Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The American Scholar and Contemporary Society Part 1

The Chinese Characters for Confucianism, 'Ju Chia', actually translate to mean 'Scholar'ism or scholar family. In traditional China, teachers and scholars were revered. Even farmers and soldiers gained notoriety when they were noted to be particularly dedicated to learning. This learning was enlivening and fruitful, enhancing daily life and daily relationships.

We,as Americans, generally undertake many years of formal education, but rarely have any genuine interest or value in continuing life-long scholarship.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote an essay called 'The American Scholar' that I will comment on this week. I want to emphasize that to build a 'more perfect union', we the people should take it upon ourselves to become 'American Scholars' in the sense that Emerson lays out. Democracy is based on people power, so to avoid an 'idiocracy' we citizens must cultivate a broad an deep understanding. This is not the stuffy ivory tower type of learning as Emerson points out the following paper will be posted in four parts this week:
Part One:
The American Scholar

Years ago Emerson gave his vision for the American Scholar. Since that time the United States has become the focal point of world events. For good or ill the United States is now centrally involved in the affairs of most nations. The responsibility of the American Scholar of Emerson’s vision is great. The American Scholar is responsible for scholarship of Nature, the Mind of the Past, and the Practical Mind. Of these I argue that his greatest responsibility presently is to the Practical Mind. It is upon the daily affairs of the practical that a nation thrives. It is in the personal values, social and familial relations where a nation finds its soul. I believe that Emerson is calling the American Scholar to infuse the value of nature, the value of the Mind of the Past, into the practical daily mind of factories and boardrooms. Globalization may not be bad, but if it soulless, faceless, greed stricken, without ethics then it is against humanity and against nature. The scholar must work to resonate not only within the academy, but also to humanity. The scholar's work must be practical and resonant with what is highest within the CEO of ConAgra as well as the estranged artist. But even more practically, even more essentially, than the factories and the boardrooms is the enduring influence of the daily mind of our familial and immediate social functions. The American Scholar must embody the most transcendent learning, within his/her unique social nexus. The most practical mind of daily affairs is the field in which we must all place our values, as well as our treatises, our theory. The American Scholar must be able to enjoy the fruits of metaphysical cultivation while eating with his family. The American Scholar must see his immediate life as the field of trial and error for his scholarship. The power of scholastic cultivation is to harmonize problems that arise before us in our immediate circumstances. Without this, the American Scholar is simply participating a form of the fantastical escapism with which many Americans are so enamored. It is the American Scholar’s tremendous responsibility to access the mind of nature, the mind of the past and to bring it forth through cultivation in daily affairs. It is the American Scholar’s responsibility to cultivate the practice of harmonizing with his/her immediate sphere of influence.
Metaphysical argument about the nature of reality becomes so heated and so divided because the modern scholar intuits a need to return theory to reality, to practice. The American profit mind is chasing so many mental goals so quickly that the very nature of reality is obscured. If there is one thing the American mind understands it is value. So let the American Scholar begin the practice and work of valuing the uniqueness of his/her life, the uniqueness of his/her immediate reality. Let the American Scholar begin the practice of valuing his unique position and its influence. Let the American Scholar see his responsibility to fulfill his unique duties in familial and social roles. Let the American Scholar not judge his success on the amount of recognition he receives but upon the harmony he achieves in his daily environment. Let the American Scholar not compete for accolades but realize the mutual benefit of self-cultivation through relations. The foundation of Emerson's American Scholastics is to understand and participate in the daily outside world directly before us, to understand and participate in Nature.
For Emerson the cultivation of the Natural mind of the individual scholar was beneficial to the foundation of American Scholarship. Emerson realized the value of a mind that is akin to the Mind of Nature. The scholar emphasizes objectivity. It is from a place free from preconceptions that the scholar can adequately pursue his inquiry. Pure objectivity is the goal of the modern western scholar. However, it seems as though, quite often, the modern western scholar confuses a system of scientific objectivity for the personal experience of the objectivity of the Natural Mind. The scientist may make a claim and wish with all his professional desire that his claim is true. While he tells himself that his results must be objective because of the system of experimentation his mind is far from objective. Emerson sees nature and the cultivation of a scholastic resonance with nature as an exemplar of the height of objectivity. An example of such a mind comes from the sensational television war we just witnessed. As US troops prepared to take a town in southern Iraq commentators described the scene. My wife and I watched for about five minutes. The only action we witnessed was the continuous chirping of a local Iraqi songbird. Most of the world was interested in this invasion of US forces. Protesters had their opinions, the administration had their ideas, and many among us had formulated some sort of "stance on the war". But as the event finally unfolded on the television sets of the world the Mind of Nature was present in its ever-objective wisdom.
Part 2 to follow...

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