Not wishing to sound hubristic -- and keeping in mind King Solomon's admonition that "Pride goes before destruction and haughtiness before a fall" -- I want to say a word or two about my education. While I certainly make no claim whatsoever to being the smartest fellow on the block, I will proudly own up to having been afforded a truly marvelous, first-rate education. Thanks to a host of factors including family circumstance, I was able to attend some great colleges and universities and earn four degrees over a nearly eleven-year period. And unlike a college education today, mine was bereft of anything even remotely practical; I studied Greek, Latin, French, Hebrew, Aramaic and Yiddish and took courses in everything from Greek philosophy and Chinese history to the Phenomenology of Husserl and the string quartets of Beethoven. Along the way I had the chance to read much of the world's great literature, learn a lot of history, economics, political philosophy and natural science, and have my thought processes challenged and shaped by some truly brilliant mentors.
The more one learns, the more one wants to learn. The more one knows, the more one realizes how little they know. The more one studies, the more one understands that knowledge is both a process and a destination.
I well remember my father -- whose own college career came to a screeching halt with the Depression -- saying me time and time again, "Kurt, tell me about this course: why are you taking it? What do you think it's going to lead to?" My answer, invariably, would be, "What's it going to lead to? Not much . . . except an increased thirst for knowledge." And although Dad never really came to grips with his only son's "air-headedness," he did continue to support my dream of becoming the best-educated kid on the block.
Hell, I couldn't hit a curve ball or nail a three-pointer . . .
Without question, the pursuit of knowledge can take a person down a lot of varied roads; some are paved and straight; others meandering and deeply potholed. Hopefully, they all headed to a destination called "truth."
Having written the above, it is with a certain amount of stupefaction that I report on some of the "facts" or "truths" they never taught us in grad school:
- That the "Shot heard 'round the world" occurred in Concord, New Hampshire, not Massachusetts. (Michelle Bachmann, 8/28/11)
- That the purpose of Paul Revere's Midnight Ride was to ". . . warn the British that they weren't going to be taking away our arms . . ." (Sarah Palin, 6/5/11)
- That it was the Constitution -- and not the Declaration of Independence -- which speaks of "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." (Herman Cain, 5/21/11)
- John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) was one of America's Founding Fathers, despite being a mere 9 years old in 1776. (Michele Bachmann 6/28/11)
- Not only were America's Founding Fathers all against the institution of slavery, they fought a War of Independence against Britain to bring it to an end. (David Barton 6/28/11)
- Looking ahead to 2012, America should be mindful of the threat posed by a rising U.S.S.R. (Michele Bachmann, 8/19/11)
- That most people on public assistance use the money they receive from the government to purchase illegal drugs (FL. Gov. Rick Scott, 6/5/11)
- One of the main causes of America's economic reverses is the rapacity of labor unions.
- Both Social Security and Medicare violate the Constitution and are tantamount to slavery. (Rep. Ron Paul, 5/15/11)
- Global Warming is a hoax perpetrated by Socialists and liberals. There isn't a shred of scientific proof that the earth is getting warmer or that man has caused it. (Rush Limbaugh, 2/15/10)
These are merely a few of the more egregious "facts" that have found a believing audience these past few months. These are, of course, in addition to three classic "truths":
- Government, far from being a remedy, is the source of most of America's problems.
- The cure to nearly everything that ails modern American society is a combination of lower taxes and less regulation.
- The Second Amendment permits virtually unfettered possession of any and all kinds of weapons and ammunition; that even a single limitation upon this right is but the precursor to government confiscating all weapons.
Part of the price we pay for living in a society which guarantees the right of free speech is permitting the existence -- and global airing -- of such manufactured "facts" and "truths." That is not the problem. What is a problem is that for far too many, the mere appearance of a "fact" on radio, television or the Internet makes it true. What is an even bigger problem is that many of those who give voice to these "truths" know them to be baldfaced lies. For many, the knowing promulgation of falsity fuels notoriety, which in turn can lead to celebrity.
Far too many of our so-called leaders -- and those who seek to shape public opinion -- find no problem in displaying how much they don't know. When made aware of a mistatement of fact, one would hope and expect an errant pedant or prophet to listen and learn. One would hope. But today this is increasingly no longer the case. Recently, when George Stephanopolous challenged Michele Bachmann's statements regarding the Founding Fathers (including the pre-teen J.Q. Adams) as working tirelessly to end slavery she refused to back down from what were obvious misstatements of historic truth. And far from admitting that perhaps -- just perhaps -- Ms. Bachmann had made a boo boo, many commentators took after Stephanopolous, calling the the former Clinton-era aide a "hack," and accusing him of "threatening" Bachmann.
To be "fair and balanced," during the 2008 campaign, then-Senator Obama did say, "Over the past 15 months, we've traveled to every corner of the United States. I've now been in 57 states? I think one left to go . . ." When asked about this misstatement, the Senator laughed, smacked his forehead, and said "You got me on that one!" Nonetheless, his detractors have continued to use this against him . . . some going so far as to say that the "57 states actually refer to the 57 Islamic states in the world."
Nowadays, it would seem that what makes a fact a fact is not whether it is true or varifiable; it all depends on who is giving it voice . . .
Eerily, it's now been more than 30 years, since graduate school. I'm happy to report that my thirst for knowledge has yet to be slaked. In addition to preparing my High Holiday sermons, I'm rereading Victor Hugo's L'Homme Qui Rit ("The Man Who Laughs"), Phyllis Bottome's The Mortal Storm, and Victor Navasky's Naming Names, and getting ready for a new semester in which I'll be delivering six lectures a week.
But I still can't hit a curve ball or nail a three-pointer . . .
©2011 Kurt F. Stone