Liberal Arts, Critical Thinking, Cultural Literary & Civil Discourse in the Digital Age of Trollers & Demagogues

We live in the technological age of digital information and entertainment. We also live in an amused and distracted society of “bread and circuses,” of show business and media spectacle. These two statements are not unrelated to each other. The result of living in a show business and media spectacle society is the dumbing down and coarsening of personal reflection and social discourse. A society of thoughtfully reflective and liberally educated persons who value the serious life of the mind and the disciplined practice of civil discourse will produce a very different kind of society.

Perhaps nothing represents both the dumbing down of personal reflection and the coarsening of social discourse than the ravings of Donald Trump. He largely depends on creating endless controversy and feuds through Twitter and through calling in to the major media outlets to spread his ignorant, arrogant narcissistic and demagogic message of racism, resentment, fear and hate.

As the Huffington Post puts it, “Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to pan all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.”

My point is not to adopt a luddite view or to demonize our digital revolution. I welcome it and put it to use in my own life all the time. Rather, it is to point out that for those who lack respect for humanistic values, liberal education, cultural pluralism, civil discourse and democratic institutions, the digital revolution has made it astonishingly easy for those with the most hateful, violent, cruel and crazy views to use the loud-speaker of twitter and fabricated pseudo news stories to “control the narrative” and drown out all other voices than their own.

We live in a society that increasingly lives in the “shallows” of radio, TV and internet noise, trivia, sensationalism and chatter. We are forgetting out to think slowly and deeply about the great issues of life, about what it means to be a whole human being, to build a civil and just society, and to foster a verdant and sustainable world. We need to recover our ability to sustain our powers of attention and concentration. Both the habit of serious book reading, including the literary classics, and the art of critically reflective constructive dialogue serve to reinforce the rigorous life of the mind and the generous empathy of the heart. Attention to great music and the fine arts also serve to cultivate the finer qualities of enrich our common humanity.

Living in an information and entertainment digital technology society it not enough to nurture the life of the mind, the care of the soul, the opening of the heart and the awakening of the spirit. We need to recover the neglected wisdom of past generations. We need to learn how to slow down, to listen deeply, to calm the chatter and to see beneath the surface of things. This can be achieved through the habits of solitary sauntering, quiet meditation, broad reading , journal-writing, and conversational circles, as well as through exploring the vital domains of general knowledge such as history, myth, philosophy, religion, language, literature, music, art, science, technology, sociology, psychology, economics, politics, health and education, energy and ecology. A “great people” who are committed to cultivating the well-rounded life of the body, soul, heart, mind and spirit, and to working together with others in an open democratic society that celebrates both unity and diversity will not be seduced when an ignorant, arrogant, hateful and xenophobic demagogue comes knocking at their door.



Asking the Oldest Philosophical Question: What Is the Nature of Fundamental Reality?

The first ancient Greece philosophers thought that Fundamental Reality is one of the basic physical elements, like air, fire, water and earth, or all of them together.

Their offspring, the atomists, thought it is “matter” or “atoms”

Others have thought that it’s “energy” or “forces.”

Or maybe its a combination of matter and energy working together. Maybe matter and energy are just two aspects of the same reality, so that we get the hyphenated word “matter-energy.” When we think of prime reality as particles we call it matter. When we think of prime reality as energy we call it waves. So maybe it’s both-and, not either-or.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from the atomists are the idealists who think Fundamental Reality is, well, Thought, various called Idea, Form, Mind or Consciousness. Some have envisioned a single, universal transcendent Mind, whether personal (God) or impersonal (Godhead), or both. Others have envisioned many finite gods. Still others have imagined that there are many subsidiary and differentiated Minds or Monads, centers of sentience and/or conscience, even hundreds of billions of them throughout the galaxies, but that all of them are ultimate absorbed into the One Universal Mind.

Still others have thought that Matter and Mind are two different realities that have little or nothing to do with each other. Matter is the realm of immanent physical quantities. Mind is the realm of transcendent spiritual qualities. This view is known as metaphysical dualism. Descartes held this view..

And then there are those who think that Fundamental Reality is a synthesis of Matter and Mind, again two aspects of a single entity. So both sides are right, but there is one reality, not two. This view is called Neutral Monism.

Aristotle thought that Fundamental Reality is Being, and that Being is composed of Matter and Form, not either one separate from the other. This view is called hylomorphism.

In more recent times some have suggested that Fundamental Reality is Matter-Energy + Form-Process + Body-Mind + Identity-Relationships. Obviously this group is trying to have it all, to say “Yes, you’re all partly right” to many difference theories concerning the nature of Fundamental Reality. Both-And thinkers like it. Either-Or thinkers hate it. Both sides believe that reason and the evidence support their view and contradict the other.

It is not likely that this ancient and ageless philosophical question will go away any time soon. And it is equally unlikely that there will ever be anything like “universal consensus” when it comes to answering the question. It will remain a Mystery we continue to live with, even while there will be strong partisans who hold their views, some provisionally and others with evangelistic zeal. Materialists, Idealists, Dualists, Panpsychists and others will continue to probe the Mystery as if it were a philosophical or scientific problem that can be solved by our finite and conditioned but promethean and inquisitive human minds. Whether it can or will be “solved” remains an open question. I have my doubts.