I've been strongly influenced by Rene Girard, who I believe was one of the most important thinkers in the latter half of the 20th century.
Mobs, Part 1
We are living in an age of mobs, restless hordes of angry people intent on destroying evil. Stirring up an angry mob is an ancient route to power, and the techniques of mob formation are studied by politicians, consultants, writers and others. The main technique is simply to focus people’s dissatisfaction and fear and general angst onto a single cause—usually identified with a person or group. Simple messages—slogans or memes or chants—empty the mind of complexit...y and nuance. The evil must be destroyed, the story goes, then peace and order will return. Bill Clinton, who understood the process very well as both a perpetrator and a victim, called it the “politics of personal destruction.”
It’s alarmingly easy to be organized into a mob because our human desire to imitate has deep roots in our nature, and it isn’t usually a bad thing. . . .
Helena writer Jim Robbins thinks the world could be transformed if we got more young people engaged in the realities of the birds around us. One of the stories he tells is about a club of inner city kids who, over some years, re-introduce Bald Eagles on the Anacostia River (Washington DC).
My two main thoughts were: (1) He's right, and (2) It's not gonna happen. The people in charge of educating our youth have been ideologically captured by a linguistic machine they invented... themselves: the meritocratic system that keeps people stressed and competing for test scores as though the wolf were at the door and we were not the most prosperous people in history. Lots of young people end up acting as though an ACT score were more real than a Pelican, or a GPA matters more than one's relationships with family and others.
Years ago, I had Jim serve as a "tour guide" for a busload of teachers exploring Yellowstone National Park, thinking about the nexus between society, economics and nature, The Good Old Days.
I very much like his new book.
True religion and modernity's zeitgeist
For people who have grown up in modernity's Zeitgeist and without the liberating visions of authentic religion, desire can fill the mind with a relentless, brooding sense of incompleteness. Desire is blind, attaching itself to images planted in the mind by songs or movies or advertisements. The culture produces objects of desire, which we may heedlessly pursue without much understanding. A young man growing up in a warrior culture may b...
"Miraculous" is precisely correct.
It's pretty wonderful to see a new school in Montana, especially one devoted to place-based and expeditionary learning. Here's hoping the Gates Foundation-funded "common core" model of nationalized schools continues fading away.
This is my latest essay.
In this place, a mansion would be a distraction. It makes me want to start quote Thoreau's *Walden*:
“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”...
“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”
And there's that conclusion. Reading *Walden* years ago I had an epiphany: the secret of life was not a secret because no one will speak it but only because so many cannot hear it. The most important truths are regularly proclaimed from the rooftops by our greatest teachers, and yet we continue our slumber. In the conclusion to *Walden*, Thoreau states plainly and clearly a most important truth about life, and yet people think it's pretty and nod off again, without awakening to its truth:
"I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."
He will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.
Events have got me thinking again about the three levels of reality.
THE FIRST REALITY is mostly life as depicted in Plato's Allegory of the Cave. The things that really matter are not visible to the senses, and people at this level have trouble thinking about things they can't hear or see or touch or taste.
So they set their hearts on things that don't matter at all: having more money than they need, being famous in the little world that is always passing away, and staying c...omfortable when getting to a better place might be uncomfortable.
THE SECOND REALITY is most common among the middle class in civil society. They see the world as good people doing good things. Without a clear hierarchy of goods, people are lost in the thousands of goods they would like to pursue without time or energy to manage even a fraction of what's possible. Without a stronger vision, they don't know what to choose, though they make choice their god. It becomes a tyranny of busyness, with the most important often undone and unseen.
The essence of THE THIRD REALITY is seeing things as they are. Most things don't last even for a lifetime, let alone a century or a millennium. It becomes easier to turn away from or discard the trivial, as of no consequence. Do I drive a Mercedes or a Hyundai? It makes no difference.
People at this level have seen the sunshine (to continue using Plato's Allegory) and they center their lives in the enduring things, the eternal things. That means putting the Creator first and working on building the City of God, wherever we are and with whatever resources we have.
(I'm somewhat following Eric Voegelin in my use of the term "reality," or as he would name it: language-consciousness-reality: the antecedent of "it" the the sentence "A river runs through it").
Photo: The Flathead River west of Dixon on Memorial Day
In *Phaedrus* Plato notes that some rhetoricians are ignorant of the nature of good and evil but, having studied the inclinations of the mob, successfully persuade them that bad is good and good is bad. What is likely to be the harvest after sowing that seed, he asks?
Mention of good and bad is often viewed as somewhat tactless in our postmodern schools because avoiding conflicts is the governing passion of civil servants raised to public leadership. Instead, the focus is on... "success" by which little more is meant than compliance and adequate scores on standardized tests.
So it is unlikely that most students will be faced in class with the best arguments from, say, the Black Lives Matter activists and the free speech advocates who oppose them, being asked to analyze the rhetoric first by researching the truth claims and then by analyzing the logic of the arguments (with an emphasis on spotting fallacies that signal error).
What is more likely is that students will be invited to express opinions without instruction and with precious little "judgment" about what they say. As the Dude said, "That's just your opinion, Man" (*The Big Lebowski*).
To an alarming extent, politically-governed schools do not bring history, reason, and logic to bear on the questions that are being debated in the larger culture. Such schools prefer to review ancient debates that are no longer alive, such as the wickedness of Jim Crow laws (as seen in *To Kill a Mockingbird*).
"For the sake of cultural continuity and community survival, we must reconsider the purpose, the worth, and the cost of education—especially of higher education, which too often leads away from home, and too often graduates its customers into unemployment or debt or both. When young people leave their college or university too much in debt to afford to come home, we need to think again. There can never be too much knowledge, but there can certainly be too much school. –Wendel...l Berry (Our Only World)
I would like to think the Tribes might provide leadership in reimagining education so that it enhances this place rather than drains it of its most important resources--the hearts and minds of its youth. During the Native American Renaissance, a dominant theme of Native literature was the necessity of staying in place. How could one leave, since leaving involved breaking the ties of relationship which made one who he or she was?
Since then, many people have been colonized by a generic cultural Marxism learned from the universities. This means mainly seeing history and politics through the lens of class warfare and oppression, constantly seeking "empowerment" through political activism. That all seems a form of bondage to me.
I find the Amish more interesting. The main economic question among the Amish is what can be done locally on a human scale to make a go of it without taking a job in a large corporation in the global economy. Technology is evaluated on the basis of how well it suits the needs of family and community.
"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught. We must therefore develop a curriculum for being where we are so that we can know, understand, and love our places. We must develop this curriculum so that we can ultimately be a part of their flourishing, care and resurrection."
—Baba Dioum (Senegalese forester)
I'm looking forward to a 5-day workshop on watersheds and wetlands offered by the... Tribes. I keep thinking Native American tribes would be natural leaders for place-based teaching approaches, but they get as fragmented and bogged down by the exigencies of modern bureaucracies as everyone else.
Still, there is among many Natives a keener appreciation of more holistic approaches than is common at public schools, where narrow ideologies and deadening abstractions anesthetize the sense that there is more to life than nurturing and defending our careers.
This shot was taken last night south of Ninepipe. Doesn't it suggest that our usual intellectual grasp of the natural world is leaving important things out?
"There are no unsacred places. There are only sacred places and desecrated places." Wendell Berry
I was at one of my most-loved places in Flathead Country—a pond with easy access on its west short so the setting sun was at my back, highlighting what's before me.
On this evening, what was before me included nesting swans, flyovers by defensive and assertive black-necked stilts, a juvenile great horned owl that seemed content to run on the ground when I encroached on her spac...e, occasional brief flirtations by an elusive marsh wren, and a constant raucous background of dozens of territorial yellow-headed blackbirds that make me think of jungles.
I was photographing opportunistically, trying to capture the passage overhead of a huge black cormorant, trying to bring into focus a passing red-winged hawk, and hoping for a clear shot of a tern diving into the pond after fish. I didn't notice that the moon had risen off to my right in a part of the sky I was not monitoring. I was following a tern through big glass when I glimpsed the moon.
Of course, I stopped and took a few shot before the rising moon passed behind clouds. The sun was still above the horizon behind me, so there was no change in light when the moon came over the Missions. The beauty of the natural world can be stunning, and it's full of messages for us if we are open to hearing them.
Think how odd and wonderful it is that when we glimpse such moments we echo without any need for thought the judgment of the Creator who looked on Creation and saw "that it was good."
Schools have evolved into places where the things that matter most are never talked about. This is because those are precisely the things the levelers attack and because schools fear controversy, being politically governed institutions trying to keep everyone in the same room. Arguments bring the smooth process to a standstill.
So it is never stated clearly why it matters how we dress and the dress code is written as a list of prohibitions with no clear expression of the vis...ion it supports. In practice is it rarely and unevenly enforced.
So students are required to take four years of English but there is no clear and compelling conversation about important literature and the implications in our daily life.
People pretend to take important things seriously but their actions do not support that. That is its own form of teaching.