“The chief trouble with modern man’s thinking is that he has not read the minutes of the last meeting.”
Bossard and Boll
I have an associate with whom I converse almost daily. Though separated by half a generation, we have a lot in common. We both grew up in modest circumstances – I on a farm, while he wanted to be a farmer. We are both socially conservative, and both are strongly opinionated.
My friend has admirable qualities: honest (often brutally so), devoted to family, and a hard worker. Though his family legacy consisted of a strong work ethic and a fine sense of loyalty, he is a self-made man. Self-supporting since his late teens, he has done well for himself through hard work, diligence, and prudent risk-taking. Last but not least, he possesses a keen intelligence and uncanny ability to separate grain from chaff.
Like many intelligent men I’ve known, he is not especially well educated. By his own admission, his high school diploma depended heavily on courtesy D’s in English and algebra. He has little (read “no”) patience with abstractions, and though he is good at reading for information, he reads nothing unless its utility is immediately apparent to his objectives. He takes a perverse pride in not knowing Plato from Play-Doh, and most of the time it doesn’t seem to get in the way of his judgment, and certainly not in his way economically. In short, he is something of a poster-boy for my contention that the relationship between “higher education” and business acumen is more casual than causal.
A recent difference of opinion has given me pause, and caused me to rethink my cavalier dismissal of higher education. The immediate issue was the recital of the pledge of allegiance to the American flag in public school classrooms. Though a moot subject since 1943, in the best American tradition we rehashed the whole question with no regard for the opinion of the high court. My contention was that it did little harm, if participation is voluntary and no child suffers ostracism for non-participation. He was outraged. “Anyone who refuses should be made to leave the country!” The heat of his response shocked me, so I dropped the subject temporarily. Knowing that we are both given to over-statement in the heat of verbal jousts encouraged me to re-open the subject over lunch.
“Do you believe in constitutional government?” I asked.
“I don’t know what that is,” he replied. “I believe in majority rules.”
I pursued. “All the time?”
“No restrictions? No rights of the minority? No limits to governmental authority? No inalienable rights to freedom of conscience?”
No, no, no, and no. “Majority rules. Minority goes along, or gets out.”
For a while, I thought he was pulling my chain, but gradually, he convinced me – of his sincerity, that is – not of the merit of his position. Unity, he explained, is vital for the health of the society. It is a hard world, and to survive, we have to be hard. There is no room for sentiment, or for the supposed virtues of tolerance. Be strong and united, or perish.
I pictured Thomas Jefferson with a tear trickling down his cheek like Iron Eyes Cody in the 1971 “Keep America Beautiful” commercial. This is the product of American freedom, and of public education?
Formal education is no guarantee of a liberal mind-set, it’s true. Joseph Goebbels had a Ph. D., after all. Nevertheless, it’s hard to comprehend someone who has read the minutes of the meeting, who has followed Plato’s dialogue between the Melians and Thrasymachus, who has pondered the notion that only “might makes right,” with all its horrendous implications for social policy could so casually dismiss the Enlightenment while waving Jefferson, Voltaire, Locke, and Madison away like so many pesky insects.
Unfortunately, we do become like our enemies. Americans objected to Britain’s standing army, but built its own. Capitalists objected to slavery, but made all wage slaves. Confederates objected to industrialism, but aped the Union at every turn. We left the British Empire, but built our own.
We despise the terrorists, but use their tactics against them. Must it be so? Surely three millennia of moral philosophy is not in vain. We can do better. Come on, America; let’s go read the minutes of the meeting, and then get to work.
Sonny Scott is a Chickasaw County resident. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.