As it’s an election year, there’s been a lot of stupidity in the news, on both sides. However, I just can’t get over the plague of Dumb that has swept through the Republican party. Throughout my life, I’ve watched the Republican party cater more and more to two groups of people: those who are so insanely rich one might call them hoarders, and those so insanely stupid that they’re actually proud of their ignorance. I do not consider either of these groups “true conservatives,” necessarily, and I don’t want to belittle people who value hard work and their family. But there are many ways to approach these values, and intentional ignorance and voracious monetary greed are not values – they’re pathologies.
So when these two videos hit the internet, I was really unsurprised.
Rick Santorum – probably pissed at smart people because of his “Google problem.”
Mitt Romney – at least he understands the 1% of the population that WILL vote for him. Unfortunately, they have all the money.
Now, why would any politician think it is ok to say these things, even behind closed doors? Why is a portion of the American population so willfully ignorant that they actually assume getting an education would make them bad, immoral people?
An article from Salon.com sums it up quite nicely. I’m just going to quote a large chunk, because I cannot put it any better myself.
This war on the liberal arts is born from the same desire that produces voter ID laws: a desire to limit democratic participation. The goal of a liberal arts education was never primarily direct economic benefit for the recipient or even the sort of personal/spiritual development about which many like to wax lyrically. The purpose of a liberal arts education was always meant to be a political education. The Latin ars liberalis refers to the skills required of a free man — that is the skills of a citizen. The Latin word ars and its Greek equivalent techne do not mean art in a modern sense. Instead the word refers to a craft or a skill. Thus, history, rhetoric and literature were seen as the skills a citizen needed for his job: governing. This was just like metal working was the skill required of a blacksmith for his profession. This is why 19th century reformers eager to expand political participation concentrated so much attention on expanding access to the liberal arts.
The importance of the humanities in educating citizens is why we have undoubtedly seen the consequences of the decline in of the liberal arts nowhere more than in the quality of the public debate. The disappearance of the liberal arts from American education has meant the disappearance of the liberal arts from American culture. Rupert Murdoch and his media empire have helped by creating a post-humanities agora where a degenerated shadow of the public debate occurs without the intellectual rigor that a populace trained in the liberal arts would demand. One need only spend a morning with the newspaper or an evening watching cable news to see the horrid effects. The quality of arguments that are regularly entertained would never stand a chance if the majority of the public had been thoroughly shaped by an education with a focus on history, rhetoric and basic geography. We might be able to spare ourselves from believing in Canadian death panels or anything Glenn Beck ever said.
We might also be spared much of the small-mindedness of our current public discourse. The complete absence of reference to any non-Biblical literature during both parties conventions demonstrates how little the humanities are part of Americans’ language. St. Thomas Aquinas is reported to have said, “hominem unius libri timeo”: “I fear the man of one book.” I would add, “populum unius libri timeo.” I fear the nation of one book — even if it’s the Good Book. The fact that the Bible is the only book with which it can be safely assumed a majority of American adults are even vaguely familiar is not good if we want to have a full and vibrant public debate. For one thing, it allows our history to be re-written. It allows Americans to believe that the Founding Fathers were inspired solely by Judeo-Christian scripture without reference to the Greek and Romans (or English common law for that matter). It allows us to believe that marriage is static and unchanging institution that has come to us from Eden untouched by social and historical change. Most dangerously, it allows us to live in a democracy completely unaware of what a dangerous battle field history is for such governments, especially when those who are meant to be governing themselves lack the knowledge to do so effectively and thus abdicate their power to the richest or most powerful amongst them.
Education is a political act. For over half a century, the conservative movement has waged a political war on liberal arts education. They have waged this war because they know that without the skills we are provided by a liberal arts education citizens must abdicate our power. They know, like the Greeks and Romans did, that only those with the ars liberalis can do the job of citizens. That is why we must not allow the liberal arts to be further attacked, economically or ethically. A democracy without citizens will not long survive and citizens are only those who have mastered the ars liberalis.
If you actually want a better quality of life, if you actually want to understand how to work hard, if you want to understand how to approach problems creatively, if you want to understand how to free yourself from financial slavery – a liberal arts education will help you with that more effectively than just math and science. Creative thinking skills are necessary for everyone, and that is what the liberal arts do.
Which, yes, is a threat to a group that wants unquestioning loyalty.