Millions are becoming premodern — communicating in electronic grunts that substitute for effective and dignified expression.
Victor David Hanson
People are starved for the practical. They want to know what to put into practice now to build a better, more successful tomorrow. They are impatient; they have little time to reflect, ponder… they want to “do it,” they want to “just do it,” and they want it done by this afternoon.
And they are impatient in every way. Like… why spend all those semesters studying subjects in school that do not have immediate, practical application?
As a result, the “liberal arts” are in trouble. And, in my opinion, this is a bad development, maybe a devastating one.
Andrew Sullivan has treated this as a recent major theme on his blog, with multiple posts, with excerpts from opinion leader and readers responses. With his post The Use of Uselessness, Andrews linked to this article in the National Review Online, In Defense of the Liberal Arts: the therapeutic Left and the utilitarian Right both do disservice to the humanities, by Victor David Hanson. I really do encourage you to read the entire article. Here are a number of excerpts – worth reading for a Sunday reflection:
In such a climate, it is unsurprising that once again we hear talk of cutting the “non-essentials” in our colleges, such as Latin, Renaissance history, Shakespeare, Plato, Rembrandt, and Chopin. Why do we cling to the arts and humanities in a high-tech world in which we have instant recall at our fingertips through a Google search and such studies do not guarantee sure 21st-century careers?
But the liberal arts train students to write, think, and argue inductively, while drawing upon evidence from a shared body of knowledge. Without that foundation, it is harder to make — or demand from others — logical, informed decisions about managing our supercharged society as it speeds on by.
Without links to our heritage, we in ignorance begin to think that our own modern challenges — the war in Afghanistan, gay marriage, cloning, or massive deficits — are unique and not comparable to those solved in the past.
And without citizens broadly informed by the humanities, we descend into a pyramidal society. A tiny technocratic elite on top crafts everything from cell phones and search engines to foreign policy and economic strategy. A growing mass below has neither understanding of the present complexity nor the basic skills to question what they are told.
On the other hand, pragmatists argued that our 20-year-old future CEOs needed to learn spreadsheets rather than why Homer’s Achilles did not receive the honors he deserved, or how civilization was lost in fifth-century Rome and 1930s Germany. But Latin or a course in rhetoric might better teach a would-be captain of industry how to dazzle his audience than a class in Microsoft PowerPoint.
The more instantaneous our technology, the more we are losing the ability to communicate. Twitter and text-messaging result in economy of expression, not in clarity or beauty. Millions are becoming premodern — communicating in electronic grunts that substitute for effective and dignified expression. Indeed, by inventing new abbreviations and linguistic shortcuts, we are losing a shared written language altogether, in a way analogous to the fragmentation of Latin as the Roman Empire imploded into tribal provinces. No wonder the public is drawn to stories like The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, in which characters speak beautifully and believe in age-old values.
I teach Speech at the Community College Level. I lead Presentation Skills training sessions for corporate clients. I start both in the same way – with Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric (“finding the available means of persuasion”), and the centrality of logos, ethos, and pathos. This foundational understanding of persuasion is still the best there is – and it always will be. Understanding the foundations really is important. And, after that, we can get to the practical, the “how to…” Skipping the foundations is simply skipping too far ahead.
I think we need to save some time for something deeper than, more timeless, than, the immediately practical. Don’t you?