Transmitting the Passwords – or Not

I ran across a poem, said to have been written by the French aviator/writer Antoine de St-Exupery.

I don’t think St-Ex wrote this poem: I’m pretty familiar with his works and haven’t seen this poem in any of them, and it also doesn’t seem stylistically quite right.  I do, however, recognize the book and the passage that were surely the inspiration for the poem,  That would be his unfinished novel of ideas Citadelle, published in English under the unfortunate title Wisdom of the Sands.  (The reason the novel is unfinished is that St-Ex disappeared in 1944 while flying recon missions in a P-38 with the American forces)

Citadelle represents the musings of a fictional desert prince: on society, on government, on humanity.  Here are some excerpts from the relevant passage:

“Nevertheless,” I mused, “these men live not by things but by the meaning of things, and thus it is needful that they should transmit the passwords to each other, generation by generation.  That is why I see them, no sooner a child is born, making haste to inure him in the usage of their language; for truly it is the key to their treasure.  So as to be able to transport him into this harvest of golden wonders they have reaped, they spare no toil in opening up within him the ways of portage.  For hard to put into words, weighty yet subtle, are the harvests it behooves us to transmit from one generation to another.”

“..But if the new generation lives in houses about which it knows nothing save their utility, what will it find to do in such a desert of a world?  For even as your children must first be taught the art of music, if they are to take pleasure in playing a stringed instrument; even so, if you would have them, when they come to man’s estate, capable of the emotions worthiest of man, you must teach hem to discern, behind the diversity of things, the true lineaments of your house, your domain, your empire.

Else that new generation will but pitch camp therein, like a horde of savages in a town they have captured. And what joy would such barbarians get of your treasures?  Lacking the key of your language, they would know not how to turn them to account….(the barbarian) throws down your walls and scatters your possessions to the winds.  This he does to revenge himself on the instrument which he knows not how to play, and presently he sets the village on fire–which at least rewards him with a little light!  But soon he loses interest, and yawns. For you must know what you are burning, if you are to find beauty in its light.  Thus with the candle you burn before your god. But to the barbarian the flames of your house will say nothing, for they are not a sacrificial fire.”

“..This, too, is why I bid you bring up your children to be like you.  It is not the function of some petty officer to hand down to him their inheritance,; for this is something not comprised in his manual of Regulations..You shall build your children in your image, lest in late days they come to drag their lives out joyously in a land which will seem to them but an empty camping place, and whose treasures they will allow to rot away uncared-for, because they have not been given its keys.”

It strikes me that most of the institutions of America today–and also, I think, throughout much of the West–are acting, unconsciously or with intention, to inhibit the kind of password-transmission about which St-Ex wrote in the above passage.

I’m also reminded of something CS Lewis wrote, which I quote very loosely:  “If you want to destroy an an infantry unit, you cut it off from its adjacent units.  If you want to destroy a generation, you cut it off from its adjoining generations.”

Two earlier posts inspired by CitadelleWhen Sleep the Sentinels and Of Springs and Cables

Worthwhile Reading

Self-censorship among scientists, for ‘prosocial’ reasons…and the harm it does.

How sculpture and ornament-making has been semi-industrialized for centuries, using a device known as a pointing machine.

Selecting government officials in China –historically and at present.

Support for using violence to suppress campus speech, broken down by college major.

The growth of anti-Israel radicalism in the Democratic Party: how much of this has been due to Obama’s attitudes and associations?

The District of Columbia has established minimum education requirements (a high school diploma is not enough) for child care workers. Is there a study that validates a significant positive correlation between such training and the quality of care provided?  (What would you guess)

Katherine Boyle argues that some people are great at judging people but not great at judging systems. Others are great at evaluating systems but not people and says that it’s very rare to meet someone who is exceptional at both.

Inspirational:  A cancellation attempt that backfired.

Teach the Children Well

Here’s the union that represents ‘educators’ responsible for teaching 600,000 Los Angeles kids, celebrating May Day in collaboration with Students for Justice in Palestine and other Left-oriented groups.

Here’s a ‘Model Curriculum’ for second grade and below:


And here are Girl Scouts in St Louis, teaching kids to chant ‘Free Palestine’ like zombies.  Video.

Will it be any surprise if the kids who are subject to this kind of indoctrination turn out to behave like these ‘protestors’?

And/or this UPenn crowd reacting to raw footage of the Oct 7 massacre with cries of “liar liar colonizer”? Video

Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

How to spot high-agency people.  Interesting list.

The genealogy of nuclear fear. (Nuclear here referring to nuclear power, not nuclear war.)

A survey cited at LinkedIn:  Gen Z (aged 16-25) wants to work in media and entertainment when they grow up.  “This generation values things like work-life balance, flexibility and creativity over more traditional values like job security” also, half of this demographic is interested in pursuing entrepreneurship in some way.  Here’s a link to the actual survey.

How much ‘work-life balance’ does a successful actor or director really have, though?  And entrepreneurship, other than the most casual, tends to be quite intense in its time demands.

CBS News reports that roughly one in three young shoppers in the U.S. has admitted to giving themselves five-finger discounts at self-checkout counters, according to a recent survey.  A response at X:

America does not have the moral cultural norms for there not to be a massive amount of theft. We’re too self-centered, individualistic, and we celebrate envy as a desert claim in the name of “equity.”

There is certainly a big cultural problem here, but I question the idea that Individualism and Community are opposites…traditionally, there has been quite a lot of both in America, as I believe Tocqueville observed.  My thought is that both individualism and community are in danger of being replaced, and in many case have been replaced, by anomie.

Claire Lehmann suggests some books for helping children learn about history and philosophy.  Other suggestions in the replies.

NYT finally reports what many others have been writing and speaking about for some time:  the school closures for Covid are correlated with a sharp decrease in student learning.  How do we square this data, though, with what we know about the preexisting generally poor low and declining quality of US public education?

The AI world is all astir with the news that San Altman has been removed as CEO of OpenAI…and now, the board is negotiating with him for his possible return! There are many explanations floating around as to what is really going on. The organization/governance chart for this enterprise, which someone posted at X, is rather…unique.


Speaking of AI, somebody at X thought that Biden should have issued an executive order to require the rehiring of Sam Altman and his associate who also left. (Tweet  now deleted.)  There was no mention of what possible legal authority Biden might have for issuing such an order, but increasingly people seem not to worry much about such things. The other thing that struck me was that such an order would be analogous to an order by President Eisenhower to require the Traitorous Eight to return to Shockley Semiconductor in 1957.  Or, even earlier, to require Bardeen and Brattain to remain at Bell Labs and keep working with Shockley on grounds that the transistor was such a critically important technology for national security and economic well-being.

A lot of people have trouble grasping the idea that if something important is being done by a particular institution, that doesn’t mean it could not be done equally well…or much better…by other institutions, including ones that may not yet exist. We see this phenomenon, for instance, in discussions of education and the future of the Social Security system.