If you cant see the forest for the trees, then look at the trees; when youve looked at enough trees, youve seen a forest. 1
The lover can see, and the knowledgeable. 1
Knowledge is not a loose-leaf notebook of facts. Above all, it is a responsibility for the integrity of what we are, primarily of what we are as ethical creatures. You cannot possibly maintain that informed integrity if you let other people run the world for you while you yourself continue to live out of a ragbag of morals that come from past beliefs. 2
Men and women are not content to comfort themselves with tales of gods and giants, or to confine their thoughts to the daily affairs of life; they also build telescopes and satellites and accelerators, and sit at their desks for endless hours working out the meaning of the data they gather. The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy. 3
Science is as resolutely personal an enterprise as art, even if the chief prize be truth rather than beauty (though artists also seek truth, and good science is profoundly beautiful). 4
It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery. But is it not stirring to understand how the world actually worksthat white light is made of colors, that color measures lightwaves, that in so doing it discriminates among the waves, and that the sky is blue for the same reason that the sunset is red? It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it. 5
The gullible and science-illiterate general public ... can so easily be duped. This public will buy pyramids, pay a fortune for monkey gland injections, chew apricot pits, go anywhere and do anything to follow the huckster who, having progressed from the back of the wagon to the prime-time TV channel, sells ever more flagrant palliatives in the name of science.
Why are we, meaning we the public, so vulnerable? One possible answer is that the lay public is uncomfortable with science, unfamiliar with the way it evolves and progresses. The public sees science as some monolithic edifice of unbending rules and beliefs, andthanks to the medias portrayal of scientists as uptight nerds in white coatssees scientists as stodgy old artery-hardened defenders of the status quo. In truth, science is a much more flexible thing. Science is not about status quo. Its about revolution. 6
There is [a] feature of science which gives ground to the other side, and may well cause [a] breakdown of the scientific spirit. As understanding of the world increases, ignorance also expands, for there are fresh problems which are exposed to view by the new advances.... This increasing ignorance of our surroundings can finally sap the confidence of an aging scientist ever to understand the world by scientific analysis. This difficulty is also seized upon by the anti-scientific to show how little we understand about the world by the help of science....
However hard we try the inexplicable will not disappear. It will always loom large in our lives, and can always be propitiated by belief in the supernatural unless we are prepared to look it full in the face and square up to what precisely is strange, what cannot be explained. In doing this we have to reject our preconceived notions and throw away the security of a particular position of faith. 7
[Stephen] Hawking is provocative and open-minded in the way that the greatest thinkers have always been. He reaches clearly defined, well-supported conclusions, and then in the next breath he mercilessly questions and breaks down those same conclusions. He doesnt hesitate to admit that an earlier conclusion was incorrect or incomplete. Thats the way his scienceand perhaps all good scienceadvances, and one of the reasons why physics seems so full of paradoxes. 8
How life itself emerged from the random whizzing of particles, and how we know as much about that process as we do todayis without doubt the greatest intellectual detective story of all time.
For practical purposes, that story starts about two hundred years ago, with the beginnings of modern science. It builds on the discoveries and insights of scores of people. It has been fiercely argued all along the way. Today its general outlines are accepted by all respectable scientists. They still fight over the details, but the grand scheme seems firmly locked in placefor everyone except the Creationists, who, in the face of a Himalaya of evidence, still deny the possibility of evolution. 9
Nowadays theologians ... dont point to complex living mechanisms and say that they are self-evidently designed by a creator, just like a watch. But there is a tendency to point to them and say It is impossible to believe that such complexity, or such perfection, could have evolved by natural selection. Whenever I read such a remark, I always feel like writing Speak for yourself in the margin....
The Argument from Personal Incredulity is an extremely weak argument, as Darwin himself noted. In some cases it is based upon simple ignorance. For instance, one of the facts that the Bishop [of Birmingham, Hugh Montefiore,] finds it difficult to understand is the white colour of polar bears.
xxxxxxxAs for camouflage, this is not always easily explicable on neo-Darwinian premises. If polar bears are dominant in the Arctic, then there would seem
xxxxxxxto have been no need for them to evolve a white-coloured form of camouflage.
This should be translated:
xxxxxxxI personally, off the top of my head sitting in my study, never having visited the Arctic, never having seen a polar bear in the wild, and having been
xxxxxxxeducated in classical literature and theology, have not so far managed to think of a reason why polar bears might benefit by being white. 10
Doesnt it seem like everybody just shouts at each other nowadays? I think its because conflict is drama, drama is entertaining, and entertainment is marketable. Finding consensus and common ground is dull! Nobody wants to watch a civilized discussion that acknowledges ambiguity and complexity. We want to see fireworks! We want the sense of solidarity and identity that comes from having our interests narrowed and exploited by like-minded zealots! Talk show hosts, political candidates, news programs, special interest groups ... they all become successful by reducing debates to the level of shouted rage. Nothing gets solved, but were all entertained. 11
The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. 12
[S]cience doesnt make any claim to have discovered the ultimate truth about anything. Scientists ... dont speak of the verdict of science. ...
It is generally agreed that in science nothing can ever be proved. ... Scientists are sceptical people when it comes to anything which claims to be ultimate, unassailable truth. It may be this scepticism that keeps some scientists away from a belief in God, not the notion that science disproves God. The idea of anyone actually finding ultimate, unassailable truth has in a sense become foreign to the minds of many scientists....
Does the Christian or Jew live in a universe that was created and is sustained by God and the atheist in a universe for which there is no God? If there is such a thing as objective truth, some of us are dead right and others dead wrong. Tolerance is necessary not because everybody is equally right, but because we have no way of proving once and for all which of us is right. 13
Nature is objective, and nature is knowable, but we can only view her through a glass darklyand many clouds upon our vision are of our own making: social and cultural biases, psychological preferences, and mental limitations (in universal modes of thought, not just individualized stupidity). 14
Natures a lot better at inventing wonders than we are. 15
[A previous letter to the editor] says there can be no basic beliefs without religion. There are many philosophers both past and present who present ethics and morality without a religious basis. There are many people who lead moral and ethical lives without needing a supernatural crutch to lean on. 16
Too often, what passes for spirituality is a self-constructed solution to the emptiness, fear and anxiety of our day: rigid dogmatism, strutting evangelism, empty ritual. In the name of such solutions abortion doctors are murdered, homosexuals hated, ethnic groups purged and books burned. Sadly, it seems that the most religious among us are often the least spiritual. 17
There is a fine line between public expressions of faith and aggressive declarations thereof, and religious tolerance is inversely proportional to the latter. 18
The religious right want to usurp the word tolerance the way they usurped family and life. So we are now instructed to be open-minded to the close-minded, tolerant of anti-gay intolerance....
Sometimes in this climate its OK to be just a touch intolerant of the real intolerance. 19
America is not a Christian nation. Not now. Not ever.
In fact, this country was founded by folks who opposed state mandated religion....
They knew the state has no business meddling in religious beliefs.....
But ... a handful of people want their religion to be Americas religion. Apparently thats one of the goals of the far right Christian Coalition....
Those who want organized religion forced on our public schools ... see in schools what some missionaries saw in tribal peoplesa magnificent marketing opportunity to spread the word and convert the wild, barbarian, uncivilized and unwashed savages into God-fearing Christians.
Frankly, Im not sure we did tribal peoples any favor....
I was ... shocked when I attended my first high school football game in Texas.... The evening began with a Christian prayer that reverberated over the stadiums public address system, to assure that God heard it, I guess....
I remember interviewing the schools principal a few days after the game....
Its what we do here in Texas, he said.
But what about the First Amendment and the Supreme Courts decision prohibiting organized prayer in school[?] I asked.
That doesnt bother us, it doesnt apply, he answered. And that was that....
In America you can believe and follow any religion you like. Or none.
What some now advocate, however, would abridge those freedoms by imposing their religious beliefs on others. And thats the real danger of groups like the Christian Coalition....
Its one thing to believe you have all the answers. Its another to force your beliefs on others.
I dont know about you, but I dont believe Americans are wishing for an autocracy. Democracy works just fine, thank you very much. 20
It is much easier to ... pray, than to take the trouble to do something. 21
Michelle L. Rommich, 18: I do not believe in God.... I am not a bad person. I do 100 hours of community service a year, am extremely involved in my school and city, and am an honest, friendly and caring person with many friends. I am respectful of all peoples beliefs.
Melissa Braeger, 16: I dont know if I believe in God.... I have a fear of turning away from my church, because of the rejection that others will show me. I believe I can still be a good person who is kind and loving and cares about others....
Cindy Weeks, 14: Id like to tell all the mixed-up teenagers that there is a God.... If you arent right with my God, then you will burn in Hell. 22
God, please protect me from your followers 23
I have a suggestion that might help everybody.
When you read the Bible, think of it as something written for you.
Dont think of it as something to hit me over the head with.
Ill do the same thing.
Well both be better off, dont you think?
Good grief. 24
A sense of humor, properly developed, is superior to any religion yet devised. 25
The best religion is tolerance. 26
The current dispute over cultural diversity reflects a ... division between two conceptual models of American society....
One model, in essence the liberal model, holds that the world is best understood as relationships among individuals, each of whom can be described by a large and unique set of predicates.... Group identities are among the attributes of individuals, but individuals themselves and their particular relationshipswhat they give to and take from other individualsremain the basic units of social life.
The other model, which Ill call sociological, sees the world as a number of distinct groups. Individuals are instances of the group they belong to. Rather than being just one predicate among many, group identity determines individual identity.
One problem with the sociological model is that it is false. Group identities do not predict the beliefs or tastes or values of the people who belong to those groups, and theres no reliable rule for deciding who belongs to a culture or class or ethnicity in the first place. Such categories are, in the strict sense, fictions. 27
Am I crazy, or is everyone still treating Tiger Woods like hes a black man?
Hasnt the guy made a speech three or four times, pointing out that hes Aflocasian, or whatever name he has for it? That hes basically part Caucasian, part Asian, and part African? What could be more perfect for an American hero? Hes a man with no race at all.
We hear talk about his being a role model for young black children, and we even have high school principals in predominantly black inner-city schools setting up golf programs, as though thats the answer to everything going all crummy on us.
What a way to encourage achievementby setting up another pipe dream!
.... It seems like a lot of black leaders wanna [say] the guy has a little black blood, so lets claim himso that they can use it for some God-knows-what political purpose. Tiger Woods seems totally content with who he is. Hes right smack dab in the middle of the American melting pot. Hes melted.
Why dont we just leave him alone ... and let the rest of the troubled souls out there fight this increasingly boring race war.
Nobody cares anymore, OK? 28
Has it occurred to anyone elseblack, brown or whitethat the charge of racism is becoming so overused and misused that its drained of any real clout when its a statement of truth and desperately needed?
Theres no question that racism still exists in this country, as it does all over the world....
[But] black leaders would be wise to study each case carefully before sending out charges of racism and creating a problem that doesnt exist. It weakens their hand in the eyes of many, like the little boy who cried wolf when there wasnt one....
Those who will suffer most from endless charges of racism without any foundation are the ones who really are discriminated against and need help. 29
Some time back it became popular for some African-American youth to equate being smart with being white. Any manifestation their peers [sic] that they made good grades, spoke good English, or liked to read earned the accusation that they were trying to be white or act white.
...Those who make the accusation ... dont realize that theyre saying that only white people have the capacity to be intelligent....
Being smart and intellectually ambitious isnt white, black or brown. Its right.... 30
Whether it is applied positively or negatively, affirmative action is an act of discrimination.
Granting opportunity because of race or gender is just as wrong as denying opportunity because of race or gender. 31
Suppose liberals had rolled up their sleeves and insisted that minorities achieve academically at the same level as others, and then helped them to do so? Suppose they had said to those who had been oppressed that nowthrough a commitment to rigor and principleyou will develop an excellence that makes your equality manifest? What if liberalism had made minority schools as academically rigorous as the best suburban schools? And suppose it was an article of the liberal faith that making excuses for minority underachievement only extended their oppression? Instead, liberalism gave short shrift to achievement among minority students until they were 18, and then gave them a preferential admission to collegea tactic that makes universities seem virtuous but leaves blacks with a college dropout rate of more than 72 percent....
Certainly conservatism comes to power with a stunning lack of moral authority over the issues of poverty and race. Conservatives can pick apart liberals for their tiresome excesses, but there is no denying that conservatives had to be dragged into an acceptance of racial tolerance....
Todays conservatives ... can win converts ... if they compassionately teach the values that the vast majority of Americans endorse: hard work, entrepreneurialism, strong education and family stability.... My hope is that todays conservative will turn out to be a classic liberal. 32
A person may pride himself on having no racial prejudice and yet make sexist or ageist jokes, unable to see anything wrong with them. 33
We live in a world which runs with the blood of hostility between racial and religious groups, between ethnic and national groups. To these lamentable separations among people, we now add another division, a separatism of the sexes. Where it used to be that the act of love (as it was then called) was regarded as an aspect, and even a celebration, of our shared humanity, it now becomes a dehumanized exercise and a new arena for conflict.
Black separatism came into existence in this country in the late 60s as an effort of prideful self-assertion. In claiming its separate identity, the black minority undertook to assert its equality with the white majority. At the time, the program may perhaps have had its symbolic use, but with the passage of the years we see its sorry consequences. Far from contributing to racial harmony, it has produced only a spiraling racial antagonism. Is this what we are aiming for in the relation of men and women: a spiraling discord?
It is still possible for this trend to be reversed in our society if feminism will take warning from all the other separatisms which now divide our world. Surely nothing is gained for society, nothing is gained for either men or women, by fostering the idea that men are ruthless aggressors against women and that women need to keep themselves in cautionary command of any relation which they have with men. Ours is not a moment in history in which to widen the divisions among people. 34
Male America, and I suppose female America too, deems it rather manly when an athlete weeps in public; certainly one of the greatest sports photos of all time, endlessly reproduced, shows Lou Gehrig unable to fight back his tears. For such men its all right, because we know they are manly.
But when Edmund Muskie allowed tears to come into his eyes for a far more justifiable cause, the honor of his wife, the American public rejected him brutally. For he was not an athlete who had already proved himself to be a man. He was a lanky Maine politician, and as such, he had to be suspect. 35
The gender stereotyping of women has been loosed on menon television talk shows and bookstore shelves, in films and casual conversation....
Men cant talk. Men cant feel. Men cant commit. Men are aggressive. Men are slobs. Men are selfish. Men are narcissistic. Men cant change.
And because men are perceived to have had the upper hand in our society, there is a certain glee that has seeped into these stereotypes....
The reality is that when we use stereotypes, were being prejudiced, [Jerrold] Shapiro says. If all youre doing is shifting who the victim is, youre not changing anything....
[William Pollack says,] Its time to stop arguing about which is the better half ... and to look for what is good in both. 36
Bad boys arent born. Meanness isnt a male trait. Emotional detachment isnt genetic.... I know this about boys: Theyre sensitive, fragile, kind, caring, loving, affectionate, loyal, cooperative and dependable. They also cry, hurt, long and endure, often in silence, fearful of being considered weak, unmanly or worst of all, a baby. Who gave them that idea? 37
I am an equalist.
I realize men and women are equal. They are subject to the same spirits, good and bad. There are great men and crummy women. There are wonderful females and masculine louts, and I dont care. My policy is to take each person on an individual basis, with no expectations other than good manners, fair play and a sense of morality. 38
Politics is a pendulum whose swings between anarchy and tyranny are fueled by perennially rejuvenated illusions. 39
Political leaders must all really be pathological because a normal person would not be able to bear so tremendous a responsibility while being so little able to foresee the consequences of his decisions and acts. 40
Scientific research, formerly a quest for a greater knowledge and understanding of nature became, when serving the government, a frenetic search for practical results which would increase mans illusion of power over nature and man. 41
In the traditional relationship between scientists and political leaders, suggestions about new ways of killing large numbers of people are often embraced and rewarded, while appeals for restraint after the weapons have been brought forth are rejected or ignored. Then, the scientists are told, they are naive and out of their depth; they are trespassing beyond their competence. The invention of weapons is a scientific matter, the politicians and bureaucrats say, but the use of weapons is a political matter. So the 1939 advice of Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard to President Franklin Roosevelt was accepted and nuclear weapons were devised and tested; but the warnings by these very same scientists in 1945 and laterand their accurate forecasts of a runaway nuclear arms race with the Soviet Unionwere rejected by American politicians with annoyance or contempt. [Can a democracy long survive if it remains deaf to sincere dissent or when it is incapable of distinguishing between dissent and disloyalty? 42 ] So also Andrei Sakharovs genius in devising the Soviet thermonuclear weapon was appreciated, even revered; but his insights into the dangers of his creation were unheeded or scorned by Soviet politicians for thirty years.
Its a little likewe recognize that the analogy is imperfectan impetuous teenager given a high-performance sports car who cannot be made to read the manual, sit still for a discussion of safety precautions, or even pass the driving test. He doesnt want to know the dangers. He just wants to feel the wind in his face, hear the engine roaring, and impress his peers. Soon he wants an even later model carif one is available. But sometimes adolescent risk-taking and an occasional brush with death can help bring us to more mature attitudes, feelings, and thought processes. Perhaps nations, like people, can grow up. 43
The truth in moral politics, like scientific truth, cannot be arrived at by compromise. If killing is wrong, then mass killing is wrong, and it cannot be justified. Thus, in the case of nuclear warfare, the question is: What steps must be taken to prevent nuclear suicide? This is the approach Einstein took. It was not naive or unworldly. It was, in truth, the only possible sane approach. The strategy of the worldly-wise politiciansto seek to use nuclear weapons to achieve temporary and illusory advantages over perceived enemieswas not sane. The naive presupposition that nuclear superiority in an unstable and frequently anarchic world can achieve security without risking full-scale nuclear war was a product of the muddled thinking of practitioners of compromise and expediency. 44
Weve lost sight of, lost track of, lost touch with, and to some almost measurable degree lost respect for nature.... The more we learn, the more we seem to distance ourselves from the rest of life, as though we were separate creatures, so different from other irrelevant occupants of the biosphere as to have arrived from another galaxy. 45
Human vanity cherishes the absurd notion that our species is the final goal of evolution. 46
If we do not alter and become as cows, we shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 47
I cringe every time I read that this failed business, or that defeated team, has become a dinosaur in succumbing to progress. Dinosaur should be a term of praise, not opprobrium. Dinosaurs reigned for more than 100 million years and died through no fault of their own; Homo sapiens is nowhere near a million years old, and has limited prospects, entirely self-imposed, for extended geological longevity. 48
It would appear that if we humans are of any interest to the mind of God, God carries to an absurd extreme the credo of Dr Seusss elephant Horton: A persons a person, no matter how small. 49
You, like millions of other arrogant chauvinists, had taken it for granted that the human species was the end product of the evolutionary process, its culmination and crowning glory. How could you have held that notion for an instant?
We, with our propensity for murders, torture, slavery, rape, cannibalism, pillage, advertising jingles, shag carpets, and golf, how could we be seriously considered as the perfection of a four-billion-year-old grandiose experiment? 50
Much as we may love ourselves, Homo sapiens is not representative, or symbolic, of life as a whole. 51
It is not simply wrong, it is a piece of stupidity on the grandest scale for us to assume that we can simply take over the earth as though it were part farm, part park, part zoo, and domesticate it, and still survive as a species.
We are about to learn better, and we will be lucky if we learn in time. 52
The idea that all men and women are brothers and sisters is not a transient cultural notion, not a slogan made up to make us feel warm and comfortable inside. It is a biological imperative. 53
[M. Scott] Peck [writes], Love, the extension of the self, is the very act of evolution. It is evolution in progress. The evolutionary force, present in all of life, manifests itself in mankind as human love. Among humanity love is the miraculous force that defies the natural law of entropy. Sounds mighty nice and cozy, but Ill be damned if it means anything. 54
There is no right and wrong in nature; right and wrong is a human concept. Precisely: we are moral creatures... in an amoral world. The universe that suckled us is a monster that does not care if we live or diedoes not care if it itself grinds to a halt. It is fixed and blind, a robot programmed to kill.
Do the barnacle larvae care? Does the lacewing who eats her eggs care? If they do not care, then why am I making all this fuss? If I am a freak, then why dont I hush?
Our excessive emotions are so patently painful and harmful to us as a species that I can hardly believe that they evolved. Other creatures manage to have effective matings and even stable societies without great emotions, and they have a bonus in that they need not ever mourn.
All right then. It is our emotions that are amiss. We are freaks, the world is fine, and let us all go have lobotomies to restore us to a natural state.... You first. 55
We modern human beings are looking at life, trying to make some sense of it; observing a reality that often seems to be unfolding in a foreign tongueonly weve all been issued the wrong librettos. For a text, were given the Bible. Or the Talmud or the Koran. Were given Time magazine and Readers Digest, daily papers, and the six oclock news; were given schoolbooks, sitcoms, and revisionist histories; were given psychological counseling, cults, workshops, advertisements, sales pitches, and authoritative pronouncements by pundits, sold-out scientists, political activists, and heads of state. Unfortunately, none of these translations bears more than a faint resemblance to what is transpiring in the true theater of existence, and most of them are dangerously misleading. Were attempting to comprehend the spiraling intricacies of a magnificently complex tragicomedy with librettos that describe barroom melodramas or kindergarten skits. 56
The successful scientist and the raving crank are separated by the quality of their inspirations. 57
A certain Influential Personage ..., who is much given to ... pretending he is a member of a persecuted minority, once wrote to me: Every society but ours has believed in magic. Why should we be so arrogant as to think that everyone but ourselves is wrong?
My answer at the time was: Every society but ours has believed the Sun revolved about the Earth. Do you want to settle the matter by majority vote? 58
Im distressed by a society which depends so completely on mathematics and science and yet seems so indifferent to the innumeracy and scientific illiteracy of its citizens; .... Im pained as well at the sham romanticism inherent in the trite phrase coldly rational (as if warmly rational were some kind of oxymoron); ... and at the belief that mathematics is an esoteric discipline with little relation or connection to the real world. 59
On Saturday-morning childrens television ..., many ... so-called scientists are moral cripples driven by a lust for power or endowed with a spectacular insensitivity to the feelings of others. The message conveyed to the young audience is that science is dangerous, and scientists are worse than weird: Theyre crazed....
Virtually every major technological advance in the history of the human species ... has been ethically ambiguous.... But, too often, only one side of the ambiguity seems to be presented in many TV offerings to our children.
Where, in such programs, are the joys of science? The delights in discovering how the universe is put together? The exhilaration in knowing a deep thing well?
What about the contributions that science and technology have made to human well-being, of the billions of lives saved or made possible by medical and agricultural technologymore than all the lives lost in all the wars since the beginning of time? Theres hardly a glimpse....
Over the last 10 years, a profusion of credulous, uncritical TV series and specials have been spawnedon ESP, channeling, the Bermuda Triangle, UFOs, ancient astronauts, Big-Foot and the like....
If there are both a mundane scientific explanation and one requiring the most extravagant paranormal or psychic explanation, you can be sure which will be highlighted.
[When asked why he doesnt believe in astrology, the logician Raymond Smullyan responds that hes a Gemini, and Geminis never believe in astrology. 60]
Often theres a good science program ... on the Public Broadcasting System, on the Discovery Channel or The Learning Channel, and occasionally on the Canadian Broadcasting Company.... But the depth of public interest in science engrossingly and accurately presentedto say nothing of the immense good that would result from better public understanding of scienceis not yet reflected in network programming....
There is a pressing national need for more public knowledge of science. Television cannot provide it all by itself. But if we want to make short-term improvements in the understanding of science, television is the place to start. 61
What does it mean for one creature to be more advanced than another? ... With no objective definition of fitness, ... survival of the fittest becomes a tautology: survival of the survivors. 62
Claptrap and bogus Darwinian formulations have been used to justify every form of social exploitationrich over poor, technologically complex over traditional, imperialist over aborigine, conqueror over defeated in war. Every evolutionist knows this history only too well, and we bear some measure of collective responsibility for the uncritical fascination that many of us have shown for such unjustified extensions. 63
A parody of the misinformed American family springs to mind: Mother, grotesquely obese, sits in the front seat of the family car munching on potato chips. Father alternately sips from a can of beer and puffs on his cigarette while maintaining two fingers on the steering column, and Junior stands between them playing with the rearview mirror. All the while they bemoan the poisons, chemicals, and residues around them. 64
To the young lady I saw on Loop 1604 in her minivan with four or five children, holding her cell phone with her right hand, the steering wheel with her left, a cigarette in her mouth, driving at 80 mph with a window sticker that exhorted me to Vote YES For Life:
Thank you for the vision you gave me of contemporary culture! 65
American students have low test scores compared to other industrialized nations. The results in mathematics and science have been particularly poor. There are no tests for music and the arts, but I doubt that we would do better in these areas either.... What does our culture reward? What does it teach? At a very early age our children learn the subtleties of buying and selling. They work hard if the work is rewarded, but science, math and music are not really rewarded.... To understand our culture, we should look at how we spend time as adults. What do our children see us doing? We dont spend much time doing scientific experiments or solving mathematical problems. Few of us play musical instruments or paint pictures. We dont even read that many books after it is no longer required. We spend most of our time worrying about making money. Is it any wonder then that our children reflect what we do? 66
Knowledge is not an object to be traded like chattel, but an epiphanous moment to be cherished. 67
So the six American high-school students who won gold medals for flawless performances at the 35th International Mathematics Olympiad performed a feat that was not unlike the U.S. Olympic ice-hockey teams gold-medal win in 1980.... Then why didnt you publish a photo of these outstanding young people? Why didnt you even give their names, or the names of their schools? Why werent they interviewed? We learn every last, paralyzingly boring detail about star athletes, from how they got started in the sport, to how they train, to their tastes in clothes and music. No wonder its so rare for American kids to excel at math; intellectual achievement is just not taken seriously. 68
The worst evil of capitalism in Einsteins opinion, was the social damage caused by competition against others which stimulates the egotistical drives of the individual so that his social drives are too often stifled. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, Einstein describes the plight of the victims of this system, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. In the educational system, for example, a highly competitive attitude teaches students to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career. It is essential, he believed, for man to learn that striving for power is ugly and stupid; that preoccupation with the fulfillment of personal desires eventually leads to bitter disappointment; and that competition is success at the expense of ones fellow men which conceives of achievement not as derived from the love for productive and thoughtful work, but as springing from personal ambition and fear of rejection. 69
Knowledge for knowledges sake: another concept wasted on 21st-century humans. 70
Nothing succeeds like success unless its having people afraid of you. 71
In the 50s, Ingrid Bergman was blacklisted from Hollywood for having a baby out of wedlock. Today, Oliver North makes hash of the Constitution and it jump-starts his political career. What used to ruin your life gets you invited on Oprah and a fat book deal. Shame is for losers; public confession and a 12-step program can turn you into a role model. 72
During ... years of athletic achievement in high school I was also earning straight As in my classwork but I cannot recall a single instance in which any member of my community gave me any accolades for such accomplishment. 73
Religions have preached the brotherhood of men; the social-minded have preached the co-operative adventure of mankind. But the arts exemplify both. They speak with discipline out of the depths of feeling of things that humanly matter. They convert the urgencies of passion into the delights of feelings seen and heard at a middle distance. They speak, as major poems do, of profound themes but they make those themes into pictures, and those pictures into persuasions. They constitute the most genial and possibly the most effective moral legislation of mankind. Tyrants have recognized the power of the song, the image, and the word. It is high time that serious and realistic moralists recognized them as well. 74
Theres no substitute for putting the arts back where they belong, and where they always used to beas basic components of the core academic curriculum, taught by committed and knowledgeable professionals, supported by adequate resources and enhanced by frequent exposure to outreach programs.
Of course, the arts are always the first things to go when money gets tight. If it comes down to a choice between an art teacher and a third assistant football coach, well, we all know which is more important.
A grounding in the arts just doesnt mattermay even be counterproductiveto the schools primary mission of churning out servile but serviceable cogs for the business machine. What does a wage slave need to know about Mozart or Ellington, or Frankenthaler or Goya, or Balanchine or Graham?
Maybe Im just an old-fashioned, conservative fuddy-duddy, but I always thought that education was about more than learning how to decipher a shift schedule, write a dinner order and compute the sales tax on a pair of shoes. I thought education was about the transmission of culturenot just utilitarian skills, but the values and achievements and strivings of culture.
It isnt enough to train children to be able to hold jobs; we also need to educate them to take their place as creative, appreciative, comprehending, critical participants in the continuing story of civilization. Otherwise, whats the point? 75
What a wealth there is in America of excellent underpaid musicians! 76
My admiration for symphony musicians is unbounded.... They are treated like children, by boards of directors, management and particularly by conductorswho often know music less than half as well as they dolargely, I believe, because we say they play their instruments and their music, not work at it like the rest of us.... Yet how many staffs of how many firms ... could do their work as well as these workers in one of the most important sectors of the economy? 77
The great conductor is a mythical hero..., artificially created for a non-musical purpose and sustained by commercial necessity.
The conductor exists because mankind demands a visible leader or, at the very least, an identifiable figurehead. His musical raison dêtre is altogether secondary to that function.
A bad conductor is the bane of a musicians daily life; and a good one is not much better.
Tenors may be safely ridiculed and the pomposity of pianists pricked with a satirical pin, but maestros as a breed are sacrosanct, their virtues inflated, their sins concealed.
In the post-Communist Prague spring of 1990, [Leonard Bernstein] was paid for a concert what a Czech schoolteacher would earn in 25 years.
In 1986, the Oakland Symphony went into liquidation with debts of $965,000 after half a century of existence.... The Oakland players, before they lost their jobs, made $13,000 for half a years work; their conductors earned more than that in a night. 78
The most dangerous compromisers of art are the second-rate geniuses, the interpreters, the people who tell us what art means, what it symbolizes, the stage directors, orchestra directors, directors of every kind. 79
I thank God for Don Giovanni (and I promise to tolerate every Musak [sic] rendition of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik in exchange). 80
The thugs always win, but the thinkers always outlast them. 81
I enjoy learning, but I dislike being taught. 82
If the religious metaphors offered up by the authors of texts comparing the new physics to Eastern mysticism help you in some way to appreciate the modern revolutions in physics, then by all means use them. But metaphors are only metaphors. They are crude maps. And to borrow an old expression: we must never mistake the map for the territory. Physics is not religion. If it were, wed have a much easier time raising money. 83
So what is reality...? An incompressible computation by a fractal CA [(cellular automaton)] of inconceivable dimensions. 84
There are two approaches to lovethrough the heart and through the head. Neither one seems to work very well alone, but together ... they still dont work too well. 85
There are some people you like immediately, some whom you think you might learn to like in the fullness of time, and some that you simply want to push away from you with a sharp stick. 86
Drinkers who urge others to join them are usually over-imbibers who feel uncomfortable around non-drinkers. No well-meaning person would try to push a drink on anyone. 87
New Yorkers think if it hasnt been done in New York it hasnt been done. But theyre provincial. They live on an island and the island is their world. They promote the feeling that they are superior. I dont think its necessarily true. I go to Boston, to Dallas, to Chicago and I see superior theater, superior ballet, superior arts. 88
Ive had the sort of day that would make Saint Francis of Assisi kick babies. 89
I am beginning to think more and more that only the deaf and blind are fortunate, being shut out of this miserable world. 90
Individually, human beings are all dolts.... Collectively, theyre a collection of dolts. But in all their scurrying around and pretending to be wise, throwing out idiotic half-understood theories about this and that, one or two of them will come up with some idea that is just a little bit closer to the truth than what was already known, and in a sort of fumbling trial and error, about half the time the truth actually rises to the top and becomes accepted by people who still dont understand it, who simply adopt it as a new prejudice to be trusted blindly until the next dolt accidentally comes up with an improvement. 91
Many things keep us going in this vale of tearsa babys smile, Bachs B-minor Mass, a decent bagel. 92
If we did not have childhood, and were able somehow to jump catlike from infancy to adulthood, I doubt very much that we would turn out human. 93
Even if magic doesnt work, belief in magic does. 94
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