Monday, February 27, 2023

What I Am Tellling Them and Why

Yet another well-documented article today about the death of the humanities in higher education. Once again the issue that receives no consideration is the one that matters most to me.

What is left of humanities studies is nowadays centered on the politics of inclusion and how and if our study of being human will make for a more just world. Who could possibly object to these needs and aims? Of course the article further details the impracticalities and so the apparent irrelevance of college work that doesn't land a job with a particular skill and expertise purchased at this great expense. Thus the humanities are consigned to navel gazing and less than basket weaving. After all, who doesn't need a good basket and what how do Dante, Dickinson, Tu Fu, Kalidasa, Shakespeare, Patanjali, and Akka Mahadevi have any relevance to making at least a decent basket?

Undoubtedly accomplished students with STEM degrees are going to have employment opportunities and advantages going forward. No one could possibly dispute this and, you will recall, even Obama told students not to major in Art History. I knew then, in something like '08, that I was merely rearranging the deck chairs on civilization's Titanic.

It is a privilege to sail into the heart if life has presented you a near empty or too crowded life boat. But reducing life to survival, resources, and shelter is yet another kind of crime. We cannot make every conversation about survival if we are to live lives of value. We must do better. Everyone deserves the privilege of searching the heart and exploring the greatness of human creativities. I would suggest it's something of a necessity.

So I will continue to play in the string quartet even as the boat sinks. When these kids are 40 and success has brought its usual damages and life is beginning to catch up---sickness, children, death, aging parents, the rest---what will really finally get them is their impoverished souls. The gateways to the soul do not remain forever wide open. In truth, they narrow as we claim the benefits of worldly leisures and address the required banalities of success. The heart is never a desert but sooner or later you must drink from its well-springs and they are filled only with the resources of learning and creativity: if there is no poetry, no music, no literature, no critical thinking and mythic imagination, the thrist will dessicate, the soul will shrivel.

They are unprepared for life not because they have chosen STEM or something practical but because the most important things that are going to happen to them as human beings having nothing to do with practical matters. Without serious study of the human past and our literary and artistic achievements we will become a soul-less society. And of course incapable of claiming the resources we will need to live with ourselves.

The task of the humanities may involve our social and moral betterment but that is not its best or most important purpose. The reason we study human creativities---as we study myth and the rest---is because the deeply private experiences of the heart must enter into these conversations in order to be human at all. Neglect those efforts at your peril. At some point we are all going to recognize that the bell tolls for thee.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Making Peace In the All of It

"I read the news today, oh boy..."

And of course, no one likes the bad news. We seem to get a belly full nearly everyday if we dare to pay attention. To ignore it may be a matter of mental health. Just how much can we take? And the good news is that there usually is good news: life isn't just a vale of tears, life itself should never cease to be the wonder it is. We can make wonder but we can just as much appreciate what is right on offer.

To be grateful is heaven itself, as Blake reminds us, and to be paying attention to all the rest of the truth surely has its consequences. It's likely "bad for business" to offer up here, in social media, views that encourage the whole of the conversation. Why not just tell folks what we'd all prefer to hear? Wouldn't more come to your yoga class?

I've always maintained the yoga means engagement with everything we experience and that it asks us to be vigilant, serious, to develop our critical awareness, and not to shrink from the uncomfortable truths. That can prove stressful and make us reach for an alternative definition, that yoga provides us the relief, the reprieve, the place we go to find remission and restfulness from the world. That is not an argument without merit if we consider the full spectrum, especially from those proposing a nirvana (extinction) of the recurrent suffering (samsara).

But I've never been sold on the soporifics. I do love puppies (alot), rainbows, and memes about how we can distinguish suffering from pain as much as the next person. I don't love being in the fray or feeling frayed anymore than you. I'm not looking for a fight. Still I will not look away. I won't stop caring about learning the truth even when I can't do much about it.

We may be afraid of the truth because we've learned the hard way that it does not always set us free. This means however that we must take up the task of living with ourselves no matter our commitments to understanding and honesty.

A case in the news is worth our reflection on this matter, I think. You will have had to have paid at least some attention to the news to follow. There is far worse news in the news, so this will come as little surprise.

You will recall that Dominion is the name of the company that made voting machines used in th last election.  They were singled out by Trump, the insurrectionist conspirators, and the right wing media as having had a hand in "rigging the election."  Dominion has sued for defamation and this week the process of legal discovery proved unremarkable: Fox and its minions all knew there was no rigging, no fraud, that the case against Dominion was slander, false, a ruse to feed their audience the story they wanted to hear.  What we know now about the Dominion case is that the Fox Propaganda machine was concerned over their credibility in this one case because they actually had told the truth: Biden won. That was the problem. What they also knew was that their viewers were not willing or able to accept the truth. So they sustained the lies not because they believed them or even because they wanted to but for the money. (It's always the money, btw.) (H
ere's the op-ed from Michelle Goldberg that makes the case, plain as day:

Should these revelations concern Fox? That they've been outed and hold their audience in such contempt? Hardly. The Fox audience will either never hear (from Fox) or won't care that they've been had, that their heroes are grifters, liars, and frauds. People so determined to believe what they want will either find an excuse for them, deny the truth, or simply turn off any message that doesn't conform to their world view. Empires have been built on lies and fantasies with even less credence. Emperor Constantine knew this just like the Murdochs.

My point is simple enough: are we content to live in our safe delusions or do we dare to find out what's true? And then how do we choose to live with those facts of life?

I say, there is no time to be merely cynical. Better to hold fast to the heart, and while we reckon with our own foibles and flaws, sustain a certain humility for the difficult processes of learning and learning from our mistakes, we stay the course, we try to be human with all our will and effort. Being good may be optional but it is the better option. When others need help to withstand the onslaught, offer what you can. But don't turn aside. If you need help, reach out. Life's blessings should be abundant. Its upheavals will remind us there is more to do. Yoga can be about more than the easeful. Yoga can make peace with staying in the fray.