Thursday, December 04, 2003

Logic, Cold and Dead 

This weekend while I was looking at the journals I ask my literature students to keep I noticed something worth thinking about a little. In works as disparate as the Iliad, Oresteia, Crime and Punishment, and Paradise Lost, the students who criticized the works consistently said they were �insensitive.� Nobody criticized the works or authors
for being wrong, or superficial, or shallow, or anything else. Just insensitive.

When I talked with a couple of these students, it became pretty clear that they really didn�t have any other categories to use when judging. They called things insensitive because they didn�t have enough of a sense of human depth to judge things as superficial or profound, for instance, or enough of a sense of aesthetics to judge things as beautiful and ugly. Even more telling, they had no real sense of right or wrong, logical or illogical, true to human nature or false. Only sensitive and insensitive.

This this morning on I read an article by Dennis Prager called �How I found God at Columbia.� He talks about wondering as a graduate student why so many of his intelligent professors could believe and teach so many foolish and bizarre things, the sorts of things King has been pointing out with his bulletin descriptions of some of the courses my own sad university is offering even at this moment. Praeger said he finally realized that the flaws, superficiality, confusion and just plain silliness harkened back to a verse he had memorized years before in Jewish religious school and not thought much about since: Psalm 111 � �Wisdom begins with fear of God.� He says, �It could not be a coincidence that the most morally confused of society�s mainstream institutions and the one possessing the least wisdom � the university � was also society�s most secular institutions. The Psalmist was right � no God, no wisdom.�

We have to look at what would have been unthinkable to me twenty years ago: The Enlightenment is dead. It was born 300 years ago to great optimism in the human potential,especially what we could discover through our reason and ability to think logically; it progressed unhindered to form the entirety of our modern secular understanding of things; but then it failed of its own weight and flawed assumptions and died, and all we have left are secular students who can only discover that things are sensitive or not.

But why would students be a surprise. Logic has fared no better in our culture. There�s no better illustration than abortion. Anybody with a faintly disinterested mind, even in Logic 101, could see that there is one central question to the abortion question: When does the fetus become human? There are secondary questions that follow: What makes it human? When does it happen? What are the implications for whatever criteria we choose for determining or accepting the humanity of the fetus for our larger definition of human beings? But as absolutely obvious as these questions are, I�ve never seen or heard them debated, not in universities, not in law, not in any of the organs we presume should give us rational discourse. And if we�ve allowed the deaths of over fifty millions of these creatures without attempting to wrestle at all with the central logical question, why would we expect logic elsewhere?

I hope, of course, that none of this sound insensitive.