Follow Up Stuff

Liberal Arts
The mariner recently submitted a number of posts about the importance of the fact that liberal art majors are disappearing. The group of subjects in this major includes what is commonly referred to as “humanities:” literature, languages, art history, music history, philosophy, logic, history, mathematics, psychology, and general science. The general theme in all these subjects is to have an understanding across several disciplines of thought. This broad understanding sharpens the student’s awareness about people and their cultures; it provides space in one’s knowledge base to make comparisons and apply lateral thinking across disciplines. Every subject has something to do with human interaction.
The mariner watched a book review on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS show (Sunday 10/04/15 CNN). The book is “Succeeding at Life – What High Achievers Know that Brilliant Machines Never Will,” by Jeff Colvin. Colvin has a stellar reputation as an organizer of startup businesses and the automated technologies that support them. Until recently, he was CEO of CIGNEX Datamatics Corporation. He now is a board member of The Estes Group, a prominent consulting firm. The next two paragraphs start the book:
“What hope will there be for us when computers can drive cars better than humans, predict Supreme Court decisions better than legal experts, identify faces, scurry helpfully around offices and factories, even perform some surgeries, all faster, more reliably, and less expensively than people? The unavoidable question – will millions of people lose out, unable to best the machine? – is increasingly dominating business, education, economics, and policy.
The answer lies not in the nature of technology but in the nature of humans. Regardless of what computers achieve, our greatest advantage lies in what we humans are most powerfully driven to do for and with one another, arising from our deepest, most essentially human abilities—empathy, creativity, social sensitivity, storytelling, humor, building relationships, and leading. This is how we create value that is durable and not easily replicated by technology – because we’re hardwired to want it from humans.”
Colvin goes on to cite a number of relationships where people strongly prefer human-to-human service. People find more comfort, trust and satisfaction visiting a human medical doctor or nurse than punching keys on a machine – even if all the doctor does is punch the same keys. Similarly, social workers, managers, organizers, consultants, attorneys and virtually every profession that interacts with people in a reflective situation will become more important than their technical counterparts associated with computers.
The mariner learned from this review that Australia and Japan are reducing humanities and increasing classes on computer programming as early as the fifth grade. He agrees with Zacharia and Colvin that wisdom, leadership and innovation are found in the humanities, not in computer code.
Church and State
If the Monday School class is still studying church and state, the mariner offers a “middle of the road” perspective for those areas where church and state conflict with one another. See post “Among the People” (Sep 22 2015)
In 1962, Eugene Rostow, a former dean at Yale Law School, coined the phrase “civil religion.” It related to government sponsored religious speech that was as conventional and uncontroversial as to be constitutional (example: In God We Trust on US money). In 1984, Justice William Brennan first used the phrase “ceremonial deism.” He said, in a Supreme Court case that involved a government sponsored Nativity scene that also included reindeer and candy canes, that some religious displays could be permissible under the first amendment. [Details from Church and State magazine March 2015]
The mariner recently wrote a letter to the editor of a local newspaper that was covering a local conflict between an atheist organization and the city mayor about putting a cross in a government park. In his letter, mariner claimed that Christian and Jewish tombstones in military cemeteries – and even government memorials – serve only to remind us what we required of these men that they gave their lives for us. It is the buried soldiers that are sacrosanct, not the tombstones and memorials. In reference to Rostow and Brennan, the tombstones are an example of ceremonial deism.
Ceremonial deism is a grey area along the barrier between church and state. State advocates complain these “uncontroversial” exceptions are an example of deism and religiosity slowly creeping into the state domain. Is this good, bad, or irrelevant? Perhaps the Monday School can advise us.
An easy read that talks about various subjects of controversy between religion and science, culture, and changing attitudes. Easy. Quick. See:
Billy Collins, Poet
Reading Billy Collins’ poetry is not what the occasional reader of poems imagines. Billy Collins was the Poet Laureate for the US twice in a row and holds the same title for the State of New York. He is, by far, the most entertaining poet alive today. If you desire to broaden your mind by reading some poetry, read Billy Collins. The poem below is from his collection, The Trouble with Poetry: And Other Poems. He has written several collections.
“The Lanyard”
The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the pale blue walls of this room,
bouncing from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past —
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sickroom,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the archaic truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.
Billy Collins

Ancient Mariner

1 thought on “Follow Up Stuff

  1. Thanks for making me aware of Billy Collins. Wonderful poem. I must admit I have not been very interested in poetry since Herrick and Lovelace (oh, and Tennyson), but Collins is a good one.

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