Friday, May 2, 2014

Zeal without Knowledge


One of the hallmarks of modern liberalism is its zeal for such things as "progress" or "change" or "fairness" or "diversity" or "indiscriminateness." We see examples of zeal every day in the news stories that attempt to induce us to respond to the latest crisis. According to the latest news, we're just one assault rifle away from mass extinction, Amanda Knox is the next Ghandi, and Donald Sterling is the anti-Christ, related to Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.

That's one kind of zeal. Liberal zeal takes other forms: the political panic over global climate change; the craze to condemn marriage supporters for any multitude of "sins"; the inconceivably demanding push to establish protected class status for gays; the huge money and lobby expenditures to pass same sex marriage legislation.

It occurred to me that modern liberal zeal lacks proper knowledge. Here's an example of what I mean from an old friend of mine:
Zeal is the engine that drives the whole vehicle: without it we would get nowhere. But without clutch, throttle, brakes, and steering wheel, our mighty engine becomes an instrument of destruction, and the more powerful the motor, the more disastrous the inevitable crack-up if the proper knowledge is lacking. There is a natural tendency to let the mighty motor carry us along, to give it its head, to open it up and see what it can do. We see this in our society today. (Nibley, Zeal without Knowledge)
The modern liberal motor is mighty indeed, speeding us into exciting new directions, into the direction of unqualified change. Yet this zeal lacks proper knowledge to guide it.

Who's steering the zeal? Who's controlling it? Who knows anything about where we're going or what the consequences will be? Is spending trillions of dollars good for the economy? Who knows? But we need to attack the problem with a lot of zeal (and money)!

Will changing the definition of marriage have any unforeseen consequences? Who cares? Let zeal carry the day and the New England states! Is introducing homosexual sex to kindergarteners detrimental? We have no idea but we must let zeal win the day! Is Brendan Eich an evil person? Yes, because he stands between liberals and their zeal! (And he once agreed with a Mozilla staff member about gay rights. That makes him not only evil but a hypocrite as well!)

Where does this zeal without knowledge begin? The phenomenon of the lack of proper knowledge is readily apparent in the modern school systems that currently fail to teach students anything worthwhile. Sure, the students can learn a bit about math, something about reading, and a smidgen about writing. Yet, by the time students reach my classes in college, they rarely, if ever, read anything substantive and can barely write. (Since I don't teach math, I cannot vouch for their math skills.)

What these students have learned is the product of liberal zeal: no child is left behind; every opinion has equal value; there is no such thing as competition; correct answers don't matter as long as effort is made; even the smallest effort is rewarded.

I teach a class on political ideologies. Each semester, as the new class begins, the students have no dearth of opinions on any subject about which we talk. Liberal democracy? Socialism's better. The Republic? Outdated. Conservatism? Dead. Fascism? Evil. Socialism? Making the world a perfect place? Some students would argue and argue (if I'd let them) around points of ideological doctrine, about which they know next to nothing. This is a prime example of zeal without knowledge. Without any educational effort, or without having read anything substantial, somehow these students have created opinions about how ideologies are put together and they are more than willing to argue the point.

The cure is education, but not the vacuous and meaningless education that typifies modern schools. What is lacking? Simply put, schools lack any grounding in foundational principles. History is all but a dead subject. Classes on the US Constitution have disappeared. The Classics are considered merely treatises on homosexuals (usually pederasts), ignoring the vast wealth of knowledge and experience the Greeks and Romans gave us.

The educational system encourages test taking. The educational system discourages reading. No Child Left Behind discourages teachers from teaching. The list goes on and on and on.

Also at work is the information overload inherent in modern communications. We are to the point where we are surrounded by vast quantities of knowledge but lack the means or the will to focus on the truly important. We're bombarded by trivia and factoids so when we win at Trivial Pursuit, we think we may actually know something.

We're educated by television, identifying more with Locke from the old TV show Lost than with our next door neighbor. (I had to look up the name and the TV show, by the way.) What information overload does is "shut out all the wonderful things of which the mind is capable, leaving it drugged in a thoughtless stupor." (Nibley, Zeal without Knowledge)

Along with poor teaching and even poorer teaching models, an overload of information, and the thoughtlessness of modern minds, we are left as a people who are all too willing to adopt any modern social doctrine without the slightest sense of loss of what we've left behind.

Who, my friend asked long ago, will listen patiently to correct knowledge if he thinks he has the answers already? What gets in the way of learning true knowledge? The answer is zeal. "True knowledge never shuts the door on more knowledge, but zeal often does." (Nibley, Zeal without Knowledge)

So we get carried about with every wind of liberal doctrine that comes along. We're caught up in the grand zeal, the emotion, the hope of change and the promise of a better future for all. No one seems to notice, or cares, that no one is steering the mad social engine which threatens to careen out of control.