Are we on a “Ship of Fools”?
From Katherine Anne Porter's novel, Ship of Fools, which was a big prizewinning best-seller in 1962, the producer and director Stanley Kramer produced a powerful and ironic film. I saw this film many decades ago but still remember much of it because it was so powerful.
This film is a drama about of characters traveling on a vessel from Veracruz, Mexico, to Bremerhaven, Germany, in 1933.
This quote comes from a web site about the film: “It is the poignant figure of the doctor that Mr. Kramer and Mr. Mann have framed to symbolize the exhaustion of that old and cultivated German class that might have stopped the Nazis, had it possessed the wits and energy. And it is he whom they have clearly made the symbol of the helpless healer in this soul-sick ship of fools.
All of this is symbolic of the passage of foolish humanity into the maw of Nazism, if you chose to see it that way, and it may even be symbolic of the eternal folly and helplessness of man. Mr. Kramer has put it into motion at a leisurely, rolling pace that suggests the cyclical rhythm of a voyage across the sea—or across the horizon less stretches of a complacent world.”
Are we a hopeless and foolish humanity traveling on a globe much in the manner of the passengers on the ship of fools?
Are we going to hell in a shopping cart?
Our culture is permeated with an obsessive desire to acquire stuff. We educate our self so as to gain quick entry into the race for the acquisition of more stuff than our neighbor. We are going to hell in a shopping cart because our educational system focuses attention upon the practical problem of preparing our self for the race to efficiently produce and consume more stuff.
Normal science, i.e. those sciences controlled and guided by paradigms, which I guess are primarily those based upon the sciences of physics and chemistry, have been so successful in meeting their respective goals that we have placed this form of intellectual inquiry on too high a pedestal. We have become deluded into thinking that the methods utilized by these sciences are not only the best but the only useful means for acquiring valuable knowledge.
Normal science graduates too many sophomores (sophomoric—conceited and overconfident of knowledge but poorly informed and [intellectually] immature). American culture enshrines and ritualizes hubris (exaggerated pride or self-confidence). Specialization is a boon to narrow mindedness.
It is human nature to be attracted to the mere appearance of things; the survival of many kinds of animals is dictated by the ability of the male and female to attract one another resulting from the colors and forms of eye appeal. We dress in the morning often based upon what type of trial we are facing; we gain a sense of confidence when we are confident of our appearance.
Our culture provides us little incentive to examine the common principles of our nature in such matters as morality and aesthetics. Such principles represent the very foundation for our actions. We finish our formal schooling without even rudimentary comprehension of these fundamental aspects of our nature. Not only do we finish our schooling with this fundamental ignorance but we leave schooling with a disdain and dismissive attitude of such matters.
We finish schooling with a prejudice against our self. We develop a satisfaction only when we think of our self as being surrounded by objects and laws independent of our self. We finish school unaware of the psychology which is the instrument of our speculations about these laws and principles. We aggressively dismiss the exclusively “subjective and human department of imagination and emotion…we have still to recognize in practice the truth that from these despised feelings of ours the great world of perception derives all its value, if not also is existence…had our perceptions no connection with our pleasures, we should soon close our eyes on this world”.
I think that specialization is perhaps a necessity but it is not necessary, nor is it health, for us to graduate sophomores who lack the rudimentary knowledge of fundamental human capacities and limitations. Also the self congratulatory attitude resulting from a mistaken hubris leaves us handicapped in any effort to develop a sophisticated comprehension of our problems after our school daze are over.
‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world.’ (Mohandas Gandhi)
Quotes from The Sense of Beauty: Being the Outlines of Aesthetic Theory by George Santayana