Archive for December, 2007

Poop-pouri

This is serious, by the way:  Apparently sh*t happens due to something like the darwinian “Origin of Feces“? 

Every now and then, science puts forth a theory that — at least on a bitterly cold December day, with a flu infection stirring fatigue in a certain science journalist — resonates with grand poetic truth. The theory: the incredible complexity of life on Earth, the myriad of forms and forms and functions, owes its existence to poop.

Fecal matters!  

Speaking of which, there are a couple of new-ish books on the subject:  What’s Your Poo Telling You? by M.D., Anish Sheth and Josh Richman helps you know how you’re doing by your doody.  And Poop Culture: How America Is Shaped by Its Grossest National Product by Dave Praeger, who sniffs out all things scatalogical on “your #1 source for your #2 business,” poopreport.com.

There are some interesting resources on the web, of course, including this FAQ (“The Scoop on Poop”) and this one at MedFriendy.

I don’t mean to dump (ahem) all this on you, but if you google “poop” you will get about 1,300,000 returns.  If you google “science religion humanities,” you will get only 215,000 returns (but Metanexus will be #1, and that’s no #2!).  Apparently, we have more interest in poop than physics, philosophy, or Protestantism put together.  I’m sure there’s a reason.  I’d look into it further, but  I’m (…wait for it…..) pooped!

Advertisements

1 Comment

Political Religion

Yesterday, Judith Warner posted an op-ed at the NYT, “Holier Than They,” that has drawn so far 108 comments.  Upon reading the piece and the comments, I came away with conflicting thoughts:  I agree completely, and this is all wrong.  In essence, Warner is challenging Christians–specifically “conservative” Christians–to reexamine the tenets of their faith to see if it really is all about “gays, abortion, and low taxes,” so to speak.  Of course it isn’t, and Warner is right to call out those who want to be seen publicly as committed Christians (and especially those who want to leverage the label for political gain) who cannot seem to commit to the teachings of Jesus.  So I agree completely–this is the right challenge.

But then the irritation sets in.  First, (and I am not finding fault with Warner in this case) what does the word “conservative” mean?  I know who Warner is identifying, so I think I know what she would mean by “conservative Christian.”  But it seems to me that the “conservative” in “conservative Christian” is more a political than a theological designation.  It seems to me, rather, that “conservative Christians” take a lot of liberties with their Christianity, picking and choosing interpretations of Scripture and tradition as it suits the “conservative” political position that appears to be of more ultimate concern.  And what counts as the “conservative” political position is murky, too.  How can libertarians and “social conservatives” both be seen in the same political territory?  They couldn’t agree less, except in the question of the size of the federal government–hardly a central theological concern, by the way.  Political theologies of any flavor are always more political than theological in the practical sense (although let’s not forget that theology, like metaphysics, is inescapable).  So Warner’s challenge is not to Christians per se, but some Christians who seem driven more by political values than theological ones.

Second irritation:  Warner uses rhetorical strategies that won’t help her case.  Here’s an example:

I’m thinking of the now entirely muted issue of whether the basic ethical foundations of Romney, Huckabee et al’s political views truly are “Christian” – in the good-neighborly sense of the word.

I am referring here to the sentiments that lie behind the candidates’ attitudes toward gays, which may have found their most honest and open expression in Huckabee’s recently resurrected 1992 suggestion that AIDS patients should be forcibly isolated. I am thinking too of Christian conservative opposition to progressive taxation, public spending for the needy and government “meddling” in such matters as anti-discrimination policies. And, of course, of the willingness to sacrifice women by genuflecting before a segment of the population that is scared witless by modernity and sugar-coats its fear and hate in the name of the sacred. (As governor, Huckabee, according to veteran Arkansas political journalist Max Brantley, once “stood in the hospital door, at least figuratively, to prevent state funding” for a mentally handicapped teenage girl who’d been raped by her stepfather and needed to have an abortion.)

Warner’s argument starts with the apparent propositions that gays = AIDS patients and that heavy progressive (meaningly progressively higher the richer you are) taxation will solve the problem of poverty.  I believe it is possible for an authentically committed Christian, for instance, to dispute both these views without thereby being a hypocrite. 

Warner’s argument then goes from bad to weird.  Apparently women were (well, okay, one woman was) “sacrificed” out of “hatred” and “fear” (of modernity, by the way), the “sacrifice” being that government funds were not used to pay for an abortion that was “needed” (are you absolutely sure about that?) because this woman was young, mentally handicapped, and a rape victim of her despicable (I added that ’cause it’s true) stepfather.  Should Warner really base her argument on this kind of “reasoning”?

Nevertheless, when Warner writes this:

These days, however, for all the talk of religion, there is little public soul-searching about the absence of care and compassion, love, acceptance and inclusion – the things that many consider to be the essence of Christianity – in the words of our purported Christian leaders.

…she is exactly right.  My point is that Warner is making the same kind of political move she is criticizing in her targets:  She is arguing that religious views necessarily require certain political positions.  “Conservative Christians” say “I am a Christian, so I believe in low taxes.”  Warner (and others who worry about this) say, “You are Christians.  Therefore, you are wrong to believe in low taxes…you should believe in high taxes.”  That’s poor thinking for the “conservative Christians” and it’s poor thinking for their critics.

The third sort of irritation comes from the overwhelming majority of the comments.  Mainly, the give evidence that they didn’t hear a word Warner was saying.  She’s saying (my criticisms on the way she says it aside…) that religious believers should revisit their faith and really ask themselves if their political positions are “walking the talk.”  Her essay is making me, for one, do exactly that.  But almost all her commentators responded more or less like this:  “Amen, Ms. Warner!  We agree!  Religion is evil!” 

But she said nothing of the kind.  She is saying the opposite:  that religion holds a wealth of resources for love, compassion, acceptance, self-sacrifice, and care for the other that are not being tapped in the political theologies of some (not all) religious believers.  She is right to challenge them.

Warner concludes:

It would be nice today to hear a candidate step up and oppose all that is “appalling, brutal and bigoted” in the limited religious views that substitute for spirituality in American politics today. Who knows — it might even be good politics.

It would work for me.  I would just add that opposition to all that is “appalling, brutal, and bigoted” might manifest itself in a variety of political positions and programs.  For us to figure out that, we’ll need political wisdom in addition to theological authenticity.

Leave a comment

“This is your brain on neurorealism…”

Eric Racine is a bioethicist at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute, and he noticed something interesting:  Include a picture of a brain scan or other neuro-imaging with whatever cognitive neuroscientific thesis you happen to want to advance, and people will be more likely to believe it.  Here’s part of the NYT report:

The way conclusions from cognitive neuroscience studies are reported in the popular press, “they don’t necessarily tell us anything we couldn’t have found out without using a brain scanner,” says Deena Weisberg, an author of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience paper. “It just looks more believable now that we have the pretty pictures.”

Racine says he is particularly troubled by the thought of crude or unscrupulous applications of this young science to the diagnosis of psychiatric conditions, the evaluation of educational programs and the assessment of defendants in criminal trials. Drawing inferences from the data requires several degrees of analysis and interpretation, he says, and treating neuroimaging as a mind-reading technique “would be adding extra scientific credibility that is not necessarily warranted.”

Brain

1 Comment

Health and Hope

Accentuating the positive:  Allan V. Horwitz and Jerome C. Wakefield continue the fight against the over-diagnosis of depression-as-disease in their Op-Ed, “Sadness is not a disorder.”  They contend:

What’s wrong is this: Depressive disorder and normal sadness are different conditions with different prognoses and implications. In responding to intense sadness, psychiatry does a disservice by confusing it with depressive disorder and thus narrowing the range of options.

Indeed, psychiatry today almost seems to deny that any sort of intense sadness can be a normal and, ultimately, even a beneficial experience.

So let’s not overlook the healthy benefits of a good cry. 

And this story of the health care cost crisis for small business should bring tears to your eyes.  Here’s how it starts:

Frank Manzo keeps doing the math, trying to figure out how he can still offer health insurance to his employees.  His 28-employee tech-staffing company, Computer Methods Corp., charges clients $35 an hour for help desk workers. He pays them $25 an hour. Health insurance premiums proposed for 2008 for a family run nearly $12 an hour – up 30 percent from last year.

Forget about profit. Forget about rent on the company’s Marlton offices, the electric bill, or even paper for the copy machine.

The middle-class, college-educated people at Manzo’s company were on the edge of joining America’s 47 million uninsured.

“Where do I find the money?” Manzo asked, his voice rising in frustration. “What am I supposed to pay them – $10 an hour? At this point, they may as well go work for McDonald’s.”

Health insurance makes everyone miserable. But among the most miserable are small-business owners.

Well, we can’t lose hope.  “Zealously wishy-washy” Mark Bowden finds a good word to say about religion:  in a messed up world, it can give us hope:

Life can be seen as a brief sojourn between nothingness and nothingness, a chance to blink open your eyes and look around with wonder. Since we cannot know why, it is just as easy to believe the trip has a purpose as to believe it does not. To my mind, it is easier to believe the former, which, of course, doesn’t make it right. The religious man chooses to believe life has meaning. The best I’ve ever been able to manage is hope.

The fact that these three articles appeared in yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer is not the only thread holding them together.  Let me try to grab ahold of it.

We use the term “health” as if we know what it means and how we should “care” for it.  But I wonder if we know what we’re talking about.  Recently, there have been a number of nay-sayer articles appearing (I’ve alerted you to a couple) that take issue with whether “depression” is really a “health” issue at all.  If depression means sadness, and sadness is an emotion, we might ask how an emotion becomes a syndrome or a disease.  If emotions are not diseases and therefore not a matter of concern for health care providers, perhaps we can drastically reduce health care costs by ruling out mental “illness” all together (after all, it’s really not illness). 

The pieces I’ve referenced on the topic don’t make this rather stark argument.  Instead, they’re concerned about the negative effects of thinking of emotions as potential illnesses and what might be called the “medicalization” of the soul or the person.  It’s the idea that we might be cheating ourselves of something (like a good cry) by medicating away the capacity for shedding tears.

Of course, when you are feeling miserable–say, about health care costs–you tend to want to not feel miserable.  Miserable is bad, less miserable is better, not miserable at all is good.  Now suppose that you come to the conclusion that the cause of your misery–say, the unaffordability of health care–is never going to go away, that neither the “left” or the “right” are going to find a solution, that it is a part of your life and always will be until you die.  Further suppose that I can offer you some relief from the misery that won’t otherwise go away.  Would you take it?  Or would it be enough to hope for the (impossible) solution to become possible?

Let me try another tack.  I agree with Horwitz and Wakefield that “sadness is not a disorder,” if by “disorder” they mean a purely medical condition.  If they are opposed to mean old Big Pharma’s medicalizing normal emotions for the sake of profits, then I am with them. It may well be argued that some of the latest “syndromes” we hear about in commercials during the nightly news are “manufactured.” 

So what about all those people with “the blues” who say they have benefited from SRO’s and other depression medications?  These commentators believe that it is no more than the placebo effect.  There seems to be an unusually high rate of placebo effect with psycho-therapeutic drugs. (see this review of John Horgan’s book, The Undiscovered Mind for some thoughts on this)

I am not so sure this is easy to unpack.  Is depression the same thing as sadness?  Or is it that there is a frequent conjunction of the two, but that they are not identical?  It may be the latter.  Some principles we should bear in mind:  [1] Humans are biological beings, made of flesh, blood, bones, sinews, guts, and nerves; [2] Humans are meaning-bestowing beings.  We don’t just exist; we act and are acted upon.  And we don’t just act and be acted upon; we bestow meaning on our actions, the actions of others, and the goings-on in the world–even if at times these have no meaning of their own.  If [1] and [2] are true (and they are), then if one’s body feels a certain way, one will bestow meaning on that feeling.  If the feel (I’ll use “feel” and not “feeling,” which may be confused with emotion) in the body is the same or similar to how it feels when one is saddened by some event, then that feel will likely come to mean “sadness” to the person.  If this view of things is correct, then it becomes more difficult to unpack what is going on with depression and its treatment.  It may be that serotonin levels do affect the feel of the body.  But serotonin levels cannot really treat “sadness.”  The problem with clinically depressed people is not that they are “sad,” it’s that they feel sad without sufficient reason.  I realize immediately that “sufficient reason” is irreparably vague.  What I mean is that there is something like a compound problem.  Life creates misery (say, the unaffordable costs of health care), which in people of a certain body chemistry becomes compounded.

So what will fix the problem these people experience?  Removal of the misery-producing irritant.  Adjustment of serotonin levels.  Administering a placebo (the very fact of doing something, anything is therapeutic).  Talking therapy (professional or amateur), which might include being “talked out of” the idea that the problem is a real problem. 

You cannot often in this life do the first.  The second and the third might  turn out to have the same effect.  The last is almost never a bad idea.  In fact, it’s probably the world’s oldest solution (if there is a solution); it’s just that now it seems you have to pay for it.  Used to be people just talked to their parents, their spouse, their friends, or their ministers.  Somehow–you know the story–talking got professionalized.

Anyway, the question of what constitutes health in the first place needs to be addressed, and that means we need to think about what it means to be human person, as well as what it means to be in community, and even about the very notion of the good.  In other words, the public discussion that is going on regarding health care needs to become more philosophical than it has been.  Otherwise, there is no hope in contending with our problems.

Which brings me back around to the question of hope.  Suppose for a second Prozac “works” (either as a chemical or as a placebo).  I feel a certain, undesirable, way; I take Prozac; I feel a different, more desirable, way.  What happened?  Did Prozac make me into something I “am” not?  Or did Prozac remove an obstacle to my being who I “am”?  Which is the real me–pre-Prozac me or post-Prozac me?  In a similar vein, we can ask with Mark Bowden whether a believing me is “better than” an unbelieving me, and then ask which one of those is the “real” me.

Marx said, more or less, that religion was the opiate of the people, implying that religion drugs people into a docile and degraded state.  But what if religion is the Prozac of the people (at least some people)?  Is it like Horwitz and Wakefield might say, that we’d be “better off” just accepting and (not) dealing with the “nothingness” or “meaninglessness”?  Or would religion–so long as we don’t O.D. on it!–just make us “feel” and then perhaps even act better (whether “true” or not)?  We should not forget that placebos work.

I’ll let Bowden have the last words.  He’s been reading Pope Benedict XVI’s new encyclical, Spe Salvi.  Bowden writes:

I recommend it. The pope is dealing with first questions here. He covers a lot of ground but zeros in on the kinship between hope and faith. If life has meaning, if the soul lives on after death in some way, if the Christian message is true, then the idea of an “afterlife” need not be any of the cheesy human attempts to imagine Heaven, Benedict wrote, but “something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality. . . . It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time – the before and after – no longer exists. We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy.”

It may not be the bevy of virgins promised in one of Muhammad’s hadiths, but it sounds good to me. It sure beats simply fading to black. Religion can go bad, but it wrestles seriously with what matters most. Unlike the zealots training to blow up thousands in the name of their God, I might never achieve faith, but hope?

Hope I can live with.

Me, too.

Leave a comment

Depressed?! I’ll give ya’ depressed! (w/Robots)

Don’t worry:  you’re not depressed.  Will Wilkerson of the Cato Institute says so in the pages of Reason magazine:

The alleged epidemic of depression simply doesn’t exist. Horwitz and Wakefield are right: Millions who have been diagnosed with major depression never had it in the first place, even if their lives were nonetheless improved by the drugs they were prescribed. We risk our very real and very satisfying prosperity if the self-assigned stewards of public health insist on “treating” our illusory unease. That would be depressing.

So, c’mon…be optimistic! 

Then again….research suggests that perhaps “optimism isn’t always healthy.”  Go figure!

Anyway, my colleagues brightened up when they saw my earlier blog entry on health care reform which, to their delight, featured lots of “communist” ideas.  The following ought to bring them down:  Stuart M. Butler over at the Heritage Foundation has some ideas about health care reform, and the problems it causes for small business.  You can see how your state is doing regarding containing health care policy costs here.  John Shadegg and Mark McClellan sound the warning that government is not going to solve the problem–it’s part of the problem.  David Hogberg tells us that ‘”Medicare for All” Universal Health Care Would Not Solve the Problem of Rising Health Care Costs,” anyway.   And besides, you ought to have the freedom to spend your own money on medical care the way you want to.

So what will the next President try to do about it?  You can compare the major candidates’ health care ideas here, in a handy side-by-side comparison chart.  Ramesh Ponnuru opines that the Republicans are the real health care radicals.

Health care reform problem too depressing?  Okay.  Let’s figure out something to take our mind off it…for instance, sex with robots.  David Levy has a new book that argues it’s coming (ahem!).  Robin Marantz Henig, in her review of the book in the NY Times, says Levy argues

People used to be widely appalled by such variations as oral sex, masturbation and homosexuality, but today these practices are “widely regarded as thoroughly normal and as leading to fulfilling relationships and satisfactory sex lives.” All he wants is for us to open our minds a tiny bit more, and make room for the idea of having sex with the domestic robots that will soon be part of all our lives. In fact, he argues, the human/robot sex of the future promises to be better than most sex between humans is today.

I’m sure you have questions.  Like, what would an effective pick-up line be?  (“Hey, nice set of dual processors you have there.  Why not make a circuit with me?”  Regina Lynn has 10 reasons she’d rather marry a robot.  Yeah, and I’ve got 107 reasons why beer is better than women (no, I’m not linking to this; I’m kidding; google it yourself!). 

I don’t care what anybody says.  I’m depressed!

60bb1d4148ba8c24276f8b41ca4fe7cc.jpg

Leave a comment

Hospital Thoughts

After spending a bit of my weekend visiting a patient in both the emergency room and intensive care unit of our local hospital, I stopped by the bookshop to try to clear my head.  No luck.  Instead, I picked up an armload of magazines featuring a wide variety of essays on the state of health care in America.  Thought I’d try to develop a view of my own, but only ended up more befuddled than I started out.

The New Republic had a featured issue on health care.  In it, Jonathan Cohn wrestled with what might be the best case against single-payer health insurance, viz., the detrimental effect it might have on research and development.  The argument runs like this:  if the government uses its leverage to keep down the costs of physicians, procedures, equipment, and pharmaceuticals, then businesses in these sector will not have as much capital to invest in innovation.  Rationing, in one form or another, would inevitably occur, preventing some people from getting some care they might have otherwise gotten in the current system.  Cohn is not persuaded. 

The Nov-Dec issue of the International Socialist Review (yes, I really was in a mood this weekend!) also had a cover story on health care.  Nancy Welch reports:

Today, we are looking at what one activist following a screening of Sicko [Michael Moore’s documentary] summed up as a “perfect storm” with the power to demolish for-profit health care. Mainstream opinion runs strong for a national health program and against the war in Iraq. The insurance industry has been exposed and is reviled. With employers shedding the costs, and health care a leading cause of personal bankruptcy, the urgent need for a government program is evident to all. (Save the major presidential candidates who continue to admonish workers to shop around or argue that children may be entitled to a patchwork of health care benefits but their parents are not.)

Welch ties the prospects for universal health care to the reinvigoration of the labor movement.  I’m not sure I see signs of the rebirth of trade unions and the like, and I wonder at the wisdom of tying health insurance to paid work in the first place.

Cliff DuRand reports on the Cuban health care system (“Humanitarianism and Solidarity Cuban-Style”–subscribers only [socialists gotta get paid, too, ya know]) in Z Magazine.  Did you know that Fidel Castro offered over 1500 equipped physicians to help out the U.S. with the Katrina crisis–the so-called “Henry Reeve International Contingent“?  [Henry Reeve was an American soldier who fought in the 19th century for Cuba’s independence.]  The gesture was refused by the U.S. government.   But the really interesting point is that Cuba had some 1500 doctors to spare.  (Did I mention the lady who didn’t have anyone attending to her in the hallway of our local E.R.?)  Cuba has 5.3 doctors for every 1,000 people.  That’s the highest ratio in the world, and it is almost double the U.S. ratio.  Cuba exports its physician surplus to help out the world’s poorer countries.  It also educates people from 29 countries (including some low income Americans) to become doctors and other health care providers.  In fact, they’ve implemented a pedagogical system that works something like an community-based apprenticeship.  Med students start right away working with doctors, and then take that experience into the classroom for the formal training.  Cuba is not known for doing much right politically and economically, but they are on to something here.  Health care is viewed as a right, not as a commercial product, and the results seem positive.

A second article in the same magazine by Paul Street (“Health Care Hokum and U.S. Political Culture”) rails against using the bogeyman of “socialsim” to stonewall health care reform.  He writes:

It is symptomatic of the United States’ debased and corporate-crafted political culture that no candidate with a serious chance of running a viable campaign is willing to endorse the most obvious, fair, progressive, and simple health insurance solution–an extension of the single-payer Medicare model to the entire U.S. population.  The policy would certainly be welcomed by a significant majority of U.S. citizens and would not involve the implementation of that new-McCarthyite bugaboo, “socalized medicine.”

Street’s last point is that “socialized medicine” would mean that doctors and other care-providers work for the government, and all supplies, medicines, and equipment come from the public sector.  That’s not what happens with Medicare, in which the government reimburses private sector providers.

The estimate is that there are 47 million Americans without health insurance.  That number might even be doubled if you consider those people who are without health insurance for only part of the year. I used to be one of those people.  I taught at a state-owned university as a (usually) full-time “temp” for 7 years, but every summer I was unemployed and without health care.  [BTW, you can’t collect unemployment insurance payments if you are an educator in this situation, because educators “have the summer off” and have every expectation of working again in the fall.  Now, roofers have the winters off and have every expectation of working again in the spring…but they can get unemployment.  Sorry.  I’m whining.  But when we treat educators like that, we ought to expect to get less than, in fact, we actually do get (thanks only to the virtue of most teachers).]

Anyway, as of about 3 p.m. local time today, the population of the United States is 303,514,067.  Conservatively, 45,000,000 of us do not have health insurance.  I would also guess that about 303,500,000 of us do not drive a Rolls Royce.  We are unequal.  Even those of us with health insurance do not usually get the “Rolls Royce” of treatments anyway.  Those are usually reserved for the richer (or just luckier) among us.  The question is whether we think of health care like we think of cars.  You can live without either, but usually not as well or as long (although a nice walk wouldn’t do you any harm…).  If you get bad health care or a bad car, you’ll likely end up dead (or at least “dead in the water” on the side of the road, going nowhere).  Most get cars, many don’t.  A few get great cars, most don’t.  Is health care like that?

And just to compound the problem, there is the question of what we mean by “health” in the first place.  For instance, consider Bruce E. Levine‘s point:

Not too long ago, a child who was irritable, moody, and distractible and who at times sounded grandiose or acted without regard for consequences was considered a “handful.” In the U.S. by the 1980s, that child was labeled with a “behavioral disorder” and today that child is being diagnosed as “bipolar” and “psychotic” — and prescribed expensive antipsychotic drugs. Bloomberg News, also on September 4, 2007, reported, “The expanded use of bipolar as a pediatric diagnosis has made children the fastest-growing part of the $11.5 billion U.S. market for antipsychotic drugs.”

Is “health” a manufactured product, something we buy and sell in fancy packages for a profit?  Anyone who watches the evening news (fewer and fewer of us, by the way) is ordered to “ask your doctor” (if you have one!) about a laundry list of brand-name drugs, often without a description of what the drug is supposed to be for.  How will we know what “health care” even means, let alone who gets how much of it?

Leave a comment

Chomsky on Students and Questions

The November issue of Z Magazine features an interview with Noam Chomsky.  The dialogue begins with Chomsky being asked about talking to students about world concerns and about the the societal role of the university in which they find themselves–universities that are increasingly implicated in sophisticated weapons development, technocracy, and corporate interests.

Gabriel San Roman:  How crucial is it, in your view, that students particularly understand this highly technocratic social order of the academic community and its function in society?

Noam Chomsky:  How important it is to an individual depends on what that individual’s goals in life are.  If the goals are to enrich yourself, ganin privilege, do technically interesting work–in brief, if the goals are self-satisfaction–then these questions are of no particular relevance.  If you care about the consequences of your actions, what’s happening in the world, what the future will be like for your grandchildren and so on, then they’re very crucial.  So, it’s a question of what choices people make.

Roman: What makes students a natureal audience to speak to?  And do you think it’s worth “speaking truth” to the profesional scholarship?

Chomsky:  I’m always uneasy about the concept of “speaking truth,” as if we somehow know the truth and only have to enlighten others who have not risen to our elevated level.  The search for truth is a cooperative, unending endeavor.  We can and should engage in it to the extent we can, and encourage others to do so as well, seeking to free ourselves from constraints imposed by coercive institutions, dogma, irrationality, excessive conformity, the lack of initiative and imagination, and numerous other obstacles.

As for possibilities, they are limited only by will and choice.  Students are at a stage of their lives where these choices are most urgent and compelling and when they also enjoy unusual, if not unique, freedom and opportunity to explore the choices available, to evaluate them, and to pursue them.

I hope Chomsky is not right that only the traditional university student has the space and capacity to reflect on these questions.  In fact, I hope that all of us will always be students if “student” is defined as:  being at a stage of life where we find the choices facing us urgent and compelling and where we can ejoy the freedom and opportunity to explore, evaluate, and pursue our choices.  The first part of this definition is “existential.”  The second part is “institutional” or “structural.”  We have to work on both in any quest for wisdom, wholeness, and authenticity.

Leave a comment