Abstractions and Real Life




I ended up a year or so with a magazine subscription to The American Scholar. (It’s published by Phi Beta Kappa; I had nowhere near that academic track record, thus I sometimes feel like an outlier when I first open an issue.) However, it’s not as academically inclined as you might think; most of its articles and essays have to do with modern day social problems and issues, largely from the perspective of the authors. These are about equally parceled with articles on little known aspects of history.

Its writers’ perspectives is the ingredient that makes this mag worthwhile. All have some personal attachment to their subject matter, and that makes all the difference. Just this morning I read a newspaper article about a California pastor preaching that the 49 who were shot to death in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub “deserved what they got.” He kept using the term “homosexual” and “pedophile” interchangeably in his rant. Of course, in a community as extensive as the gay community, there may be a few pedophiles. But such a broad spectrum of humanity will also have conservative gays in committed relationships. Clearly this guy has no pastoral relationships with gays; thus he speaks of that community in the abstract.

And take the presidential candidate who tosses off the possibility of using nukes in Europe, of giving nukes to previously fascistic national actors. Here again, this man knows little of the impact, both short and long term, of nukes on those using them as well as on those on which they’re to be used. To him, there’s little difference in a conventional bomb and a nuke – a man who knows nothing of the nuclear triad.

These are but two contemporary examples of persons unfamiliar with social phenomena of their day, thus thinking and speaking of them as abstractions. And in both cases, thinking of them in this way, if acted on, can cause great harm.

Thus I listen when I read in The American Scholar of a man with extensive presence in our national parks. And of the wife of a journalist constantly present within the great national dramas of our Vietnam era. In an increasingly technological age, it’s easy to abstract everything. And it’s no great irony that finding information on life in its true nature still comes to us in print media.




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