We have a new neighbor. In our little section of the world this serves as excitement. The new guy is single, apparently pretty liberal, and except for the fact that he’s a lawyer, seems a good fit to the neighborhood. We can’t all be perfect. Every Friday night the men in the neighborhood get together for a fire and an adult beverage or several. Now and then the women’s auxiliary joins us. A core group of us has been doing this for nearly 20 years now, rain or shine, summer and winter. We talk about all sorts of things, listen to the same old stories with feigned attention, share our lives and keep each other up on what’s going on in the neighborhood and the world. We have, of course, solved all of mankind’s problems many times over, although mankind doesn’t seem to notice. We are convinced that if every neighborhood did this we could solve most problems in short order, but, alas, people are too busy apparently.
The new addition was invited to one of our Friday get-togethers, accepted, and seemed to fit right in. The next week he returned and brought his father who was visiting from Idaho. While our new neighbor is from Idaho, his father was born near Calcutta, India. Physically, he’s nearly a dead ringer for Ben Kingsley’s Gandhi. A soft-spoken and thoughtful man, he joined in the conversation from the outset and eventually posed a question for us in that wonderful accent that Americans can never seem to get quite right. “If our educational system is going to focus on math and science because of the need for technically trained people,” he said, “and if the economic situation continues to force schools to drop the arts and humanities from the curriculum, what do you think will happen to our culture?”
Now here’s the interesting part. This gentleman is a nuclear engineer. And he comes from a country that has cultural roots that go back centuries. Until a few decades ago the idea of a nuclear engineer from India was almost laughable. Today India is a nuclear power in the world. And they did that by focusing on the sciences in their educational system. There was a time, his son told me later, when his father decried the lack of emphasis on technology in schools. Today, not so much.
But he is not just a nuclear engineer. He writes children’s stories. He has written a column for his local newspaper. There wasn’t a topic we discussed that evening that he was not knowledgeable about. He is what would be called in some circles a “well-rounded” individual.
And that is what we will lose in our culture if the current trend toward the sciences at the expense of the arts and humanities continues. And when we lose all the well-rounded individuals, we will have lost our best citizens. And when we have lost our best citizens, we will have lost.
Ben Franklin was supposedly asked at the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1776, “What sort of government have you given us?” He replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” So far we’ve kept it for 237 years. But it takes work and it takes intelligence and it takes a citizenry that knows more than math and science to do that.
That’s why the men who created our government chose a republic over a democracy. Democracies never seem to work out because in order to run a government directly as in a true democracy, you can’t have a bunch of uneducated citizens. Instead they created a republic in which they envisioned that competent and educated people would be elected by the citizens to make their decisions for them. It was actually a bit elitist, to use a popular term these days. It was Woodrow Wilson who started the whole idea that American government was a “democracy.” Now everyone believes that. It would have made our founders recoil in horror.
James Madison explained the founders’ fears about democracy as follows: “Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths… A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect and promises the cure for which we are seeking.”
Or has it?
The men who founded our country envisioned representatives who were elected to do what was best for the country as a whole, not be ruled by the uneducated mob.
Historian Alexander Tytler wrote, during the founding of our country, “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until [a majority of] the voters discover they can vote themselves largesse [gifts] from the public treasury. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy [taxing and spending], always followed by a dictatorship. The average life of the world’s greatest civilizations has been two hundred years.”
Our founders never envisioned career representatives. They saw “gentlemen” representatives who left private life for a few years to help run the country and then returned to their private lives. Now that we have senators and congressmen who will say and do anything to get re-elected, we are closer to a democracy than ever before. Instead of what is best for the country, they are interested mainly in “how will it play back home.” This is fine if everyone back home is a well-rounded and intelligent citizen. Sadly, this is seldom the case. It is a complicated world we live in and to be knowledgeable about the many aspects of it necessary to govern it best requires time, work, and, above all, education.
We are a young country. We do not have a cultural heritage like India that goes back thousands of years and permeates everyday life. Americans are content to watch reality TV, drink Budweiser, and vote if it is convenient. “Well-rounded” citizens are not the norm. If we do not educate our young people in both the sciences AND the humanities we doom ourselves to a future where a career politician can say or do anything to get elected and get away with it. We may already be there.
Much has been made of the “wealth gap” and “income inequality” in our country. When you dumb down our public schools you create yet another inequality. When only the wealthy elite can afford a well-rounded education, the middle class will have lost all power. Unable to make intelligent decisions based on knowledge and history, they will be left with nothing but the cult of personality on which to choose those who lead. If I were a conspiracy sort of person I would be outlining how this is all some sort of plot.
We have already travelled a long way down the road toward undoing our republic. Most of the nation’s wealth is in the hands of a few. Corporations are now seen as individuals and are allowed to use their corporate wealth to influence the election process. Wall Street investors drive the price of daily commodities through speculation. If we stay on this path we will soon see corporate school systems designed to produce not only workers for their industry, but future leaders for the country.
If we allow this to happen, we will become a nation of stupid people, entirely led by an elite class that serves not the people, but their own interests. And as Ron White has said, “You can’t fix stupid.”
Your Humble Servant,