Intellectual Self-Help for Humanists
So if you want to read a really thoughtful and combative commencement speech, here's Leon Wieseltier's (the literary editor of the New Republic) deep and inspiring intellectual defense of the humanities against scientism and technologism. I'll leave it to you to read the speech. It's short, after all.
Let me just offer a five-point self-help program for beleagured humanists based on Wielseltier’s beautiful concluding paragraph:
1. “Keep your head.” Don’t let anger or other self-indulgent emotion keep you from thinking clearly. Don’t think for a moment that you’re about the “heart” and scientists are about the “head.” Philosophy, science, and literature are modes of knowing. Any scientist who doesn't fall prey to the ideology of scientism must acknowledge that what you know eludes his method and should be beyond the scope of his inquiry.
2. “Be very proud.” What we really know supports our proud claim to be the beings open to the truth and both capable of and required to act responsibly in light of what really know. The articulation of our reasoned pride has always belonged to the humanities. Be proud of your defense of pride, of the true dignity of the human person.
3. “Use new technologies of the old purposes.” Technology is merely a how, and it doesn’t transform what really know about who we are and what we’re supposed to do at all. Technology isn’t good or evil. It’s useful. Technologies make our lives better in many ways, but they need not be as fundamentally disruptive or transformative as some say. Technology unguided by the old purposes—the good, the true, and the beautiful—can, of course, make our lives worse and even threaten the very future of human freedom and dignity.
4. “Do not be rattled by numbers, which will never be the springs of wisdom.” Again, keep your head, put quantitative data in its place. It too is useful. But doesn’t replace Plato or Shakespeare or Pascal; it can’t express what they know in some different and more precise form. Professors especially: Resist the scientism that suggests that what you do can be captured or validated by "measurable competencies" and "quantitative assessment."
5. Remember that “as long as we are thinking and feeling creatures, creatures who love and imagine and suffer and die, the humanities will never be dispensable.” Think and act with the seriousness of purpose and responsibility of someone making an indispensable contribution to understanding the predicament in which each one of us is really placed. Don’t try to justify what you do according to the ideological standards of technologism and scientism. It should be obvious to any reasonable person, after all, how degrading and often ridiculous those crudely reductionistic standards really are.
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The 21st century is experiencing an Asianization of politics, business, and culture.
- Our theories about the world, even about history or the geopolitics of the present, tend to be shaped by Anglo perspectives of the Western industrial democracies, particularly those in the United States and the United Kingdom.
- The West, however, is not united. Canada, for instance, acts in many ways that are not in line with American or British policies, particularly in regard to populism. Even if it were united, though, it would not represent most of the world's population.
- European ideas, such as parliamentary democracy and civil service, spread across the world in the 19th century. In the 20th century, American values such as entrepreneurialism went global. In the 21st century, however, what we're seeing now is an Asianization — an Asian confidence that they can determine their own political systems, their own models, and adapt to their own circumstances.
Research has shown that men today have less testosterone than they used to. What's happening?
- Several studies have confirmed that testosterone counts in men are lower than what they used to be just a few decades ago.
- While most men still have perfectly healthy testosterone levels, its reduction puts men at risk for many negative health outcomes.
- The cause of this drop in testosterone isn't entirely clear, but evidence suggests that it is a multifaceted result of modern, industrialized life.
Can sensitive coral reefs survive another human generation?
- Coral reefs may not be able to survive another human decade because of the environmental stress we have placed on them, says author David Wallace-Wells. He posits that without meaningful changes to policies, the trend of them dying out, even in light of recent advances, will continue.
- The World Wildlife Fund says that 60 percent of all vertebrate mammals have died since just 1970. On top of this, recent studies suggest that insect populations may have fallen by as much as 75 percent over the last few decades.
- If it were not for our oceans, the planet would probably be already several degrees warmer than it is today due to the emissions we've expelled into the atmosphere.
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