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Quotations

  • Simon Blackburn: An Unbeautiful Mind
    Polkinghorne holds the belief that unless some things last forever, everything is futile, a "meaningless empire of accident." This would wipe the smile off the face of many scientists. For science is not good about "forever." It paints a different picture of the world in which we find ourselves. Science teaches that the cosmos is some fifteen billion years old, almost unimaginably huge, and governed by natural laws that will compel its extinction in some billions more years, although long before that the Earth and the solar system will have been destroyed by the heat death of the sun. Human beings occupy an infinitesimally small fraction of space and time, on the edge of one galaxy among a hundred thousand million or so galaxies. We evolved only because of a number of cosmic accidents, including the extinction of the dinosaurs some sixty-five million years ago. Nature shows us no particular favors: we get parasites and diseases and we die, and we are not all that nice to each other. True, we are moderately clever, but our efforts to use our intelligence to make things better for ourselves quite often backfire, and they may do so spectacularly in the near future, from some combination of manmade military, environmental, or genetic disasters.
  • Roger Scruton: The West and the Rest
    "It is thanks to Western prosperity, Western legal systems, Western forms of banking, and Western communications that human initiatives now reach so easily across frontiers to affect the lives and aspirations of people all over the globe. However, Western civilization depends on an idea of citizenship that is not global at all, but rooted in territorial jurisdiction and national loyalty. By contrast, Islam, which has been until recently remote from the Western world and without the ability to project its message, is founded on an ideal of godliness which is entirely global in its significance, and which regards territorial jurisdiction and national loyalty as compromises with no intrinsic legitimacy of their own. Although there have been attempts to manufacture nationalisms both appropriate to the Islamic temperament and conducive to a legitimate political order, they have fragmented under the impact of sectarian or tribal allegiances, usually giving way to military dictatorship or one-man, one-family, or one-party tyranny. Islam itself remains, in the hearts of those who live under these tyrannies, a permanent call to a higher life, and a reminder that power and corruption will rule in this world until the reign established by the Prophet is restored."
  • Adam Smith: Wealth of Nations 1776
    The difference of natural talents in different men is, in reality, much less than we are aware of; and the very different genius which appears to distinguish men of different professions, when grown up to maturity, is not upon many occasions so much the cause as the effect of the division of labour. The difference between the most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature as from habit, custom, and education. When they came into the world, and for the first six or eight years of their existence, they were perhaps very much alike, and neither their parents nor playfellows could perceive any remarkable difference. About that age, or soon after, they come to be employed in very different occupations. The difference of talents comes then to be taken notice of, and widens by degrees, till at last the vanity of the philosopher is willing to acknowledge scarce any resemblance. But without the disposition to truck, barter, and exchange, every man must have procured to himself every necessary and conveniency of life which he wanted. All must have had the same duties to perform, and the same work to do, and there could have been no such difference of employment as could alone give occasion to any great difference of talents.
  • 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."

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January 28, 2008

Disconnect

The word is disconnect. The word that is being used to understand what happened on the night of December 28 at the, now museum, farm house home of Robert Frost in Ripton, Vermont.

Some 28 teens and young twenties, men and women, boys and girls, spent the night in the farm house drinking, and while doing so trashing the Homer Noble Farm where Frost himself used to reside during his stay at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.

At Middlebury Union High School that many of the party going teens attended "administrators and teachers are [still] talking about disconnection."

Gary Margolis, Associate Professor of English and American Literatures at nearby Middlebury College, admitting that it was not uncommon that high school students party, was bothered, however, by the "disconnect." By the fact that these kids grew up around here and [ought to have known] "that the place is somehow special."

Jay Parini, Professor of English and Creative Writing and author of Robert Frost: A Life, commented, "There are many ways this could be used as a teaching opportunity to talk to the nation about the value of poetry."

Gary Margolis added, "I would hope they would build in more than that. I would hope there would be an educational component, an opportunity for them to learn about this place they were just in, a place unique to where they live. And maybe they would have to write a poem about it."

Now there is certainly a disconnect between the kids and Robert Frost. But there is no less a disconnect between the literature professors and the kids. Do they really believe the things they say? "A teaching opportunity to talk to the nation about the value of poetry?!" "An educational component, an opportunity for them to learn about his place... have to write a poem about it?!"

In my experience we march our kids through our museums (not to mention our classrooms) believing (?) that some of the depth and beauty of the museum contents will somehow reach them, rub off on them, whereas if you've ever been a part of this charade you will know that the museum contents and the kids are world's apart and will remain that way certainly throughout the length of the visit. Disconnect.

What happened at the Homer Noble Farm may for a day or two be, as Parini and Margolis propose, an opportunity to talk about the value of Frost's poetry, perhaps an occasion to have the kids write a poem or two of their own. But shortly thereafter the disconnect between what the kids, at least most of them, are doing and thinking while in school, and what we think we are doing to them, with them, for them, will go on.

Things may be learned in school, but most often not those things at the top of our wish lists for our kids, things like civil behavior and responsible citizenship, respect for one's surroundings, respect for the past, appreciation of art and literature and music, the value of sacrifice and hard work and all such.

All such things learned, in fact the content of the most important lessons life has to offer, stem much more from example and experience than from the classroom. In the present instance perhaps a closeness to the poet, perhaps the living example of Robert Frost himself, might have spared the farm house from the teen onslaught during a night of drinking and partying. We will never know.

The disconnect, however, is all about us. Adults are disconnected from their children. Children are disconnected from the places they live. I give you the example of Kenya today, the daily images that strike us on the front pages of our newspapers, the bodies of children and adults, the teenagers at war with other teens, pictured on the front page of the New York Times shooting at one another with bows and arrows.

Kenya_3371


In Kenya the disconnect between the teens and the place where they have lived all their lives is no less pronounced than that between the Ripton, Vt teens and the Robert Frost farm house and heritage, both within their own community.

For the Kenyan teens live in the Rift Valley, that several thousand mile stretch of land running from the Red Sea in the north, down through central Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, all the way to Mozambique in the south. The valley, an infinitely greater and more precious heritage than the farmhouse, was very possibly the birthplace of our species. Fossil finds here during the past 50 years have pointed to our common origin in Africa.

The disconnect? Kenyan teens ought to have known that they were descendants of the very first humans, that they were close cousins of the teens who were the targets of their arrows, that the clan differences between them, the reason why the killings were taking place at all, were in fact of little or no significance.

Furthermore, had they ever been told that their ancestors were also our ancestors, and that all of us are members of one single species, cousins sharing a common biological heritage?

Of course they didn't know this. They hadn't learned this in school (although they may very well have been told it), no more than the Ripton, Vt. teens had learned that Robert Frost's poems were their heritage, and that the poet could have been no less precious to them as he is to us, someone from whom they might have gained insights of real importance to their own lives.

What did they gain from a night of drinking and carousing? What did the Kenyan teens gain from the bow and arrow shootout with their peers?

But perhaps things had to happen the way they did. The disconnect may really boil down to that between the young and the old. For are we really surprised by the behavior of the Ripton and Kenyan teens? Probably not.

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