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Friday, June 21, 2013

David Brooks, "The Humanist Vocation": In Search of a Lost Soul

I just arrived back from Afghanistan with my MRAP (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/06/meet-our-next-car-mrap.html), and yes, I'm tired. The flights were delayed, there were so many MRAPs to choose from, but it was well worth the effort. I've already noticed that I'm not getting much in the way of miles per gallon, and its 0-60 acceleration is slow, but you should see how people stare as I drive by them! Who cares if I cause traffic jams by occupying two lanes? How did Borat describe such a vehicle?:

Borat: A man yesterday, tell me if I buy a car I must buy one with a pussy magnet.
Car Dealership owner: He means a car that women like.
Borat: Yes, but where do you keep this magnet?
Car Dealership owner: No. There's no magnet he just means the vehicle. Women love the Hummers.
Borat: Do this have a pussy magnet?
Car Dealership owner: No. The vehicle itself would be a magnet.
Borat: If I give you good price, will you please put in pussy magnet?

Which brings me to David Brooks's latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Humanist Vocation" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/21/opinion/brooks-the-humanist-vocation.html?_r=0) (I know, that wasn't much of a segue). You will recall that in response to Brooks's prior op-ed, "Beyond the Brain" (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/06/david-brooks-beyond-brain-brain-is-not.html), I wrote:

"Yes, as terror, cruelty, greed and poverty swirl around us, we should continue to marvel at the sublime human mind.

And if we have a mind, do we have a soul? Truly, a soul-searching issue . . ."

Well, whether or not he reads my blog, he certainly picked up my gauntlet, and today, decrying the demise of the teaching of humanities, Brooks writes:

"A half-century ago, 14 percent of college degrees were awarded to people who majored in the humanities. Today, only 7 percent of graduates in the country are humanities majors. Even over the last decade alone, the number of incoming students at Harvard who express interest in becoming humanities majors has dropped by a third.

Most people give an economic explanation for this decline. Accounting majors get jobs. Lit majors don’t. And there’s obviously some truth to this. But the humanities are not only being bulldozed by an unforgiving job market. They are committing suicide because many humanists have lost faith in their own enterprise."

Humanists have lost faith in their own enterprise? Philosophers don't get jobs? How can this possibly be, given the election of Barack Obama and the advent of "Hope" and "Change," which have morphed into "Forward," which is, by the way, why I just bought an MRAP. "Forward" in an MRAP is fine, but reverse can be a nightmare.

But I stray from the matter at hand. Brooks continues his opinion piece by declaring:

"Back when the humanities were thriving, the leading figures had a clear definition of their mission and a fervent passion for it. The job of the humanities was to cultivate the human core, the part of a person we might call the spirit, the soul, or, in D.H. Lawrence’s phrase, 'the dark vast forest.'"

Ah yes . . . the "soul"! I told you, I knew it was coming. "On the Soul" by Aristotle? I wouldn't do that to you. Rather, I will confine myself to the elucidating declaration by Andre the Giant in the 1987 gem "The Princess Bride":

Fezzik: The Dread Pirate Roberts is here for your souls!

In fact, I had much time to contemplate my soul earlier this morning while driving down the highway in my new MRAP with the roof down. You see, I studied philosophy at the University of Chicago, and later learned law, and was forced to reeducate myself twice.

Reeducate myself? Okay, no one is willing to pay you today for introducing Immanuel Kant into negotiations (either you can, or you can't), but law? There's no market for law? To make matters short, I would refer you to the 1992 comedy "My Cousin Vinny":

Mona Lisa Vito: Don't you wanna know why Trotter gave you his files?
Vinny Gambini: I told you why already.
Mona Lisa Vito: He has to, by law, you're entitled. It's called disclosure, you dickhead! He has to show you everything, otherwise it could be a mistrial. He has to give you a list of all his witnesses, you can talk to all his witnesses, he's not allowed any surprises.
[Vinny has a blank look on his face]
Mona Lisa Vito: They didn't teach you that in law school either?

In fact, I vaguely recall them teaching me "legal ethics" at law school. It's the equivalent of "giant shrimp."

Yet again I stray from the human soul and its ineluctable corollaries, honesty and morality. Allow me to quote from a masterful opinion piece by George Will entitled "Obama hits a wall in Berlin" in today's Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/george-f-will-obama-hits-a-wall-in-berlin/2013/06/20/bfff0426-d9df-11e2-a016-92547bf094cc_story.html?hpid=z2), concerning Obama's speech on Wednesday at the Brandenburg Gate:

"Shifting his strange focus from Russia’s nuclear weapons, Obama said “we can . . . reject the nuclear weaponization that North Korea and Iran may be seeking.” Were Obama given to saying such stuff off the cuff, this would be a good reason for handcuffing him to a teleprompter. But, amazingly, such stuff is put on his teleprompter and, even more amazing, he reads it aloud.

Neither the people who wrote those words nor he who spoke them can be taken seriously. North Korea and Iran may be seeking nuclear weapons? North Korea may have such weapons. Evidently Obama still entertains doubts that Iran is seeking them.

In Northern Ireland before going to Berlin, Obama sat next to Putin, whose demeanor and body language when he is in Obama’s presence radiate disdain. There Obama said: 'With respect to Syria, we do have differing perspectives on the problem, but we share an interest in reducing the violence.' Differing perspectives?

Obama wants to reduce the violence by coaxing Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, who is winning the war, to attend a conference at which he negotiates the surrender of his power. Putin wants to reduce the violence by helping — with lavish materiel assistance and by preventing diplomacy that interferes — Assad complete the destruction of his enemies."

Hiding from scandals at home, Obama is also evading international truth.

A human soul? I don't know, however, I sure as heck believe in human evil, which needs to be confronted. Obama is doing his best to avoid the issue.

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