Friday, July 6, 2012

"The Closing" Opened My Mind

Allan Bloom
Allan Bloom (September 14, 1930 – October 7, 1992) is one of the most fruitful and resplendent scholars in modern American Academia.

He passed away almost twenty years ago, yet his work "The Closing of the American Mind" (1987) still inspires and instill and stirs up controversy.

His prophesies regarding the openness of political correctness, buffered by the closing of academic rigors and diminution of scholastic achievement, was a dour yet driven denunciation, one which has sadly been realized, and with a vengeance, not just in post-secondary education, but has also trickled into K-12 public schooling, with tragic results.

His most staggering and staying insight for me was the preeminence of the Ancient Greeks.

 I had often wondered why Ancient Greek myths and legends figures do prominently in Western Literature. Certainly, the allusions and themes of modern works traced their origins to the epic poems of Homer. The birth of tragedy and comedy emerged from the Ancient Greeks, as well, in addition to our understanding, or at least the foundational debates, about the role of citizen and the state in daily life.

For Bloom, the greatest insight from the Greeks was the inception of inquiry, in which the Greeks would not tolerate truth as defined by the established set of prejudices of one's group or nation. Recognizing the divergent and even contradictory elements which defined truth and beauty and ethics in surrounding nations, the Greek thinkers rightly posited that ethnicity as the core of veracity and tenacity was a slippery and misplaced value, one which did very little to inform individuals of their status in the world or the way to make themselves more than what they were.

The Greeks definitely developed this skeptical frame of mind following the expansion of trade in the Aegean and throughout the Mediterranean world. The customs of the Phoenicians, the religious practices of the Egyptians and the Israelites, the fears and concerns of Carthage and Rome, all informed the inquiring academic minds that they definition of truth, the stable elements which unity humanity, must arise for a source divorced from one's cultural upbringing.

This foundation notion, one which informed the search for certainties and outlines the paths for eternal constructs and linking elements among humanity, has come under ruthless attack in recent years. Multicultural education no longer looks for the human impulses which designate man's failures and successes in the world.

Then the factor of "openness" falls under swift and prolonged attack in Bloom's book. The insight, very unsightly when considered in its fullness, that an open toleration for every culture, for ever value without critiquing the merits and the lasting impressions of these values, has created a sickly conformity, one in which prejudices once again have won the day.

The irony of rugged individualism as the most subtle of conforming agents was not lost on Mr. Bloom, although the implications of this sad outcome have not prevent public schools from lashing out at difference or promoting empty ethnic stereotypes and de facto building blocks for identity and spirituality..

"The Closing of the American Mind" opened my mind and heart to the intellectual and emotional malaise which was trapping many young people in high schools and college campuses. I could not understand for the longest time why "conservative" values, religious eminence, anything which spoke of a standard beyond one's opinion, was no longer taking hold in  universities across the country. "University" in itself suggests without reserve that these institutions were initiated in order to define and defend the very precepts of inquiry which motivated the Ancient Greeks and break down the tribal myths and monstrosities which have held so  many in bondage.

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