Sunday, August 11, 2013

Quint was right

Sometimes us wealthy young college boys don't have the education enough to admit when we are wrong.  And wrong we are.  Often.  Who can forget that part of the legendary movie JAWS?  The rough and tumble, ill-fated shark fisherman with a personal grudge against sharks vs. the wealthy young scientist, money handed to him, studying sharks for the love and admiration of their nature.  The clash between them was one of the more meaningful story lines in the movie, and it added to the depth of their characters, especially as mutual admiration eventually takes over and builds a bond between them. From what they say, a similar course of events happened between the actors Dreyfuss and Shaw, who apparently weren't on best terms, but who at least came to regard one another positively during filming (at least Dreyfuss appears to have built a lasting respect for Shaw the actor).

Thinking on that, the working class guy vs. hip educated kid, I've been kicking things around for a while.  I work more or less as a bean counter in a giant, multi-billion dollar corporation.  My ministry and education days a thing of the past.  There is no union, and at any time I could go in and find my position has been cut.  It's already happened there, just as it happened to my wife a couple years ago. I get the problems with unions, but sometimes working in large corporations sans unions does engender an appreciation for collective bargaining.  Anyway, because of that, there is no shortage of people on edge about their jobs, talking about this job or that job, asking about other jobs and trying to find ways to solidify their positions while always keeping one ear open for other opportunities.

Listening to the conversations that take place has made me realize something.  Most everyone I work with has a college education.  The average age seems to about about mid thirties, with a few in their later 20s, and some my age or older.  But from what I can tell, I think everyone has a college education.  That would be because most companies require college degrees even for the most menial positions.  Based on this article, this is because of a Supreme Court decision that made any other way of measuring potential workers unconstitutional.  I'll get back to that little phenomenon down the road.

But for now, it's enough to say everyone in my department is a college graduate.  And what I hear!  A few weeks ago, my supervisor, who happens to be Catholic, set out some rosaries she picked up somewhere as sort of a witness.  One afternoon, a coworker looked at them and asked 'is that one of those chastity belts'?  Now, I'm not being mean.  To be honest, I hear things like that all the time. But think about it.  The guy has a college degree.  He's working on his Series 7 exam.  College educated.  And he asked that?  Again, it's not just him.  The things I hear people say are stunning.  The things people don't know.  I once quipped to a manger that I had been in the eighth circle of hell regarding a task I was finishing.  The person looked at me puzzled.  I explained I was referencing Dante.  Blank stare. 

All of this has shown me something.  On the internet, you read stupid things.  Appalling things.  Unbelievably stupid, brain dead, moronic things.  Not just on atheist blogs, or fundamentalist blogs, or ABBA fan blogs, or even Catholic blogs.  It's everywhere. On one hand, people will discuss things with an attention and grasp of detail that would shame a prize winning physicist.  On the other, you can see some of the most stupid things ever written.

For some time, I thought it was some Internet phenomenon. The Internet must make us stupid.  People can't be that dumb, not with college degrees.  Not in an era that boasts more college graduates than at any time in history. Something on the Net must be tainting our smarts.  But then I thought of it.  It isn't the Internet making us dumb, it's that the Internet is giving us a false sense of smart when we were dumb already.  

You see, I have a college degree in history and education.  I went back to school and got my Masters in Biblical studies and Church history.  I began a PhD in Systematic Theology (I wanted historical theology, but the school had recently gutted its professors in the name of doctrinal purity, and the options were limited).  I didn't finish (woe is me for that decision) because it was at that time I began toying with leaving Protestantism altogether and looking for other (read: Catholic) options.  

That means in the realm of history, particularly modern 20th century American history as well as Medieval history, I'm not altogether bad.  I also have a decent grasp of Biblical interpretation.  Handy stuff for a former pastor.  I also have an appreciation for the development of Scriptural texts as well as the development of historical theology (with less concern about the systematic nature of it).  Along the way, I noticed I had a knack for geography (always loving maps) and since my original thought was going into political science, I have followed and studied politics for decades.  In those areas, I'm not bad and can hold my own.  In addition to all that, I enjoy music and, for no particular reason, enjoy art.  And each year, at least for many years up until recently, I always tried to pick a subject and study it (language development, archaeology, architecture, a particular country).  

During that time, I had to take other courses: Chemistry, biology, economics, and other such courses which were BER (Basic Education Requirements).  Out of all of those I took, there are about seven things I remember.  But here's the thing.  For whatever reason, timing, the era I grew up, the fact that my parents were older, I don't know, I feel I have a more rounded education for the simple fact that I know what I know, and am keenly aware of what I don't.  Just because I have a degree, doesn't mean I know everything. For that matter, it doesn't mean I know everything about the subjects I know much about.  It certainly doesn't mean I know chemistry, or nuclear physics, or how to make a quilt, or a million other subjects.

And I think that's the point.  Education was once seen as the key to liberty.  The key to living and breathing free.  It's why we didn't want our slaves reading, because that leads to education, and that leads to breaking bondage.  Certainly our Founding Fathers were children of the Enlightenment who saw education as the cornerstone of a free society.  And to be honest, negative stereotypes notwithstanding, the Christian faith has long understood education as important for the right living that leads to Salvation, even if that education was always understood properly as being filtered through Church teaching (a debt it owes to its Jewish ancestors).  Hence the rise of universities in Christian Europe as opposed to anywhere else on the planet.

So education good.  But it means more than 'I have a degree.'  Education means educated.  It means knowledgeable about many important things.  It means being smart enough to avoid the stupid self enslavement of the uneducated. It means knowing better than to sell your birthright for a bowl of stew.  It also means knowing what I don't know.  It means many things that I get the impression have been forgotten about in our modern era of 'the more degrees handed out, the better'.  

First, because education has changed.  An ideological battleground, most public and higher education is where indoctrination fights against counter-indoctrination.  Educating is less important than having our minds right.  Second, today education is seen as a means to a vocational end.  Get educated, get a job.  Technically, that's the role of vocational training.  But because college degrees are needed whether or not the job necessitates such a degree (see above), and because so much emphasis is on science and math and technology as we desperately scramble to save the sinking ship U.S.S. America, people forget that it's not knowledge of math, science or technology that keeps the chains off.  That would be those subjects being forgotten about in the modern scramble to succeed.

Finally we have the Internet itself.  I've always enjoyed Shakespeare and in my ministry days, I enjoyed dropping quotes from the Bard into my sermons.  Not emphasizing them, just dropping them casually in a sentence here or there.  I don't do that now, thanks to Smart and any other website where you can go, never having read a scrap of Shakespeare in your life, and pull an appropriate Hamlet reference for just the occasion.  What does it mean on the Internet to quote Shakespeare?  Or Whitman?  Or Poe?  It means you have access to Google and nothing else.

I could write the following: Nanoarchitetonics.  What's that?  I don't have a clue.  I just Googled 'Scientific terms', found the first Wikipedia article, clicked and grabbed the first term I could find. But give me a half hour with Google and guess what?  I'm the Nanoarchitetonics master!  That's the problem.  I've seen that trend before of course.  But it never dawned on me that the problem isn't just that people can rush over to Google and try to be experts based on the always unreliable Wiki world of knowledge.  I realize now that being college educated doesn't automatically mean we're educated at all.  We may not be smart people cheating on Google.  Truth be told, we may be idiots with degrees cheating on Google.  If we are educated, it may only be about a few subjects, and yet the illusion of 'the Information Superhighway' leads us to believe we are smarter than we are.  

Far beyond just lazily learning by Google searching this or that, with the corresponding lack of appreciation we have for the knowledge since we didn't really earn it, we may be less educated than we believe, while developing an unhealthy confidence because of what we can glean in a few minutes on the Web.  And there is nothing worse than being worse at something than you think.  If knowledge is power, the illusion of knowledge is cognitive impotence.  For an idiot who knows he's an idiot may be willing to listen to an expert.  A genius who is arrogant about being a genius might still be educated and smart enough to avoid putting his head in the trap.  But an idiot who, because of a piece of paper and a Wikiwebsite, thinks he knows all there is to know about Nanoarchitetonics and therefore refuses to listen to anyone in the world but those who sing his praises for being the goto guy for everything Nanoarchitetonic, is likely setting himself up for trouble.  Multiply that a millions times, and you might just have our modern era setting a direct course to disaster. I can hear the chains a'rattling as I write. 

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again. 

(And yes, I read that famous quote in a book of poetry years ago, long before I had access to something called the Internet).

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