Monday, December 31, 2018

Sustaining Civilization, Our Most Pressing Educational Priority

Here on January 2019 we are 19 percent through the 21st century.  I have had many concerns and interests for the education of our children, but I have not believed until now that I could articulate the most pressing priority for this century.  I think I have it now.  I believe our most pressing educational priority is to sustain our civilization.  This goal might seem trite.  This priority might seem a platitude if you have not noticed our slide towards barbarism.  Irving Kristol said, "every generation faces a barbarian threat in its own children, who need to be civilized." [1]

There are many attributes to our Western civilization.  Here I single out the keystone of our culture:  truth.  Again, you might think this trite, but I assure you that significant elements within our society no longer believe in objective truth.  Look at the book, What's the Use of Truth?, where Richard Rorty and Pascal Engel debate the value of truth [2].  See also how the Der Spiegel reporter Claas Reotius fabricated an anti-Trump story, with Der Spiegel admitting their reporter was a liar [3].  George Lichtheim, the German-born intellectual,  has called truth a naive concept [4].

As counter-point Jeanne M. Heffernan, a partner in the law firm Kirkland & Ellis, has said, "The role of truth in our judicial system is central." [5]  Our perception of truth in the world is projected onto our system of laws through the principal of Natural Law.  The civilization of the United States of America is based on the Rule of Law and guided by the truths perceived as Natural Law.  The American Constitution is the prime example of this manifestation of American civilization.

I have been watching our country slide towards barbarism for decades.  I remember around 1990 reading an article about a high school boy who murdered a girl, a classmate, and how he would take classmates to the woods to show them the dead body.  Many students viewed the body over a number a weeks before one student called authorities.  This is wide spread barbarism because every student who saw and did not call the police was as barbaric as the murderer.  This story was not on national TV and not on page one of the paper.  It was in a small article on the inside pages of the newspaper.

James Bulger
The murder of James Bulger got more attention.  James was an innocent 2 year old boy led away by two 10 year old boys who tortured and beat him to death in England in 1990.  I will always remember this sad end to James Bulger because I remember how sweet my children were at the age of two.  This murder was barbaric.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in 1999 committed the first mass school shooting at Columbine High School.  At this point the slide towards barbarism became more steep, and killing of students by classmates continues to accelerate.

Political Barbarism
There is now a group of political barbarians calling themselves "Antifa."  Their tactics resemble the Nazi Brown Shirts and Mussolini's Fascist Black Shirts.  You might think that political violence is only an anti-Trump phenomenon, but I remind you that in 2014 when Google hired buses to take its employees to work, instead of getting accolades for reducing carbon emissions by having fewer cars on the road, political barbarians attacked the buses and threatened Google employees.  Tom Perkins, the famous entrepreneur and venture capitalist,  on January 24, 2014, wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal editor, "Progressive Kristallnacht Coming?" where he expressed his concern about the violence, reminding us that violence was the method of the Nazis.  Left wing thuggery continues. Very recently, on November 2018, Antifa thugs terrorized the wife of news commentator Tucker Carlson.

Violence Can be Fun
The Burning Man festival is held every year in the Nevada desert.  This event celebrates the abandonment of civilization in what appears to be harmless fun, a harmless pseudo-barbarism.  Violent action contrary to civilized behavior, the standard definition of barbarism , can also be fun for some people.  If you watch the film Battle in Seattle about the riots at the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, some of the rioters are depicted as having fun at their riot.  This depiction was based on interviews with the rioters.  One lady protestor, in the segment "Behind the Scenes - The Making of Battle in Seattle," said, "Seattle was fabulous.  It was our Woodstock.  If you weren't there, you pretended you were."  In a New York Times OpEd, Sarah Jaffe said, "the exhilaration of revolt can take many forms, and once learned, it’s hard to forget."[6]  Not only do some people enjoy violence, but they find it addictive.  Civilized people feel a sense of shame or worry after violent behavior.  Barbarians find real violence fun.  They are shameless.

What Can We Do About Barbarism?
Supporters of violent action use twisted logic and out right lies to justify most thuggish political violence.  You will find well educated people articulate a defense of our slide towards barbarism.  We need to see through their web of deceit, and we need to educate our children so they also see through this web of deceit.  Our clear perception means little if our children are misled.

What we should do to sustain our civilization is (1) believe it is worth sustaining, (2) love our civilization, (3) and teach our children that objective truth should be sought, embraced and supported.  The basics of elementary education from the ancients was called the Trivium:  grammar, logic, and rhetoric.  We teach grammar and rhetoric in the public schools, but there is no canonical methodology for teaching logic. We need to correct that.

We need to teach logic and logical thinking to our children as a set of tools to seek truth in order to sustain our civilization.  Is this all that is necessary?  No, there is more to do.  Respect for truth, and the skills to find truth are necessary, but not sufficient.  Respect for truth is necessary to understand right from wrong.  A society that cannot distinguish right from wrong is doomed to heartache.


1.  Irving Kristol quote from Radical Son by David Horowitz, The Free Press, 1997, page 3.
2.  What's the Use of Truth? by Richard Rorty and Pascal Engel, William McCuaig Translator, Columbia University Press, 2007.
3.  Germany’s Der Spiegel Says Reporter Made Up Facts by Bojan Pancevski and Sara Germano, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 20, 2018.
4.  Marxism: An Historical and Critical Study by George Lichtheim, Columbia University Press, 1964.  On page xvii he says, "The naive view that doctrines are either true or false, no other judgement being allowed, takes no account of the practical significance of theory...."
5.  The Itsy-Bitsy, Teenie-Weenie, Very Litigious Bikini by Katherine Rosman, New York Times Dec. 20, 2018, pages 1, 8, 9 in the Business section.
6.  The Exhilaration of Revolt by Sarah Jaffe, New York Times December 28, 2018

 Copyright © 2019 Robert Canright, all rights reserved
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