If we can assume for a moment the risks of digitization, can we say a liberal education offers any prescription? Have I, a student of politics and philosophy, been better prepared for hardwired complexity? And what about students of the natural sciences, of the fine arts, of gender studies, of mathematics? In short, can we, for our efforts, hope to navigate the wilds of the digital labyrinth? While I sincerely believe us to hold the tools for the task, I must confess to doubts about our prospects.
The hazards of the digital age are not of a sort to be trifled with, and if we fail to give them due attention, I fear even the liberal arts may prove of no avail. It seems to me we must bring our attention back to the maze-back to the "wilds of the digital labyrinth"-for if we are to plot an escape through the liberal arts, we must first trace the impediments of digitization.
To frame the inquiry, I would suggest beginning in , in the year Herbert Marcuse published One-Dimensional Man, a scathing critique of "advanced industrial society. And then, like now, the process was not purely benign. For Marcuse, the benefits of industrialization were accompanied by the systematic promotion of "one-dimensional thought.
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As technologies like the radio and the television disseminated manufactured needs, so mass production delivered pacifying goods on an unprecedented scale. Thus came the intrusion of "industrial rationality" into the sanctuaries of language and cognition, and as one-dimensional thought hijacked reason itself, it fashioned it in a mold cast by technological imperatives. I would apologize for the exposition, but it seems to me the parallels are too stark to ignore, the links between industrialization and digitization to profound to omit.
The symptoms of one-dimensional thought, particularly the loss of criticality and reason-these seem to me the very dangers of the digital age, the wilds of its concomitant labyrinth. Technology, it turns out, may be shaping "the neural circuits inside our brains. Of course the real question is not the rewiring itself, but rather the effects of the transformation. Anthropology and sociology have revealed the malleability of the mind, and digitization wields a hefty hammer. Thus the unknown is not so much the craft itself as it is what comes off the anvil.
But here I've already staked my claim. It seems to me reason and critical thinking are endangered species in an electronic order. When information is immediate, there arises a temptation to search rather than struggle with complexity. When knowledge appears to spring from all corners, every problem surely has an answer. One need only consult the mysteries of the omniscient Google.
The question itself is damned, written off as a mere annoyance, and the digitized is severed from the edification of agnosticism. Entertainment, disinformation, and half-truths converge, blending insidiously to create epistemological chaos. And while intricacies are flattened with irons, so simplicities become obscured.
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In a land of limitless perspectives, all opinions appear equal, and certainty is made to seem mirage. The realm of answers renders reason to antiquity, criticality becomes a false concept, and one-dimensional thought is given renaissance in a digital age. Obviously it does not need to be this way. Technology is an instrument, not an agent-its properties are a function our own. Yet it seems apparent, at least to me, that reason and criticality are being compromised. It may be a contingent truth, but the effect is unchanged.
Impossible to process, it must merely be skimmed, mostly dumped, a few bits stored. It seems to me I have already given an answer.
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If you don't think so, maybe try Google, but I wouldn't recommend it. To conclude I will merely observe that the targets of digitization seem to be the very values nurtured by the liberal arts. Thus I say meeting the digital age is not a question of means but a question of wills. If we can find our resolve, then, perhaps we can do more than just sanitize our advancements. Maybe we can actually harness them to better the human condition. What would you say to him?
Using this prompt as a starting point, the writer has the opportunity to imagine influencing the views of the President-elect on the eve of his inauguration, to speak to the centrality and importance of liberal arts education for an informed citizenry or perhaps to emphasize the relevance of liberal arts education to domestic or international issues he will be facing as President over the next four or eight years.
After watching your acceptance speech in Chicago, Mr.
President, my father turned his eyes away from the television screen and told me a person's words could create a person's world. What you said on that fateful night created a world of unity. People from a variety of ethnicities, classes, and educational backgrounds stood in the snow, their heads held high and their eyes filled with tears.
You listened to them; you listened to my father and me. Our voices were heard and echoed back to us over the television. The liberal arts teach us to embrace and listen to new perspectives through various disciplines, similar to the way you listened and brought our nation's words to life. Your vision was broad, not appealing to some but to all. Such a way of thinking has not been so prevalent in this country. Our nation has only existed for a few hundred years, and the majority of those years has been spent perfecting industry and out competing other countries economically. The nation has not had time to create its own unique culture like other thousand-year-old societies.
In a way, the United States has grown anti-intellectual. Money has become more important than our identities. We are isolating ourselves from the world by not embracing other ways of thinking. When students think of the liberal arts, a job is probably not the first idea that pops up into their heads.
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In fact, one may view the liberal arts as a set of prerequisites for graduation, a way to "broaden one's horizons" before setting foot into the real world. However, to say a liberal education merely provides general knowledge to broaden horizons is an appalling understatement. The liberal education is more than the giving of general information; it is the never ending pursuit of wisdom, the advent of intellectual curiosity. The human mind, Mr. President, is the most sophisticated and mysterious entity we know of.
It allows us to compose music, paint portraits, write novels, solve mathematical equations, cure diseases, and create a history of our existence through poetic and abstract ideas. To deprive someone of the arts is to deprive them of their God-given capabilities. After all, art is more than self-satisfaction-it is the universal language that unites the human race, something that cannot merely be "learned" but only inherited as our common gift.
Music, art, poetry, mathematics, science-these disciplines allow an American student to understand Japanese culture through a haiku or a scientist from England and a doctor from India to team up and use chemistry to produce better medicine. Practical information is used for the benefit of the individual to survive financially.
The liberal arts contribute to humanity by being critical of humanity, and embracing ideas as well as questioning them. The arts grant us the freedom to choose how we should think and learn. If the liberal arts diminished, rigid would be the best word to describe our thinking.
Anything outside the realm of business and economic virtue would be considered useless, a misconception that many hold true today. The beautiful, staccato melody of Vivaldi's Winter would go unappreciated to the untrained ear. The only philosophy followed would be the philosophy of making more money.
Our children would forget that the words of poets who sought freedom from the shackles of tyranny sparked the American Revolutionary War. We mustn't allow ourselves to view the liberal arts as "useless. The best example is the ability to rule a government.
Implementing the best possible government for our people is based on the ancient Greek principle of democracy, or a government "held by the people.
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Our forefathers used theories from ancient governments and philosophers, histories of kingdoms that had failed throughout time and literature that depicted the thoughts of the people. With these elements they were able to craft the Constitution, perhaps the most important piece of art that scholars to this day interpret.
Aristotle once said, "All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth. Our country works diligently to get its citizens into the work force; money, not wisdom, has become the basis of what we stand for.