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Conservative Liberal Education?
One reason I can’t buy the claim that conservative intellectual has become an oxymoron is that on our campuses it's so often the conservatives who defend “liberal education.” I’m going to sketch out the understanding of “liberal education” or “general education” shared by me and many of my fellow professorial conservatives (a tiny and shrinking minority oppressed from all sides if ever there was one).
What liberal education is is controversial. We can say, for the moment, that it’s education for leadership, for being a free person. In other times and kinds of societies, liberal education was understood to be for the few, for those who were born and/or bred to rule. A liberal educated man knows how to rule himself and others, and how to take pride or proper pleasure in assuming responsibility for what he can't help but know and for doing what he has a duty to do.
Liberal education, in one view, is for citizens. Those free men are to be distinguished from women, servants or slaves, and others excluded from political life. For the latter, technical education—such as household management—would be sufficient. Ancient Athens called itself a democracy but functioned as a kind of aristocracy. Its theory was that citizens should know enough to deliberate about the laws required for the flourishing of free men. That meant, as Aristotle said, that “political science” in this sense included at least some knowledge about the whole human good—which includes, of course, ethics, politics, and science. It also includes, of course, detailed and critical knowledge of the customs, traditions, and so forth that distinguish the Athenian way of life—the way of life of a particular people occupying a particular place in the world—from the way of life followed by other peoples in other places.
The Athenian philosophers, it goes without saying, knew there was a kind of universal or natural knowledge sharable, in principle, by all people everywhere. But access to “the universal” is best pursued through “the particular,” through deliberation about problems a particular people actually share—as well as more personal deliberation about what it means to be a particular being—a self-conscious, contingent mortal—in the cosmos.
The American view, of course, is all about universal citizenship. As our friendly critic G.K. Chesterton observed, America has been, from its beginning, “a home for the homeless,” because any and all of the displaced people in the world can find a political home here. America is “a nation with the soul of the church,” because anyone who accepts our Declaration’s dogmatic claims about human equality and the rights shared by us all can, in principle, be an American. So America—the political community—is like a church in the sense that anyone—regardless of race, class, gender, cultural background, and religion—can belong.
That means, of course, in America everyone is to be educated to be a free person or citizen. Part of our understanding of freedom does involve the self-sufficiency that comes from being able to work effectively for oneself. But a citizen—a free person—does more than work. Deliberating about who we are as a people must involve knowledge of our history, political life, common morality, and shared philosophy and religious assumptions. In America, everyone works, and so no one has the right to claim some kind of leisurely freedom from the requirements of being productive. In America, everyone has the right and duty to be educated to be more than a productivity machine, to be able to use one’s freedom well. In America, the hope is, our free economy and high technology will allow everyone to have some time for leisure, which will be for more than mere recreation.
Liberal education, to repeat, is education for freedom. It’s what citizens need to know to rule and be ruled in turn. It’s not mainly education concerning the technical components of some contemporary public policy controversy. It’s thoughtful consideration of the fundamental moral and political controversies that animate our way of life. Those controversies are embodied in the Declaration of Independence, The Federalist, the Anti-Federalists, the major speeches of our most profound statesmen and stateswomen and political commentators (such as Frederick Douglass and Jane Addams), and our key Court opinions. It also includes reading the best of our friendly critics, such as Chesterton, Tocqueville, and even the clever postmodernist Baudrillard. Ideally, it would include some of our politically astute works of literature, from Tom Sawyer to True Grit to Invisible Man.
How is it possible for citizens today to discuss thoughtfully and with genuine openness same-sex marriage or abortion or our imploding entitlements without some sense that both sides to the controversies animated by these issues occupy some part of our political and intellectual tradition?
The right to life vs. the right to choose is the way of framing the abortion controversy that flows from our Declaration. Surely we can begin to talk once we acknowledge that both sides make a claim based on the American understanding of justice. It’s on the basis of that common understanding or inheritance or claim to truth about who we are that we can reason together in attempting to correct the errors of our well-intention American opponents. It goes without saying that our deliberation should include what our scientists today claim to know that our political fathers didn’t.
Liberal education, for us Americans, is not only about the freedom of citizens but personal freedom. The opposite of a free citizen, from the classical view, was a slave. From a personal view, the free person is someone who isn’t enslaved to the forces that surround him OR her, and so is able to rule effectively himself or herself. The free person isn’t enslaved to technology or History or the market or fashion or public opinion or bodily passion or even social instinct.
That personal freedom isn’t something we’re given automatically, It’s not even something that emerges automatically with some combination of high technology and the removal of judgmental social stigmatizing and political oppression. It depends on the formation of character. Admittedly, that formation probably shouldn’t be the job of higher education. It was a job once reserved mainly to the family, local community, church, and even military service. But also admit that lots of young people come to college pretty clueless about who they are and what they’re supposed to do. To win their own freedom, they need intellectual, cultural, and literary resources that are often absent from our increasingly libertarian or permissive world. Liberal education in a democracy surely has some responsibility along these lines.
More soon, I’ve reached the common-sense limit for any blog post.
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Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?
- From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
- "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
- Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.
A growing body of research suggests COVID-19 can cause serious neurological problems.
- The new study seeks to track the health of 50,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
- The study aims to explore whether the disease causes cognitive impairment and other conditions.
- Recent research suggests that COVID-19 can, directly or indirectly, cause brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage and other neurological problems.
Brain images of a patient with acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis.
COVID-19 and the brain<p>A growing body of research reveals alarming neurological complications among COVID-19 patients. On Wednesday, for example, researchers from University College London published a <a href="https://academic.oup.com/brain/article/doi/10.1093/brain/awaa240/5868408" target="_blank">study</a> in the journal Brain that describes how some patients have suffered temporary brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage, and other neurological problems concurrent with COVID-19.</p><p>Some patients suffered brain inflammation as a result of a rare disease called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which can cause numbness, seizures, and confusion. One patient in the study even hallucinated monkeys and lions in her home.</p>
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images<p>A separate study published in the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7198407/" target="_blank">Journal of Clinical Neuroscience</a> notes that some COVID-19 patients have also suffered neurological complications like impaired consciousness and acute cerebrovascular disease. The study notes that past viruses like MERS and SARS also seemed to cause neurological problems.</p><p>A troubling finding among this growing body of research is that some patients seem to suffer neurological damage even when respiratory symptoms aren't obvious. Additionally, scientists aren't sure whether damage from the disease will be permanent.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Given that the disease has only been around for a matter of months, we might not yet know what long-term damage COVID-19 can cause," Dr. Ross Paterson, joint first author of the University College London study, said in a <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/ucl-iid070620.php" target="_blank">press release</a>. "Doctors needs to be aware of possible neurological effects, as early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes."</p><p>If you've been diagnosed with COVID-19 and want to enroll in the study, visit <a href="https://www.cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study" target="_blank">cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study</a>.</p>
Coronavirus layoffs are a glimpse into our automated future. We need to build better education opportunities now so Americans can find work in the economy of tomorrow.