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  • Kishore Mahbubani: Freedom
    But freedom does not only solve problems; it can also cause them. The United States has undertaken a massive social experiment, tearing down social institution after social institution that restrained the individual. The results have been disastrous. Since 1960 the U.S. population has increased 41 percent while violent crime has risen by 560 percent, single-mother births by 419 percent, divorce rates by 300 percent and the percentage of children living in single-parent homes by 300 percent. This is massive social decay. Many a society shudders at the prospects of this happening on its shores. But instead of traveling overseas with humility, Americans confidently preach the virtues of unfettered individual freedom, blithely ignoring the visible social consequences.
  • Harold Pinter: Nobel Lecture
    There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.
  • Charles Darwin: The Descent of Man
    As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races.
  • Earnest Becker: The Denial of Death
    We have to go the way of the grasshopper even though it takes longer.
  • Johnson, Samuel: Rambler # 121 May 14, 1751
    "To learn is the proper business of youth; and whether we increase our knowledge by books or by conversation, we are equally indebted to foreign assistance."
  • Murray Rothbard: Education Free and Compulsory
    It is evident that the common enthusiasm for equality is, in the fundamental sense, anti-human. It tends to repress the flowering of individual personality and diversity, and civilization itself; it is a drive toward savage uniformity. Since abilities and interests are naturally diverse, a drive toward making people equal in all or most respects is necessarily a leveling downward. It is a drive against development of talent, genius, variety, and reasoning power. Since it negates the very principles of human life and human growth, the creed of equality and uniformity is a creed of death and destruction.
  • J. M. Cameron: Review of Becker's Denial of Death
    Life, for Becker, is a desperate business, in which a steady heroism before the terrors of existence is in general the only thing to be commended.
  • Mark Lilla: The Politics of God
    In the end, though, what happens on the opposite shore will not be up to us. We have little reason to expect societies in the grip of a powerful political theology to follow our unusual path, which was opened up by a unique crisis within Christian civilization. This does not mean that those societies necessarily lack the wherewithal to create a decent and workable political order; it does mean that they will have to find the theological resources within their own traditions to make it happen. "Our challenge is different. We have made a choice that is at once simpler and harder: we have chosen to limit our politics to protecting individuals from the worst harms they can inflict on one another, to securing fundamental liberties and providing for their basic welfare, while leaving their spiritual destinies in their own hands. We have wagered that it is wiser to beware the forces unleashed by the Bible’s messianic promise than to try exploiting them for the public good. We have chosen to keep our politics unilluminated by divine revelation. All we have is our own lucidity, which we must train on a world where faith still inflames the minds of men. NYTimes Magaziine, 8/19/2007
  • Richard Fields: The Land of Opportunity
    Immigration to the United States is not a problem. It is a phenomenon. The only way the United States can stop this phenomenon is by destroying the capitalist economy that draws immigrants here. We need to move in the direction of more open immigration, not in the direction of militarized borders fit only for a police state. Though it's been obscured by layers of cynical campaign rhetoric, the issue of immigration comes down to whether we want to restrict individual liberty to native-born Americans or offer it to everyone. If freedom works for us — and it does — what possible moral reason do we have to offer it to those born in San Diego, and deny it to those born inches away in Tijuana?
  • Edward O. Wilson: Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, 1998
    On the surface it would seem, and was so reported by the media, that the Rwandan catastrophe was ethnic rivalry run amok. That is true only in part. There was a deeper cause, rooted in environment and demography. Between 1950 and 1994 the population of Rwanda, favored by better health care and temporarily improved food supply, more than tripled, from 2.5 million to 8.5 million. In 1992 the country had the highest growth rate in the world, an average of 8 children per woman. Parturition began early, and generation times were short. But although total food production increased dramatically during this period, it was soon overbalanced by population growth. The average farm size dwindled as plots were divided from one generation to the next. Per capita grain production fell by half from 1960 to the early 1990s. Water was so overdrawn that hydrologists declared Rwanda one of the world's twenty-seven water-scarce countries. The teenage soldiers of the Hutu and Tutsi then set out to solve the population problem in the most direct possible way. Rwanda is a microcosm of the world. War and civil strife have many causes, most not related directly to environmental stress. But in general, overpopulation and the consequent dwindling of available resources are tinder that people pile up around themselves. The mounting anxiety and hardship are translated into enmity, and enmity into moral aggression. Scapegoats are identified, sometimes other political or ethic groups, sometimes neighboring tribes. The tinder continues to grow, awaiting the odd assassination, territorial incursion, atrocity, or other provocative incident to set it off. Rwanda is the most populated country in Africa. Burundi, its war torn neighbor, is second. Haiti and El Salvador, two of the chronically most troubled nations of the Western Hemisphere, are also among the most densely populated, exceeded only by five tiny island countries of the Caribbean. They are also arguable the most environmentally degraded.
  • Murray Rothbard: Rights of Animals
    There is, in fact, rough justice in the common quip that "we will recognize the rights of animals whenever they petition for them." The fact that animals can obviously not petition for their "rights" is part of their nature, and part of the reason why they are clearly not equivalent to, and do not possess the rights of, human beings. And if it be protested that babies can't petition either, the reply of course is that babies are future human adults, whereas animals obviously are not.
  • Dr. Kenneth R. Miller:
    When asked, “What do you say as a scientist about the soul?” Dr. Miller's answer is always the same: “As a scientist, I have nothing to say about the soul. It’s not a scientific idea.” Dr. Mller, a Roman Catholic and biologist at Brown University is the author of, “Finding Darwin’s God” (Harper, 1999)
  • Richard Rorty:
    "...if we can work together, we can make ourselves into whatever we are clever and courageous enough to imagine ourselves becoming.”
  • Richard J. Herrnstein:
    "It is easy to lie with statistics, but it's a lot easier to lie without them."
  • Michael Slackman: Quiet Revolution in Algeria
    In Algiers there is a whole class of young men referred to as hittistes — the word is a combination of French and Arabic for people who hold up walls.
  • Albert Einstein:
    Common sense is nothing more than a deposit of prejudices laid down by the mind before you reach age 18.
  • Neil Postman:
    "Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see."
  • Richard Elmore: Teacher Magazine 5/15/2007
    I urge people working on issues of instruction to pay attention to the work students are actually doing. In many classrooms where the teachers are working very hard, the kids are doing absolutely nothing because their job is to sit and listen quietly.
  • John Holt: Explanation is not teaching
    We teachers - perhaps all human beings - are in the grip of an astonishing delusion. We think that we can take a picture, a structure, a working model of something, constructed in our minds out of long experience and familiarity, and by turning that model into a string of words, transplant it whole into the mind of someone else. Perhaps once in a thousand times, when the explanation is extraordinary good, and the listener extraordinary experienced and skillful at turning word strings into non-verbal reality, and when the explainer and listener share in common many of the experiences being talked about, the process may work, and some real meaning may be communicated. Most of the time, explaining does not increase understanding, and may even lessen it.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson: Journal
    "I pay the school master, but 'tis the school boys that educate my son.:

Books I'm Reading

  • John I. Goodlad: A Place Called School
  • Edward de Bono: The five-day course in thinking
  • Editor, Carol Brightman: Between Friends, The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy
  • Leon Bottstein: Jefferson's Children
  • Lawrence A. Cremin: The Genius of American Education
  • Editor, Steven Fraser: The Bell Curve Wars
  • Mickey Kaus: The End of Equality
  • Neil Postman: The End of Education
  • Yann Martel: Life of Pi
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin: Team of Rivals

    Doris Kearns Goodwin: Team of Rivals


  • Google


« Schooling, not Education... | Main | The digital brain »

August 09, 2007

Out of Africa

Some 60,000 years ago the "first humans" left the African continent, moving into Europe and Asia, eventually replacing already established populations such as those of the Neandertals. How many were there? Adam and Eve? And their children? A few thousand? Perhaps as many as 50,000? But there were not 7 billion of them, the present human population of the earth.

It is clear that man has more than survived. From a few thousand to billions of us in just 50,000 years. In fact, if the numbers of us were the only measure, one would have to say that the human species was one great success story.

Those who worry about man's survival are perhaps really worried about the earth's, if not survival, at least its continued ability to support billions and billions of us, especially if those billions were to double during the next fifty years, as they did,  actually more than doubled, during the past fifty years. Those who study these things tell us that this won't happen, and that by 2050 the world's population will have crested at 10 billion.

This is our history. It ought to be a part of the common knowledge of us all. We ought to rejoice in the fact that never before have we known so much about where we have come from, although never before has there been so much that we clearly do not yet know.

But most have resisted the knowledge of our past, that deep history of man's journey so far on this earth, and instead are more and more preoccupied with the immediate past, a shallow history of families and nations. Most go on believing stories of the past that science has clearly shown to be at best myths of our origins and not historical accounts of what came before.

Our being taken up with the immediate past of families and nations prevents us from putting our present problems into an historical context where they might eventually be lessened if not fully resolved.

Education is such a problem. Instead of looking at how past human groups successfully integrated their young into their adult lives we look only to reform if not fix the broken pieces of a system that is more and more failing us and our children.

Immigration is such a problem. Instead of seeing this as a world-wide phenomenon, not merely a local problem, and not essentially different from the movement of Africans into Europe and Asia some 60000 years ago, nations see the problem as one of inadequate barriers placed between them to slow if not stop the flow of their people.

The movement of peoples into more advantageous climes is much more fundamental to man's life on this earth than the separation of peoples into nations. Yet because we don't accept what science has told us about the nature of the human species, about how we are much more all the same than all different, we go on making everything of our differences, which as a rule are only skin or culture deep.

Francis A. Walker, in 1896, at the time president of MIT, had this to say about immigration:  "Within the decade between 1880 and 1890 five and a quarter millions of foreigners entered our ports! No nation in human history ever undertook to deal with such masses of alien population. That man must be a sentimentalist and an optimist beyond all bounds of reason who believes that we can take such a load upon the national stomach without a failure of assimilation, and without great danger to the health and life of the nation. For one, I believe it is time that we should take a rest, and give our social, political, and industrial system some chance to recuperate. The problems which so sternly confront us to-day are serious enough without being complicated and aggravated by the addition of some millions of Hungarians, Bohemians, Poles, south Italians, and Russian Jews."  (Atlantic Monthly, June 1896)

Sound familiar? You will agree, it does. And that's a tragedy in itself. For over 100 years later, in June of 2007, politicians of all stripes were saying very similar things about immigration, and thereby blocking what might have become a liberalization of our immigration policies.

There is a difference between now and 100 years ago. We now separate between those who have the right to come here and those who don't, between legals and illegals. It would be interesting to know when immigrants to our country gained the designation illegal. It certainly wasn't in the time of the first settlers to Jamestown and Plymouth. Nor was it during the floods of immigrants from Ireland and Germany during the second half of the 19th. century. I don't think Francis Walker even used the term illegal, that which is the pet of the anti-immigrant talk show host today.

Was the term coined to keep citizens from our close "friend" and neighbor, Mexico, from crossing the Rio Grande? If it was it didn't work, because the Mexicans, no less than the Africans 50000 years ago, needed to move to where there were greater life possibilities, and so they moved, and are still moving and will keep on moving in spite of the nation that would put a barrier in their way.

Why don't we welcome those that want to come here with open arms? It's not as if we are increasing the world's population by taking them in. They only take up one place on the earth there or here. This is the other side of the debate, that many have defended, the side that I am on.

In that same Atlantic publication, but in 1983, 87 years after Francis Walker's "Restricting Immigration" essay, James Fallows suggests that "the reality is in fact the opposite [from what Walker then and Tancredo now supposed] because immigration tends to select for those who are especially resilient, adaptable, and hardworking, immigrants being probably more of a boon to this country than a burden."

If he had been writing 50000 years ago Mr. Fallows would have probably said the same thing about the Africans leaving the continent to bring new life to Europe and Asia.



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