Two Cheers for the Whippersnappers!

Friday, January 07, 2005

The Grim Reaper Taps me on the Back

Believe it or not, I'm still chuckling over this one because it is almost absurd....

As the oldest of my parents' three sons, I have made it an annual joke to send my brothers an email on my birthday warning them of which sign of advancing age they can look forward to next. This year, it was "old man noises." Any man who doesn't know what I'm talking about will, when, some time in his mid-thirties, he bends over to pick something up and makes a mild grunting sound!

I am afraid I will have to break with the annual and the humorous aspects of the tradition by issuing them some urgent advice: get your damned cholesterol checked! At my wife's urging, we got some bloodwork done just to make sure everything was OK. We are, after all, both in our thirties, and thinking about having kids. Much to our surprise, my kkkholesterol (Unlike loony lefties, I save my kkk's for things that pose real threats to my existence.) was a whopping 270! This is so high, it sounds like a joke! Fortunately, my "good cholesterol" was also very high, at 110. I recall that there is a family somewhere with obscenely high cholesterol -- but no ill effects therefrom -- who possess a mutation that causes them to have high good cholesterol and so not suffer from the ill effects. I'll check this out, and not just out of idle curiosity. I do also plan to have that parameter rechecked and then get examined further if necessary. (On the one hand, I was in fabulous New Orleans and had had a meal of fried seafood the night before. This could conceivably have skewed the results. On the other hand, my mother is on cholesterol-lowering drugs. On Zaphod Beeblebrox's third hand, I think she otherwise had no signs of coronary artery disease. On yet another hand, my dad's dad, to whom I bear many resemblances, once had quadruple bypass surgery.) Suffice it to say that, though I might be laughing about this, I am damn well going to find out what's going on. If there's a problem, I want to do what I have to do to make the grim reaper try a little bit harder to get me.

As one of the members of my home brewing club put it, "What do you do? Drink oil?"

"No, I replied," but if you cut me, I'll bleed red, and there will be a slick on the ground."

Ambulatory Corpses

But that's enough of that. Let's pause for a minute to reconsider the brain-dead.

Shortly after I reviewed Sam Harris's book, reader Tom Miovas sent me his thoughts, which included the following:

... Harris' skepticism leading to oriental mysticism may be one of the most damming indications of how an education in the humanities [in today's intellectual climate] can destroy what might have otherwise been a good mind.

I would certainly agree that one's culture can make it easier or more difficult to act morally. In today's thoroughly corrupt academy, for example, the temptations are many for someone to do what Harris did in his book. But still, at some point, Harris had to give in, to surrender the sovereignty of his mind. He remains accountable. Read on for a counterexample.

Still Kickin'

But I'm done with adults who have crucified the best within them and would like to point my readers to a couple of younger minds who still seem to be thinking for themselves.

First, there's one "Ben," whose blog I wanted to mention in my Sam Harris review, but couldn't find. Like myself, he noticed the aimless meandering of Harris's prose and mentioned it in his review. Though he seems a bit of a subjectivist, he also seems to be very independent-minded and, from a quick skim through other parts of his blog, a go-getter. In any case, here are a couple of excerpts from his review.

[Harris] is particularly on-the-ball when discussing the new trend of “religious moderation.” Instead of excepting moderates from his blistering attack on fundamentalism, he is even more harsh on their movement, which has blossomed because the Enlightenment, advances in science, and increasing reliance on reason and evidence to fuel society, have in combination chipped away at many tenets of religion.

And then:

Alas, Harris’ versatility also leads to seemingly directionless meandering, as he ventures into abstract philosophy, consciousness, and neuroscience. By the end, I wish he would have devoted those energies on further discussion of the mortality argument ([C]an we humans just not accept that life will end?) instead of showing off his wide-reaching intellect. But my sense is that any well-documented effort like Harris’ can be heralded as a success if it prompts the reader to dig deeper, keep reading, and keep answering millennium-old questions with more questions.

Not bad for a sixteen-year-old who left the book with "more questions than answers."

I wonder what he'd have to say if he knew about Harris's other intellectual interests?

And now, recalling the earlier lamentation about the state of academia brought up in this post, let's see what our 16-year-old entrepreneur may face as a collegian -- and how one student fought back.

Via Powerline, I learned of a native Kuwaiti now attending college who had the temerity to write a pro-American essay on the Constitution and was awarded not even an "F" for his efforts! Instead, his "professor" told him to see a psychologist! (This story reminds me of Robert Tracinski's column, "Why do they hate us?") From their excerpt:

This scared me. I didn’t want to be deported for having written a pro-American essay, so as soon as I left his office I made an appointment with the school psychologist. She let me go with a comment that I don’t need regular therapy. As I left her office, I couldn’t help thinking that even my Palestinian high school teachers had never tried to silence me [emphasis added] or put me in therapy.

The full article (also by the student) is worth a read (though I am suspicious of any movement -- like Horowitz's -- that calls for "academic diversity" instead of privatization of academia). Also, take a look at the essay. Though it unfortunately cites America's "selflessness" (missing the fact that a free, peaceful Kuwait is in the interest of both the Kuwaitis and the Americans), its author is unabashedly grateful towards America. And the student, Ahmad Al-Qloushi, praises the Constitution. And, though the professor left his mark in that the praise is highly qualified (the poor fellow did have to pass the course, after all), he hits the nail on the head at the end of this passage.

The US constitution might have required many amendments for its [sic]to catch up with modern times but no nation had a constitution which challenged the US in terms of equality and freedom at that particular time which made the document a very sophisticated one for its time a document which was feared by monarchs as being “too progressive”. It’s because of the American constitution ... Dye and Zeigler could critique this constitution and Americas [sic] Founding Fathers. [emphasis added]

After seeing another young man, Sam Harris, sell out, it is refreshing to see the spark of life in the minds of Ben and Ahmad. They've a long way to go, but at least they've got a fighting chance because they have not abdicated the responsibility of thinking for themselves.

Keep it up, boys! Some of us old codgers out here are rooting for you!

-- CAV

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