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Why are we here? (Colleges ignore life's biggest questions, and we all pay the price)
Boston Globe ^ | 16 September 2007 | Anthony Kronman

Posted on 09/17/2007 6:49:17 PM PDT by shrinkermd

...In a shift of historic importance, America's colleges and universities have largely abandoned the idea that life's most important question is an appropriate subject for the classroom. In doing so, they have betrayed their students by depriving them of the chance to explore it in an organized way, before they are caught up in their careers and preoccupied with the urgent business of living itself. This abandonment has also helped create a society in which deeper questions of values are left in the hands of those motivated by religious conviction - a disturbing and dangerous development.

...Over the past century and a half, our top universities have embraced a research-driven ideal that has squeezed the question of life's meaning from the college curriculum, limiting the range of questions teachers feel they have the right and authority to teach. And in the process it has badly weakened the humanities, the disciplines with the oldest and deepest connection to this question, leaving them directionless and vulnerable to being hijacked for political ends.

But the encouraging news is that there is, today, a growing hunger among students to explore these topics. As questions of spiritual urgency - abortion, creationism, the destruction of the environment - move to the center of debate in our society, America's colleges and universities have a real opportunity to give students the tools to discuss them at a meaningful level.

(Excerpt) Read more at boston.com ...


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: colleges; lifesmeaning; professors
Before they have the students delve into the mysteries of life and death, they might wish to review Ernest Becker's, The Denial of Death.

If they do so they will find one of Becker's points to be:

THE TERROR OF DEATH IS SO OVERWHELMING HUMANS CONSPIRE TO KEEP IT UNCONSCIOUS

The “vital lie” of character is to push death out of awareness. The first solution to the terror of death is belief in a timeless soul. Immortality requires following the strictures of a religion to gain immortality. Our religious faith encapsulates us from the terror of death. But for most this encapsulation is only a partial success.

There is a second line of defense. Humans can transcend death by participating in something of worth. Humans can sacrifice themselves in war, write a book, achieve high political office, establish a family and so on.

Every culture is overtly or covertly religious. “Ideological conflicts between cultures are essentially battles between immortality projects, holy wars.” Making a killing in the stock market or on the battlefield frequently has less to do with economic security or political reality than with the need for assuring ourselves we have achieved something of lasting worth.”

A brief summary of a few of Becker's points vis a vis the jihandists can be found: HERE.

Surely not a complete or final answer but also surely part of the necessary discussion of the meaning of life.

1 posted on 09/17/2007 6:49:20 PM PDT by shrinkermd
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To: shrinkermd

every college student knows we are here for pleasure at any expense.


2 posted on 09/17/2007 6:51:10 PM PDT by the invisib1e hand (life is like "a bad Saturday Night Live skit that is done in extremely bad taste.")
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To: the invisib1e hand
Not every college student. I just began college yesterday, and I know there is much, much more to life than endless entertainment. The problem is most college kids don't.
3 posted on 09/17/2007 7:00:49 PM PDT by G8 Diplomat (If you can't say something intelligent, don't say anything at all. Congress goes silent...)
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To: shrinkermd
This abandonment has also helped create a society in which deeper questions of values are left in the hands of those motivated by religious conviction - a disturbing and dangerous development.

Sounds like this author would prefer that students in all fields of study should be indoctrinated in his particular religious belief -- ignoring the 4,000+ other religions out there. Is that what he is saying?

4 posted on 09/17/2007 7:02:21 PM PDT by Coyoteman (Religious belief does not constitute scientific evidence, nor does it convey scientific knowledge.)
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To: G8 Diplomat
I just began college yesterday, and I know there is much, much more to life than endless entertainment.

"Endless entertainment" takes on many forms. Misdirected activism is one of them.

But thinking for one's self? You'll have a tough go if you're so inclined.

5 posted on 09/17/2007 7:04:21 PM PDT by the invisib1e hand (life is like "a bad Saturday Night Live skit that is done in extremely bad taste.")
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To: shrinkermd
I didn't learn it in college, but in Sunday School...we are here to glorify God.
6 posted on 09/17/2007 7:05:28 PM PDT by Conservative4Ever (Hoping my 'carbon footprint' has crushed a few liberals)
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To: the invisib1e hand
every college student knows we are here for pleasure at any others expense.

The question of why we are here isn't for colleges, and God help us if they ever address the matter. They'll get it all wrong.

A better question a college might ask is why are you at college? A lot of students are throwing their money away.

7 posted on 09/17/2007 7:06:17 PM PDT by SteveMcKing
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To: the invisib1e hand

Gee, and here I thought we were here to screw. Nothing but nothing matters except getting laid. At least thats what Hollywood says.


8 posted on 09/17/2007 7:30:14 PM PDT by Nathan Zachary
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To: Nathan Zachary

Beer, parties, getting some, fall football, frat parties, keggers. Oh, I did manage to squeeze in a good engineering education, too, along the way.


9 posted on 09/17/2007 8:04:41 PM PDT by ProtectOurFreedom
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To: shrinkermd

“If I knew God I’d be Him.”


10 posted on 09/17/2007 8:12:46 PM PDT by onedoug
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To: shrinkermd

Instead of paying Yale $45,000 a year to discover “the meaning of life”, try living instead.


11 posted on 09/17/2007 8:18:33 PM PDT by LibFreeOrDie (L'Chaim!)
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To: shrinkermd
Life's biggest question is whether we can produce more than we consume. If we do, we can live. If we don't, we die. To achieve the goal of producing more than we consume, most students need to concentrate on studies that have some practical value and particularly studies that have some market value. Broadening one's horizons is nice. There's nothing wrong with students using electives to grow intellectually by taking these kinds of classes, but the primary goal must be to prepare to become a productive member of society.

I realize that some majors are so full of worthless or even counterproductive classes that the thought of changing requirements isn't a problem. If students must substitute someone's new idea for the old, there's a chance that the class being lost is more worthless than the new class being required. In some cases, the new class may even be worthwhile.

In other majors, all of the required classes are important, and students cannot substitute an added semester of humanities fluff without degrading the value of the previous education. For these students, being forced to take more of these "finding yourself" classes and fewer discipline relevant classes just means that the students will "find themselves" with a less valuable degree or having to spend an extra semester in school (and paying the associated costs) in return for nothing of value.

One of life's big questions is how we respond to big challenges in our own field of expertise. Taking 17 hours of tough engineering classes teaches a person something about himself and how he responds to challenges. Taking 11 hours of tough engineering classes and 6 hours of nonsense humanities classes that will be ignored in the quest to excel at the real classes can't teach the same lesson.

Another of life's big questions is whether we will continue growing intellectually after we leave the university. A person who is never going to open another book just to expand his horizons after graduating is a person who cannot be helped by being forced to take another "life's biggest questions" kind of class. A person who is going to continue to grow in learn in many areas is a person who doesn't need to sit through one more nonsense humanities class taught by the kind of idiot who believes that the World Trade Center victims deserved to die.

Bill

12 posted on 09/17/2007 10:35:50 PM PDT by WFTR (Liberty isn't for cowards)
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To: WFTR

life is not about producing market value. That is what machines are for. We live in a society where our biggest problem is obesity, not starvation. On the other hand, if we as a people do not have a meaningful purpose in life, we will surely be taken over by those with stronger convictions.

This is happening in Europe right before our eyes.


13 posted on 09/17/2007 11:25:44 PM PDT by ari-freedom (I am for traditional moral values, a strong national defense, and free markets.)
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To: shrinkermd
Our culture may be spiritually impoverished, but what it needs is not more religion. What it needs is an alternative to religion, for colleges and universities to become again the places they once were - spiritually serious but nondogmatic, concerned with the soul but agnostic about God.

His aspirations for the higher life are freeloading off of Christian cultural capital. In his universe there are only ill-tempered fundamentalists and urbane secularists. The well-formed Christian elite who founded universities in the first place can be restored, if only their future members were given a good intellectual and ethical formation. The author's neglect of theology forestalls such a restoration. This is probably deliberate.

14 posted on 09/18/2007 10:25:19 AM PDT by Dumb_Ox (http://kevinjjones.blogspot.com)
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To: WFTR
Life's biggest question is whether we can produce more than we consume.

This is materialism worthy of Marx.

How is a citizenry that knows little rhetoric, little history, and little culture, going to withstand a manipulative and hostile government? The lamentable state of the humanities already enables despots whose court historians dominate the field. Abandoning the humanities to them only ensures their rule over hearts and minds.

15 posted on 09/18/2007 10:30:43 AM PDT by Dumb_Ox (http://kevinjjones.blogspot.com)
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To: ari-freedom
life is not about producing market value. That is what machines are for. We live in a society where our biggest problem is obesity, not starvation. On the other hand, if we as a people do not have a meaningful purpose in life, we will surely be taken over by those with stronger convictions.

Market value includes producing and maintaining the machines that have given us the comfortable lifestyle that we have today. Those machines did not make themselves. They will not maintain themselves, and they will not improve themselves. The machines are just tools. Whether they have value will depend on the hand wielding the tool.

Classes will not produce a meaningful purpose in life. Do you really believe that schools, many of which are run by the government, can teach you purpose in life? Do you hold that belief and still call yourself a conservative? We can't count on the government to give us everything that we need to survive in life, and one thing that the government cannot give us is purpose. In fact, the Founding Fathers wrote the First Amendment to try to keep the government from giving us purpose in life. People need to get purpose from their families and personal religious beliefs. People who want schools to give them purpose are dangerous fools.

Bill

16 posted on 09/18/2007 4:06:38 PM PDT by WFTR (Liberty isn't for cowards)
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To: Dumb_Ox
This is materialism worthy of Marx.

Your statement is nonsense. That we must produce more than we consume is a simple fact of nature. More than anyone else, the Marxists are those who fail to realize that things must be produced in order to sustain life. The Marxists believe that they can just order something to be and it will be. Those of us who are not Marxists realize that we have things because someone produced them. We realize that the one producing something deserves to be paid for his labor.

Bill

17 posted on 09/18/2007 4:11:02 PM PDT by WFTR (Liberty isn't for cowards)
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To: Coyoteman

Like many atheists you are so hysterical about religion that you can’t even see that he is saying the exact opposite. Your probably one of the ones who believes students should be indoctrinated in your particular belief.


18 posted on 09/18/2007 4:17:39 PM PDT by Dat
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To: Coyoteman
Sounds like this author would prefer that students in all fields of study should be indoctrinated in his particular religious belief -- ignoring the 4,000+ other religions out there. Is that what he is saying?

No. Tony Kronman is not so doctrinaire:

But despite their differences, all rest on a set of common assumptions, which together define a shared conception of humane education.

The first is that there is more than one good answer to the question of what living is for. A second is that the number of such answers is limited, making it possible to study them in an organized way. A third is that the answers are irreconcilably different, necessitating a choice among them. A fourth is that the best way to explore these answers is to study the great works of philosophy, literature, and art in which they are presented with lasting beauty and strength. And a fifth is that their study should introduce students to the great conversation in which these works are engaged - Augustine warily admiring Plato, Hobbes reworking Aristotle, Paine condemning Burke, Eliot recalling Dante, recalling Virgil, recalling Homer - and help students find their own authentic voice as participants in the conversation.

19 posted on 09/18/2007 4:24:22 PM PDT by aposiopetic
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To: shrinkermd

bookmark


20 posted on 09/18/2007 4:25:07 PM PDT by GiovannaNicoletta
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To: aposiopetic
The fundamentalists have the wrong answers, but they've got the right questions.

Note to self: Kronman could be reckoned to be doctrinaire in a certain sense, but at least he doesn't mince words.

21 posted on 09/18/2007 4:48:55 PM PDT by aposiopetic (AN)
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To: WFTR
Marx was all about producing more than we consume. His communist utopia was based on a projected surfeit of goods produced with minimal labor at negligible cost.

The materialism comes in when, like Marx, one sees economics as the primary question in life. While economic production is certainly a material necessity, surely religion, ethics, and the liberal arts rightly practiced are as integral to human flourishing as the economic life, if not moreso.

22 posted on 09/18/2007 9:58:54 PM PDT by Dumb_Ox (http://kevinjjones.blogspot.com)
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