Holistic People

"Mornin' sunshine." She smirked. I picked her up at the Starbucks attached to the Tuckahoe stop on the Harlem line. I was giving an informal talk at her alma mater that evening, and she agreed to show me around campus. From Yonkers, it was pretty much all highway, and assuming no traffic, it was less than four hours. Driving was the obvious choice. Technically, it was a business trip. We were both going to expense it, that's for sure. She'd be drinking, I wouldn't. It wasn't the lecture, which

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12 thoughts on “Holistic People

  1. Fantastic piece. Perhaps your best to date.

    I just posted a fairly long comment on your “The Supreme Court’s Student Debt Decision in Context” about my absurd arc of paying off what was to me sizable student loan debt following a BA in Philosophy, and what I followed after that with a necessary-for-employability-because-of-the-philosophy-degree JD/LLM. The LLM part is its own story of micro-absurdity, which you can see if you read the comment. And while my overall arc is to me anomalous, this arc took place more than twenty years ago, when the real cost of my degrees was far less than today’s equivalents.

    But immediately following the BA I did consider going down the PhD in Philosophy path. In fact I reached out to close to one hundred graduate programs in the U.S., requesting brochures (showing my age here). One thing that was particularly striking at the time when I reviewed all of the brochures that I received, was that the faculty at virtually all of the programs received THEIR PhDs from the same 15 or so universities. As such, if I didn’t get into one of those schools, I had to wonder what I might be relegated to with a PhD in philosophy from a “lesser” school. I’m not sure that is the case at all any more, but that was what my young mind thought of my findings at the time. Interestingly enough (at least to me), with my overwhelming preference in philosophy being what was then popularized as Contemporary Continental Philosophy, there were really only about 8-10 strong programs in the U.S. (most other PhD programs would have at most a token Contemporary Continental philosopher). Only a few of the 8-10 were among the 15 most frequent brochure appearances. Nevertheless I applied to several, and was accepted by none.

    On my own initiative I went to the office of a Philadelphia area Philosophy Department that has just initiated a Masters in Contemporary Continental program. I had applied there too, was also rejected by them, and I convinced them they should let me attend part time, and without stipend (I’d take on student loans to pay my way). I was at the beginning of a two year stint working in Philadelphia, prior to making a decision one year later to attend law school. I figured I could go to class part time at night, after work, incurring minimal debt while I figure out what I want to do longer term, and maybe even win over the faculty at this university to reconsider supporting my desires.

    What was immediately clear to me was that balancing work and even only two graduate classes was more than I could address in a way that I wanted to (specifically, I didn’t feel I was putting in the kind of effort I wanted to for graduate work). After the first semester, I stopped taking classes with them. This was somewhat heartbreaking for me. As noted above, soon thereafter I came to the conclusion that I would need some kind of advanced degree to enhance my employability, as my BA in philosophy opened so few doors. So I opted for the law school route.

    What you can see from my comment to the Student Debt article is that I then opted for a 23 year career of Federal service, with a great deal of that time spent overseas (and immersed in, and learning several, foreign languages). What I didn’t mention was that during a four year portion of that time (2016-2020), I entered and completed a Masters program in Continental Philosophy, part-time and remotely, at a British university (without any debt, as it was reasonably priced). It was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done (along with a career in service). And most recently, I enrolled in a separate British university’s Political Science PhD program, also part-time and remotely, with a heavily blended focus including philosophical aspects in my research project. I am very much looking forward to this journey, in addition to my post-Federal service private sector opportunities, and even standing up a think tank within the next six or so months.

    Sharing a lot here, but I think it aligns well with H’s points on the value of holistic-ness…

  2. Great piece. Plenty to think about. I have three degrees. One of them paid for itself several times over. The other two did not benefit me in any financial way. I feel that it is my choice whether to devote the time, effort, and money necessary to earn a degree. At least, it is my choice if it is my money. Now that I am retired I keep thinking about going back to school for some sort of history degree. The cost of a history degree would be substantial, and the paper submission process frustrating, so I considered just getting the reading list and educating myself. There is a library nearby, which is never very busy, so getting access to the books wouldn’t necessarily cost me that much money. Our society doesn’t really place much value on reading books anymore. I guess the feeling is that you can learn pretty much everything important by watching a 20 minute YouTube video. The qualifications of the maker of the video are not so important, as long as it is entertaining. I find that people generally do what is in their own self interests. How to incentivize reading?

    1. What’s wrong with the 20 minutes YouTube videos? Get a few of these on a given topic and you usually get a pretty good sense of the state of the knowledge on that topic.

  3. I like the piece but…

    It doesn’t take a college degree in humanities to know about autocracies, Nazism, fascism and communism. You’re supposed to cover these in middle school and again in high school.

    I suspect there are other reasons a plumber might be more susceptible to populism than a humanities graduate… Possibly, the kind of people who become plumber/humanities graduate, regardless of education.

    For example, I am personally quite convinced that one reason populism is so popular right now is that it truly answers a fair few of the short term problems the ‘in-group’ has faced in recent decades. It comes at the expense of the out-group (obviously) and has long term costs that no one who gets all morally outraged at fascism bothers to point out (lack of economic dynamism feels too pedestrian compared to immorality but it’s what doomed Francism in Spain or Salazarism in Portugal)

  4. It will be interesting to see how many white collar middle management jobs that involve endless meetings, trading e-mails, and avoiding responsibility by maintaining plausible deniability, will be thankfully eliminated by artificial intelligence. Many such jobs require the credential of a bogus bachelors or masters degree. I have an Ivy-league doctorate in hard science (STEM) so I put great value on a real education which I paid for eventually. But much of today’s non-STEM undergraduate education is little more than day care for young adults. And critical thinking is actively discouraged despite what the glossy brochures say about critical thinking because the priority nowadays is on maintaining safe spaces where no-one is “offended” by “hurtful” speech, which is anything the academic mob says it is.
    A thorough classical education is vital for the electorate of a Res Publica. Yet a real classical education requires the intellectual rigor and vigorous debate of the Socratic dialogues of Plato or Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. Can the average undergraduate today tolerate the Latin classics of Cicero, Seneca, Livy, or Marcus Aurelius ? Would they tolerate the study of Genesis of the Old Testament as mythic literature? I could go on a lot further to include the corpus of the European Renaissance and the Scottish and French Enlightenment but for the sake of brevity I won’t.
    And I will temper my enthusiasm for Edmund Burke, Churchill, George Orwell and Friedrich Nietzsche.
    I’m all for a rigorous classical education of Western Civilization. However, all this amazing literature that forms the edifice of Western Civilization would be mostly disqualified today because it was written by “white men”. I’m not even Caucasian, but I value wisdom from humans of any skin color or gender, even white men, despite that being so unfashionable today.
    What passes as higher education today is often “Studies” of anything and everything.
    But Hey, don’t take my word. If U want to know about the real state of higher education today from inside the ivory tower, I highly recommend reading “The Coddling of the American Mind” by Jonathan Haidt, ….or the classic tome, “The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education has Failed Democracy” by Allan Bloom.

    1. “However, all this amazing literature that forms the edifice of Western Civilization would be mostly disqualified today because it was written by ‘white men'”

      That could’ve walked out of a GOP presidential hopeful campaign rally in Florida (or a Trump speech). It’s nonsense or at the least, it’s an absurd exaggeration meant solely to inflame tensions.

      “Can the average undergraduate today tolerate the Latin classics of Cicero, Seneca, Livy, or Marcus Aurelius?”

      You make them tolerate it. They either read it, discuss it in class and prove they understand it by passing a written (i.e., using a physical pencil and paper) essay exam administered in class with no computers and no cell phones, or they fail. If that sounds unrealistic, note that there’s no need to make exams so onerous that nobody can pass them. The point isn’t whether students can deliver an ad hoc, off-the-cuff, publishable critique, or even that they’ll necessarily remember much of what they read in a decade. The point is that they can prove, in person, with a pencil, that they at least tried and that they understand enough of it that if they were to read it again for any reason later in life, or if something were to conjure the works in their minds, they’d say “Oh! I remember that. I read that!”

      1. Also, this: “…the academic mob says it is.”

        You’re trafficking in the same kind of inflammatory talking points I explicitly rebuked in the piece. And coming from someone with an Ivy League education and a PhD. That’s pretty unfortunate.

        1. Well Mr H, Ur ad hominem rebuke dismissing my education as pretty unfortunate is a projection from a mind with a polarized political perspective. I have no desire or need to inflame any tensions. Cable News already does that…and much better than I ever could.
          Ur berating rebuke also implies that U expect conformity with Ur views in any response from Ur readers, and anything less than conformity may be accused of “inflaming tensions” or summarily dismissed as lunatic fringe political talking points.

          I will also quote U from Ur reply to a comment. Ur statement about the Constitution dated July 1: “…based on centuries old document written by white men…is so absurd that it should be abandoned tomorrow…”. U wrote that Sir. And then Ur berating me for writing that most of Western literature from Classical Antiquity till now written by white men may be disqualified ….is using Ur rationale from Ur statement from July 1.

          I concluded my comments by saying, don’t take my word. I then offered the works of 2 very respected and non-polemical academics: Allan Bloom and Jonathan Haight that are the source of my opinions.
          My intention in my comments is that we need to hold academic institutions to a higher and more rigorous standard, ….and particularly so if we want more popular support for taxpayer funding of higher education.
          Fortunately, we agree on the value of a classical education and agree on the need to expect more academic rigor from our academic institutions.
          Let us endeavor to turn down the rhetorical temperature and refrain from any ad hominem attacks or shouting down contrarian opinions. I invite U to let us Be the change we want to see in the world, a world with more constructive and respectful dialogue. I have faith that we can agree on that.
          I invite any criticism of my comments based on facts and rigorous analysis because that is how I learn.
          Thank U for Ur excellent articles and I’m always looking forward to learning more from them. Best wishes for a good 4th.

          1. Dismiss your education? How could you get that from my comment? I was implicitly lauding your education. And my apologies if I offended you. I didn’t realize you needed a “safe space” or that you might be “offended” by my “hurtful” speech. I’ll be more sensitive next time. I guess it was just my “mob” mentality getting the better of me.

  5. My education was very narrow with only a trifle of humanities. Mathematics, JD, MBA. However, I read books. Lots and lots of books, on almost everything – history, philosophy, nature, science, literature, sports, fiction, pulp. And I traveled a lot, lived abroad, learned other languages, as a child and adult.

    My theory, based on this n = 1 sample, is that we should make every student at every level of school read a lot of varied books, and we should include study abroad in every phase of school from middle school onward.

    Ok, the abroad part might be tough – so just make the kids read and read and read. InstaYouTok is not reading.

  6. An inability to do homework (after effects of a 70’s divorce) at ten had me writing dictionary pages, every jot and tittle. This was in lieu of spring time recess and performed next to the exit door for everyone else going to play. “I read Clash of the Titans the following summer at age eleven. We had plenty old books around the house at twelve to thirteen “Men Without Women”, “For who the Bell Tolls”, “East of Eden”, “The Great Gatsby”, and others occupied me. I got my school books for the seventh grade early and had read most of the “Literature” before school even started. That was a reading trajectory that hardly dropped off with condensed forms of the educational classics speaking to me mostly twice, throughout the school years.

    Chasing the brass ring lead me to Austin Texas in my twenties where i found “Half Price Books” and began a deep dive into Anthropology titles. Sitting upon my speaker waiting for me right now is “Skeletal Biology of the Great Plains”, I cracked it the other day, it looks menacing, but i have read it before, and on a good day I measure in the top 1% of verbal acuity for my age group.

    I suppose this is the influential framework that supports my desire to subscribe here.

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