Urban Versus Rural
There's a lot that's dividing Americans right now - lots of divisive narratives that have captivated lots of people, which I've spent a good deal of time critiquing on this show. One of those narratives that I haven't paid as much attention to, however, is the narrative of the widening political divide between urban and rural culture
Especially in the wake of the 2016 Presidential election, we are told that America's city and country dwellers have become so separated that they might as well live in two different countries. Yet, that narrative turns out to be historically ignorant. The truth is that the evolution of America's urban and rural communities has always been symbiotic.
One of the best historical case studies of the symbiosis between city and countryside features the city of Chicago and the rural American west, documented by William Cronon in his award-winning book, Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West, published in 1991. In this episode, we reconsider the relationship between urban and rural in light of that history.
Notes On Tribalism
"Notes on Nationalism" was an essay written by George Orwell in 1945, just as World War II was ending. It caused quite a stir at the time, but most people these days have never heard of it. Nonetheless, "Notes on Nationalism" remains one of the most powerful examples of Orwell's timeless insight into human nature; in this case, focused on our instinct to gang up on each other, our instinct for tribalism.
Orwell never used the term "tribalism" himself -- he wrote this essay a generation before that term became widespread. However, I suspect his essay was a primary factor in raising awareness of the social pathology of tribalism, and his diagnosis of the problem precisely captures the liabilities of tribalism plaguing us today.
The Fate of Universities
Like many others, I’ve begun to worry about the fate of higher education in American society. Having spent most of my professional life in academia, my instinct is to regard the university system as sacred – as Wisdom’s Workshop, to borrow the historian James Axtell’s recent book title. Liberal democracy relies fundamentally on a very well educated citizenry. And modern civilization more generally relies on a significant number of us possessing hard-earned historical perspective on what is true and what is good, and hard-earned scientific perspective on the full reach of human potential.
For 800 years, universities have represented one of the most important institutions for fertilizing and cultivating that perspective, and even protecting it against humanity’s tendency toward self-destruction through war, tribalism, and superstition. Despite how radically our society has changed over that span of time, universities have remained critical in supporting our ability to know ourselves and to know the world better and better, and to steward that knowledge from one generation to the next. That is what makes the university system sacred. As modern civilization’s primary workshops of wisdom, universities are designed to safeguard the primary sources of human progress. Any threat to the university system should worry us. Today, there appear to be multiple, and the most frustrating thing of it is, those threats seem to be mostly self-imposed.
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