects that require that they use their minds, deepen their understanding, gain the ability to manipulate the symbols of mathematics and language, and learn about their past we can expect that they will be best prepared for this changing world.

The claim is often heard that those who follow such a course of study will not be able to find work after graduation; there is growing evidence that this is untrue. In addition, for those students who want to advance in the work place, it has become increasingly clear that a liberal education is extremely beneficial. As a recent study by the Association of American Colleges and Universities tells us:

The majority of employers agree that having both field-specific knowledge and skills and a broad range of skills and knowledge is most important for recent college graduates to achieve long-term career success. Few think that having field-specific knowledge and skills alone is what is most needed for individuals’ career success.
80 percent of employers agree that, regardless of their major, all college students should acquire broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences. . . .
When read a description of a 21st-century liberal education, a large majority of employers recognize its importance; 74 percent would recommend this kind of education to a young person they know as the best way to prepare for success in today’s global economy.

Moreover, students who study the liberal arts will be able to adapt should they want to change jobs or if they should happen to be “let go” by an unfeeling company that feels the need to “downsize.” The best possible education for now and the future is a liberal education. The evidence is out there.

The Power of the President

I want to develop an idea I mentioned in passing in an earlier post. It has to do with the limited power of the President and the absurd promises our presidential candidates make about what they will do when elected — given the fact that by themselves they cannot do very much at all. Witness Barack Obama’s pathetic attempts to promote some sort of gun control.

Our Constitution borrows from the pages of Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws in dividing power among the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial. Limiting power was a prime concern among political thinkers in the age of Enlightenment as they sought to wean themselves from the whims of various corrupt Monarchs. If one reads our Constitution one immediately realizes that Congress is the main body in the thinking of those who wrote and later adopted that document. The very first Article in the document deals with legislative powers. There are ten Sections in that Article. On the other hand, there are only four Sections in the Article dealing with the limited powers of the President. Most of them stress the need for the legislative body to “advise and consent” or the manner of election and impeachment of the president. Clearly, those men were worried that they might be creating another monarch. And this they did not want — even with George Washington ready at hand.

The ten sections under Article One describing the powers of the legislative body are detailed and extensive. They go on for pages and outline a body that not only manages the purse strings, but also has the capacity to control the excessive urge to power of any president. And if those latter restraints are insufficient there is always the Supreme Court that further limits the President who might wish to get too big for his or her britches. The document is all about limiting power because these men knew better than anyone how power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, as Lord Acton once said.  And the reason these men put so much faith in the legislative branch is because they were convinced that those elected would represent the will of the body politic. In the small country at that time they envisioned the representatives serving with little remuneration for a very short time and in that time visiting their constituents on a regular basis and merely parroting the wishes of those who voted them into office. If the representatives varied too much from the will of the voters, they would be voted out. That was a given at the time, as is clear from the Federalist Papers.

We have seen how this hasn’t worked out, of course, with no term limits on those elected to Congress and huge salaries now attached to political offices. Men and women get into office and their primary urge is to remain there as long as possible. They don’t give a hoot for the needs of their constituents, since they answer only to the wealthy persons whose money can guarantee them a long term in office. The founders never saw it coming.

This is why, in the end, when we are thinking about which political candidate might make a good president we should be thinking about which candidate could work most effectively with a Congress that holds the purse strings and which is the seat of power in this country. Personally, I think Bernie Sanders stands out above the rest of the presidential candidates, because he has the best sense of what would be good for his country and is willing to take on the powers that be. He realizes, as the rest of the candidates do not, that the real contest in this country is not between the Republicans and the Democrats but between the corporations that would take all the power and the people who are supposed to have it. But, the question is, can he work effectively with what has become a recalcitrant (for want of a better word) Congress tied to the wealthy by their purse strings?  I suspect not, sad to say. I suspect he is regarded as an outsider and would find himself running in place — unless by some miracle the voters manage to alter the make-up of the Congress and give him enough legislators to work with.

That, it seems to me, is the main question.