April 18, 2007

Universities are for teaching. But for teaching what?

Dafydd has a great post you should read about Virginia Tech that covers things I was groping towards yesterday...

....But what about the other presumably adult men and women at that campus? Most were nowhere near the scene and therefore never had the opportunity to test their courage, their honor, and their worth. This is a minor tragedy in itself; it's the subject of one of the greatest poems ever written in English: "Elegy Written In a Country Churchyard," by Thomas Gray.

But there are others; there are also those who were there, who were close by. What did they do? How did they acquit themselves?

Did they gather those around them and hurry with them to safety? Did they save themselves? Each of these is a minor virtue, and I don't want to knock it. Sometimes, such minor virtues are all that a person can achieve, given the time, place, and opportunity.

But surely there must have come a time when a man or woman, hiding not far away, saw that the gunman had turned his back. What that person did in that moment is the true assay of character.

Maybe someone charged at the gunman -- but foul fate intervened, and the butcher heard, turned, and added another victim to his hellish toll. Anyone so killed is as heroic as Professor Librescu.

But -- and I hate the thought, even as it screams insistently -- it is virtually inevitable that there were others who were there, who saw an opportunity, but who were frozen to the spot with dread. Or else they talked themselves into believing that there was nothing they could do. Or worst of all... some must have done nothing because they had been carefully taught that "nothing" was what they were supposed to do. I cannot help thinking that for many students at Virginia Tech yesterday, just as for the fifteen British sailors and marines, "fighting back was not an option," because to them, it is never an option....

The world we live in teaches us, constantly, in a thousand different ways, that the only important thing is ME. And the most important thing is to keep ME safe and comfortable and alive. It didn't use to be this way, past societies always honored heroes,and those who made honorable choices at the risk of their lives.

The lesson the world teaches is nihilism. That nothing really matters, except keeping ME alive and happy. (And even the "alive" part is conditional, if I get old and suffer I should chose euthanasia!) The lesson is always disguised, because few people will admit to being nihilists. It's often disguised as Leftism: All that's important is rights, not responsibilities. Or pacifism and Quakerism: Gandhi and Jesus want us to be sheep. Or hippie-dippy spiritualism: I'm not interested, I've found peace.

What our teachers and leaders should be teaching us is that any moment we may have to make a life-or-death decision. And that there are worse things than dying. And that death may be preferable to dishonor. But very little in our culture teaches those things. It's not just because of hatred of Bush and hatred of America that there are no headlines when one of our troops is awarded a medal!

It's painful to think about how the concept of "honor" has almost disappeared. Though it was often a bit ridiculous, with swaggering D'Artagnan's fighting over trifles, it was also the secular equivalent of Christian self-sacrifice, and the valuing of things of the spirit above mere selfishness and survival. You can be sure the professors and administrators of Virginia Tech would reject honor with a sneer...

It's no accident that the same people hate The Church and hate honor. They are intimately connected. Honor is dependent on people believing�somehow, deep down�that there is more to life than just "me." It is a religious idea. Where faith dies honor will die too, by and by. That's what I'm suspecting, anyway. Recent example: the Royal Navy.

Posted by John Weidner at April 18, 2007 6:47 AM
Weblog by John Weidner