Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The American Scholar and Contemporary Society Part 2

If the American Scholar were able to begin to cultivate this objectivity in the academic field its effects would be fascinating. As scholars would become better able to cultivate the objective, third party Mind of Nature, they would be able to transcend the bickering and semantics of the modern academy. The scholar's goal should be to cultivate this free and objective mind, to transcend the varying opinions and arguments that dominate the academy, "to resist the vulgar prosperity that retrogrades ever into barbarism." The scholar should return to the pursuit of wisdom as defined by the Delphic Oracle as "Socratic Ignorance". Our Iraqi songbird, as a representative of the Mind of Nature, was blissfully ignorant of the varying opinions and desires that played out before it. Socrates thought it his duty to manifest this "wisdom" in the face of the dangerous opinions and desires of his fellow men. Through the cultivation of the Mind of Nature, objective observation, Emerson's American Scholar would transcend the divisive arguments of modern scholarship, perhaps in order to further what is important to man. This American Scholar, who can empathize with the hills, birds, and lakes in their view of man's activities, would be free from the trappings of unceasing argumentation. Perhaps then the American Scholar could work toward advancing Aristotelian Ethics. The American Scholar could begin the work of providing guidance toward the ultimate goal of human happiness. The work of the American Scholar, having the objective freedom to see without the blinders of preconception and desire, would be better able to focus his work on allowing others to achieve freedom. The American Scholar through cultivating a mind resonant to that of the mountains, the sky, the Iraqi songbird, would achieve the objectivity of a True Socratic as opposed to the cleverness, reputation and fame of the Sophist. The Sophist, in his/her most common manifestation, is the one who is able to know with great certainty anything, whether he/she really believes it or not. The Nature Mind on the other hand, knows nothing, and believes in the cultivation the Good Life.
Emerson saw the faults in the academy and society of his day that still ail us today. He believed that part of the remedy was the establishment of True American Scholastics to cultivate Man thinking:
The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk, and strut about so many walking monsters-a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man…The planter who is Man sent out into the field to gather food is seldom cheered by any idea of the true dignity of his ministry. He sees his bushel and his cart, and nothing beyond, and sinks into the farmer, instead of Man on the farm. The tradesman scarcely ever gives an ideal worth to his work, but is ridden by the routine of his craft, and the subject to dollars. The priest becomes a form; the attorney a statute-book; the mechanic a machine; the sailor a rope of the ship. In this distribution of functions the scholar is the delegated intellect. In the right state he is Man Thinking. In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or still worse a parrot of other men's thinking. (American Scholar p. 33)

As Man Thinking the scholar is to pursue and enjoy the cultivation of a transcendent mind. Emerson urges the development of a mind resonant to the Mind of Nature because he saw Nature as an exemplar of a productive objectivity. I believe that Emerson also saw in nature an enduring quality that, like the Iraqi songbird, not only transcends but also outlasts the biased and desire ridden preconceptions of the fickle argument mind. This quality of duration is ever present in the Natural Life. Emerson believed that we could take great heart and joy from the fact that this Nature Mind has always existed just beyond the deluded lunacy of the argument mind. To study in harmony with the Nature Mind is to study in joy. It is to study in a joy of the simple life that has always existed for man beyond the reach of conflict. To harmonize one's study, one's scholarship with the Natural Way is to study and create in a way that can endure. To speak to the Natural Way of man, the Simple Life that has always existed for man is to speak in a way that transcends the fads of the day. This is a philosophy that can resonate with any man in any era that relishes in the simple life. The American Scholar, having understood the natural life, can understand the great philosophy of any man who shared in the simple and natural life. This American Scholar would then be able to create in accord with the mind of the future whenever there comes a mind that relishes in the Natural Life. This is the ground for Emerson's second responsibility of the true American Scholar to establish a mind for the Past, and subsequently the future.
part 3 to follow...

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