The New York Times and other media have focused enormous attention on the tragedy in Ferguson, Mo., where an unarmed black youth was shot and killed by a police officer. Unfortunately, there has been very little discussion about the economic and social tragedy that has befallen an entire generation of young black men.
Today, more than 5.5 million young Americans have either dropped out of high school or graduated from high school and have no jobs. Today, while youth unemployment is 20 percent, African-American youth unemployment is 35 percent, and in the St. Louis area, it is even higher than that.
Incredibly, there are estimates that if present trends continue, one of every three black American men born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime.
If there is anything that we can learn from the Ferguson tragedy, it should be a recognition that we need to address the extraordinary crises facing black youths. That means, among other things, a major jobs program, job training and vastly improved educational opportunities.
BERNARD SANDERS U.S. Senator from Vermont Burlington, Vt., Aug. 20, 2014
Note from KBJ: How about personal responsibility, self-control, education, and respect for authority?
My 14-week summer vacation is over. Tomorrow I begin my 26th year of teaching at the University of Texas at Arlington. (If you count my year at Texas A&M University in 1988-1989, it'll be my 27th year.) I'll be teaching Logic to 38 students and Social and Political Philosophy to 30 students. (Those are the course maxima, not necessarily the actual enrollments.) My teaching schedule is Tuesday and Thursday, so I will shift my cycling schedule to Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Strong minds require strong bodies. I pedaled 1,276.9 miles since turning in grades on 13 May.
I had a wonderful summer, maybe the best ever. Katherine and I went to Six Flags over Texas; we attended a couple of Texas Rangers baseball games; we saw Alice Cooper and Mötley Crüe in concert; we watched many movies at home on DVD; we worked out at the gym together; and, most recently, we spent a week in the Black Hills of South Dakota (which included an extended stay at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument). I read many good books and articles (in philosophy, history, and sport), published an essay on Anselm's ontological argument, worked on another essay (about Peter Singer's hypocrisy), watched every minute of the Tour de France (over a three-week period), and prepared to teach Logic without a textbook. A few minutes ago, I printed the final version of a 45-page logic dictionary that I spent the summer drafting. I hope the students appreciate the effort.
As for why I decided to go text-free in Logic, it's simple. I tried several logic books over the years and got tired of explaining their errors to my students. Some sections were badly written or organized, and some just confused. It was time to go it alone. Obviously, this makes a great deal of work for me, but it'll pay off in the end. All the work I did this summer will make next year's course easier, and the course after that easier still. I am now text-free in all six of the courses I teach: Logic, Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, Biomedical Ethics, Philosophy of Law, and Social and Political Philosophy.
I'm looking forward to the fall: cool weather; college football; baseball playoffs; election day; and of course much cycling. Roto ergo sum.
We need the humanities more than ever. Consider the entrenched conflicts in this country and around the world; wouldn’t we benefit from civil exchanges of perspectives, dialogues among and within cultures, and critical reasoning about human values and traditions?
All the humanities have vital contributions to make toward this global conversation. We need the humanities because we are human. Philosophy, far from being “the most irrelevant and self-indulgent of the humanities,” a view Mr. Kristof ascribes to skeptics, has a central role to play.
Enrollment in college philosophy courses has recently increased nationwide.
While Mr. Kristof rightly invokes Isaiah Berlin, John Rawls and Peter Singer in this context, we should also remember a much older hero for the humanities: Socrates. The Socratic dictum “I know that I do not know” and the Socratic model of dialogue and intellectual searching are sorely needed as humanistic models of inquiry today.
MARTHA K. WOODRUFF Middlebury, Vt., Aug. 18, 2014
The writer is an associate professor of philosophy at Middlebury College.
To the Editor:
Kudos to Nicholas Kristof for his excellent column advocating the study of the humanities.
Literature, music and philosophy are necessary antidotes to today’s “follow the money” mind-set. What a sorry, shallow society we would be if we no longer cared about the things that essentially make us human: empathy, creativity and beauty.
Yes, computer science and finance may be important in today’s digital world, but they are merely one facet of what should be a three-dimensional whole.
SUSAN THALER West Haven, Conn., Aug. 14, 2014
To the Editor:
Nicholas Kristof touches on important aspects of humanistic inquiry, but he does not go far enough.
The humanities seek to understand the broad range of human experience. While philosophy offers perspectives and insights into moral and ethical challenges, the other humanities disciplines—art and architecture, history, literature, music, religion—give expression to the expansive range of human feeling and aspiration.
They offer insight into relationships among people, between people and society, and between humans and divinity.
Ultimately, through humanistic study, we come to understand the complexity of human experience, and as important, learn strategies for survival in a complex world.
We live in a time when we crave black-and-white certainty, as reflected in the obsession with quantification. The humanities teach us how to live, thrive and find meaning in a world that is painted in multiple shades of gray.
BEATRICE REHL New York, Aug. 16, 2014
The writer is director of publishing for the humanities at Cambridge University Press.
To the Editor:
Nicholas Kristof writes, “Let me push back at the idea that the humanities are obscure, arcane and irrelevant.” I concur. In contrast to what many young people think, the purpose of a college education is not necessarily to get a job. Among other things, it is about nourishing our souls. And with their many ideas preserved from ancient times, that is exactly what the humanities do.
MICHELLE SOLOTAR Los Angeles, Aug. 14, 2014
To the Editor:
Nicholas Kristof’s column is a fair defense of the value of the humanities, but could go further in justifying their relevance.
As Mr. Kristof suggests, philosophy, or “love of wisdom,” is often scorned by skeptics as irrelevant and self-indulgent. If trying to determine the meaning of one’s life, what we know or don’t know with certitude, or caring about justice and what it means to be free, are irrelevant, then the skeptics are right.
But philosophy is an outgrowth of the human condition—our constant desire to search for truth, justice, beauty and knowledge is inescapably human. We are philosophers despite ourselves, and exposing young men and women to the history of thought is an obligation we have to perpetuate an educated, compassionate and just society.
GLENN N. SKLARIN New York, Aug. 14, 2014
The writer is director of strategic communications at St. John’s University and an adjunct in the philosophy department.
To the Editor:
My daughter graduated from college last year with a major in philosophy. At her liberal arts school, she volunteered at an organization in the community that offered disadvantaged people legal, emotional, vocational and educational support. After graduating, she got a full-time job with benefits helping disadvantaged middle-school students to better succeed in their educational careers and in life. She has moved out of our home and fully supports herself.
Her education in philosophy and the humanities was far from “irrelevant” and “self-indulgent.” Rather, it taught her to care deeply about others and to help others as best she can. Such empathy is needed now more than ever in this rapidly changing and muddled world, which Nicholas Kristof so aptly describes in many of his columns.
DIANE GOLDSTEIN TEMKIN New York, Aug. 15, 2014
To the Editor:
Nicholas Kristof concludes, “So, yes, the humanities are still relevant in the 21st century—every bit as relevant as an iPhone.” I would argue that the relevance of an iPhone pales in comparison with that of the humanities.
“Goodbye Albuquerque, Land of Violence,” by Justin St. Germain (Sunday Review, Aug. 3), is a scathing commentary on the brutality in a city I call home. Locals issued a torrent of responses, some angry and some affirming.
I have to concede that Mr. St. Germain is right: Albuquerque is a dark place.
Still, I remember hiking the volcanoes west of the city when I first moved to Albuquerque. I expected that the desert landscape would be a barren wasteland. The truth is, the desert has dots of hope all over it.
The people of Albuquerque reflect their environment. Yes, there is a lot of hate here, but there are also beautiful bits of grace growing all over this city. People and organizations are giving their time and talent to issues of justice in the hope of a better future.
The opportunities to give pieces of ourselves to fill the gaps in a broken world are endless in a city like Albuquerque. So let’s refuse to let the violence lead to fear, resignation, fault-finding and online gripes. Instead, let it lead to showing grace in a desperate place. Albuquerque can change, one person, one caring deed, one act of generosity at a time.
Yesterday evening, Katherine and I watched Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006), which neither of us had seen. (I think I purchased it at Kroger long ago for five or six dollars.) The movie was quite funny. Will Ferrell is a great comic actor, and John C. Reilly cracks me up just by looking at him. I'm not a NASCAR fan, but I think I got all or most of the jokes. One thing I don't understand about comedies is putting adult words into children's mouths. Is this supposed to be funny? It's not. The kids are being used, for one thing; but it's also unrealistic. Kids say childish things, not adult things. All in all, I enjoyed the movie. Shake and bake, baby!
The author of "Portland, anyone?" (Insight, Aug. 14) extolled the virtues of living in Portland as opposed to S.F. Allow me to chime in with some facts, to wit: Twice the annual rainfall and 25 percent less population occupy 75 percent more square miles than S.F.
No sirens; no ambulances, no fire engines, no cop cars in a city of more than 600,000? I wonder.
As to Portland's being the most livable place in the U.S., such claims are totally subjective and open to a plethora of criteria.
And give Portland a visit in the winter when the average temperature is in the mid-40s and we're basking in the high 50s. I'm staying put.
Thanks to Kevin Fedarko for alerting us all to the possible desecration of the Grand Canyon. Two development projects threaten this jewel in the crown of our national park system. A foreign investment firm plans to build “2,200 homes and three million square feet of commercial space that will include shops and hotels, a spa and a dude ranch” just outside the entrance to the South Rim.
Most important, such a project will siphon off the water that runs through the canyon, thus destroying the natural habitat for numerous species. It will also forever spoil the beauty, the quiet and the pure awesomeness of the place.
It takes one’s breath away. I have seen people burst into tears or fall on their knees when they first get a glimpse of the canyon.
The other project is for a tramway with gondolas that would transport hundreds of people to the bottom of the canyon for short visits. According to the park’s superintendent, David Uberuaga, these projects “will change the landscape for all future visitors.”
The Grand Canyon is my favorite place in the whole world, and I tell people that they should try to see it at least once in a lifetime if possible. The government must step in to protect this magnificent heritage, a national treasure.