Originally posted 7/11/2004
I read about this incident in December, 2001, and have been thinking about it ever since. (The article appeared in Information Week, of all places.)
In May 2001, the writer went to see a movie in the upscale NYC neighborhood of Chelsea:
Before the movie started, the coming attractions included a public-service ad–you might have seen it on TV–showing a mother and small child in a home, then the outside of the home, then into the air to show the neighborhood, then higher to show the city, then miles up into the sky showing the whole country. And then it showed a pilot in a jet high above the earth from whose perspective the earlier scenes were viewed: a pilot in the U.S. Air Force patrolling the skies while the audio played the gentle song, “All Through The Night.” When the audience realized that it was an ad for the military, many people hissed, booed, or laughed derisively.
Several unpleasant forms of human behavior were on display here–for starters, ingratitude, class snobbery, and a generally jaded and sneering attitude. It strikes me that no society in which such attitudes prevail is likely to long survive.
And something else strikes me. The probability of individuals behaving in the way that these people did is directly proportional to their educational level. It’s very unlikely that people with only high school diplomas would have responded to the film in the way that these theatergoers did. It’s more likely that college graduates would respond in such a way. And it’s very likely indeed that those with graduate degrees (in the “humanities,” not the hard sciences) would respond as this audience did.
(I have no proof for the above conclusion, but it seems pretty obvious based on the way that attitudes in our society tend to be distributed across educational levels.)
In C S Lewis’ novel That Hideous Strength, the principal character is captured by a sinister cabal. He is put through a process of training which is aimed at killing “all specifically human reactions” in a person.
To kill the “specifically human reactions” in a person and substitute something else…is that the effect of higher education–especially graduate education–as often carried out today?
Please understand that I am not arguing against education in general or against humanities education in particular. Judging by its fruits, however, something is much amiss with higher education as conducted in America today (and, I suspect, in Europe as well.) It often seems to create and/or reinforce in an individual a set of unloveable attributes such as:
–An unmerited assumption of superiority toward his fellow citizens
–An inability to appreciate skills other than the ones he himself possesses (such as, for instance, the ability to fly a jet fighter)
–An inability to engage on an emotional level
In the Information Week article, the writer (editor-in-chief Bob Evans) expresses the hope that the attitudes expressed at the movie would, in the light of 9/11, become a thing of the past.
This undoubtedly was true in some cases (as evidenced from the stories of many denizens of the blogosphere.) But the positive reactions to the Michael Moore movie (which almost certainly come mainly from the same class of people who jeered at the film in Evans’ article) indicate that the malign spirit of which he wrote is still very much alive.