"I would we were all of one mind, and one mind good." --Cymbeline, V.iv.209-210. An English teacher's log. Slow down: Check it once in a while.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Dusk and Dawn: Poems and Prose of Philip Thompson

It is my great pleasure to announce the publication of Dusk and Dawn: Poems and Prose of Philip Thompson (San Diego: One Mind Good Press, 2005).

Thompson was an unusual literary figure: a musical and lyrical poet of spiritual depth in an age in which poetry has been largely reduced to prosaic emotional journalism; a witty satiric genius, able deftly to unmask the intellectual follies of the time; a profound illuminator of great literature and critic of literary and philosophical nonsense. He was also my friend and teacher.

After Thompson’s death in 1993, his wife decided to underwrite and I to edit a posthumous edition of his work. That collection, beautifully designed by Catherine Kanner, is now available from One Mind Good Press.

It is a treasure trove of poetry, wit, and wisdom from one of the best literary minds of the 20th century. I hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Is Man Naturally Good?

Quintessence writes, quoting me:

". . . the erroneous belief in the natural goodness of man": That makes me so sad. What a pessimistic view. . . . I'm probably just confused, but shouldn't that mean that when you get a new batch of students you trust none of them[?] You would expect them to lie steal kill cheat and otherwise sin until they've proven you otherwise. Haha I do think I'm mistaken sorry. Will you explain what you mean? The goodness of man is one of my primary beliefs and I don't understand how it's so easily dismissed. I automatically trust people and believe they will strive toward good until they disprove me. And even if they do disprove me, I still have hope for them. --Posted by Quintessence to Raplog at 12/01/2005 11:02:38 PM

I’m very glad Quintessence has written because it provides a good opportunity to point out the importance of dialectic reasoning. Please notice that I did not say “the erroneous belief in the goodness of man” but “the erroneous belief in the NATURAL goodness of man.”

The key is the difference between the idea of natural goodness and
a) man’s goodness as a creation of God (“And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good”); and
b) man’s goodness as a function of his own free moral choices.

Of course I trust students until they show me I shouldn't. Of course I’m optimistic. (One can't keep teaching for long if one is truly pessimistic; why bother?) And of course I have hope even for those who disappoint me, just as I have hope for myself when I disappoint them, which I’m afraid, being human, I do all the time. But I trust and hope because my students have, in varying degrees, been taught the value of choosing to be good.

However, when Jean-Jacques Rousseau asserted that man is naturally good and it is society that corrupts him, he altered the picture significantly.

This is not the place for a full lecture on the destructive influences of Rousseau and Romanticism from the late 18th century to the present. (There have been some good influences as well.) But if we believe in the natural goodness of man, we begin to think (wrongly) that “getting back to nature,” “following our impulses,” being guided solely by our feelings, letting children decide what they should learn, and freak dancing are the best ways to preserve individual goodness from the evil of society (not noticing that all these notions have been embraced and are taught by our popular culture—i.e., society!).

I believe, instead, that we are created to be good, but that our goodness is hard won, the result of education in the difference between good and evil and of the myriad choices between good and evil that we are called upon to make between the age of moral responsibility and the age of senility.

Now keep thinking dialectically: I’m not saying all feelings and impulses are bad or that we should never follow them. I’m only saying that they need to be governed by the reason and the will, so that we follow the good ones and resist the bad ones.

Why would anyone write a blog if he thought man were naturally good, and why would he think anyone should listen to him? He’d only tell people, as pop singers and beat writers do, to ignore him and drop out, go with the flow, let it be, follow your bliss, etc. (But have you noticed that even pop stars and beat writers don't drop so far out that they refuse to let society publish and distribute their words? And who but society is persuading us to gobble them up?)

Neither mind nor goodness is merely natural, and though nature is good, it doesn't itself care about goodness. Man is created to be good, but we all need help in learning what is good and in striving to pursue it.