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"Non scholae sed virta discimus"

 

Introductory Comment:

I remember sitting alone in a Rome coffee shop trying to advance a paper on “productivity in higher education” which was overdue when I looked out the window and noticed a band of young people, probably high schoolers, lounging against a lamp post and parking meters. There were two girls and two boys in normal conversation. Then another boy appeared across the street. Immediately, in a wave of exultation, all four called to him. He crossed over and it was like a lost friend had brought a gift of joy. Why they were all so delighted I do not know, but the scene had transformed from mundane to radiant. I sat mesmerized for a few minutes, then tried to get back to my paper---to hell with it---then began one of my Letters to Young Friends----I don’t remember which.

I wrote these letters and notes usually on a Sunday evening, often in a coffee shop. This was work done obliquely, “do the deed shall breed the thought”, which I secretly enjoyed, more than the required dictation I gave on Monday morning. Sometimes the need for more research would take part of the work week---a distraction but not unwelcome.

JOH

Reprinted here are 30 articles selected from over 180 published by Dr. Hunter for college students during his years as college president.

  Respect For Truth    
  Robert E. Lee    
  St. Patrick's Day    
***
The Royalty of Marriage    
**
The Girls Of Tehran( Reference Letter 22)    
1.
Artificial Intelligence and the Singularity Part 1
16.
Mimophantry
2.
Artificial Intelligence and the Singularity Part 2
17.
Mythical Reality
3.
Artificial Intelligence and the Singularity Part 3
18.
Soldierization
4.
Alcohol and Co-dependence
19.
Professor Bloom's Critique of Relativism
5.
Getting Real
20.
Misbegotten Respect for Suicide Bombers
6.
Love of Truth
21.
Lifting Lenin's Curse
7.
Young and Reckless Behavior in a Declining Culture
22.
Tiananmen Square
8.
Abortion
23.
Solzhenitsyn
9.
Marijuana
24.
Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.
10.
Reality Testing
25.
A Lesson From George Washington
11.
The Bad Example of Professional Athletes 
26.
A Personal Tribute to John Paul II
12.
Facing Violence
27.
 Facts, Lies, and Rumors
13.
Dinesen's Wisdom
28.
The Role Of Women In War
14.
Power of Love
29.
Rational Process And The Mountain Of Irrationality
15.

Paradoxical Reality

30.
Coping With Change
16.
The Royalty of Marriage    

 


Respect for Truth

Did you ever think  you would see what is now happening on our college campuses?--  masked radical agitators  punching,women in the stomach? spitting and throwing feces? campus police asked to stand down while radicals vandalize buildings, set fire to classrooms, wreck automobiles, break windows?
Well, I certainly did not! It is the most outrageous display, not only of intolerance but of crime and violence, that I have seen in the environs of American higher education. Consider the  example of that flagship campus,University of California, where student government voted to ban the American flag and 100 professors signed  a petition in defense of violence; agitators were allowed to destroy property and shut down conservative speakers.
But worst of all is that college administrators simply stand aside and, in some cases, actually defend the chaos. 
Who are these guys? not just the agitators but the administrators,who seem to have no respect for Truth -- not all but enough of them to begin to ask, "what do you think you are doing?" They are flying on the wings of ideology.
Where are the college presidents who should be  defending academic values and upholding the law?. Wherever they are I don't hear much about them and my ear  is pretty close to higher ed ground..
What is coming across to the public is weakness,lewdness, denigration of our Constitution, and ridicule of  historical achievements-- a  stream of invective and hyperbole that so far seems to go on without challenge except for a few courageous organizations , such as American Council of Trustees and Alumni , FIRE, and Young Americans for Freedom. Thank God for them and their allies.
What's behind all of this? I believe it stems largely from the Marxist orientation of radical left-wing professors who are striving to capture the high ground for Revolution-- an "alienation of the intellectuals" that the preeminent historian,Crane Brinton, posited as the first stage of revolution in his classic work, Anatomy of Revolution.
Why are there so few cool-headed folks on the academic front lines now? What happened to the old balanced engagement of "I disagree with you, but I will defend your right to be wrong - - let's go get a beer and try to work it out."
Ronald Reagan said," we are always only one generation away from loss of freedom."  I used to take that with a grain of salt, but now it seems to me fairly astute.
We are facing a crisis,but I remain confident that there is a residual core of committed professional educators who could right the ship if they would step up to answer the call: Not all left-wing or right-wing thinkers are deluded or to blame for the extremism of their colleagues-- and of course we need sharp dialectical analysis and disagreement.
Too much of the language and action now unfolding is putting us on a slippery slope to destruction: Too many of our students and some of their professors are opting for violence, and something must be done about it.
In my view, a lot of it is due to the media complex that loves to stir things up for ratings. What happened to the old professional journalism that tried to be impartial and thus helped us in a search for the truth? Has it been sunk by ideological warfare? Can we recover from the polarization  and enjoy once again the honor and thrill of objective teaching? 
I am,of course,reflecting my own experience in higher education. Yesteryear, I do not recognize the nihilism nor the hypocrisy that is so clearly evident in this new generation of radicals. It was not there to any significant degree in any of the college communities I served.
So I do not believe the radicals can win unless we give them the prize through cowardice.
Yes,the ideology as always can be a problem that may fester as long as it already has,through the 20th century, but I am betting on other forces, and I shall keep the memories of building something greater than ourselves.
Bottom line, the salvation of the America we know is not with our colleges and universities. It is in the loyalty and good will of my students and the ordinary citizens who still believe in America, work hard, love their families, and continue to practice their faith as Christians, Jews, Muslims, even those who do not confess their religious faith-- it's getting harder but these good people have not yet given up:
They need a boost of greater Respect for Truth from those who have vowed  to lead!
                                

JOH: 9/17/17

 

 

Robert E Lee  

I look upon General Lee as a mentor and friend: Obviously, we did not know each other personally, but during my years of fascination with the Civil War I read enough about him to place him in the same degree of other heroes of mine, such as Abraham Lincoln or the poet Robert Burns.

General Lee was asked by Abraham Lincoln to assume command of the Union Army, but after reflection decided that he could not honorably desert his native state of Virginia. He remained an advocate of states rights.  In my view, even today he is entitled to the honor and dignity that was vested in him until the recent madness that has afflicted our sense of American history.
Lee was universally admired by those who fought for and against him.

Much in the description  of Chesterston whom I recently quoted here, Robert E Lee was the consummate Southern gentleman, a model of integrity, dignity, courage, humility and gallantry. There are few other true Americans who arch above him.

In 1865 he assumed the presidency of Washington College, which in time became Washington and Lee College, and for the rest of his life dedicated himself to the task of national reconciliation. The notion of Lee’s racism and hatred is so false and detestable that I have only scorn for anyone who makes that argument. A portrait of Lee as college president shall remain on a wall in my home with his words inscribed: "Duty is the sublimest word in our language. Do your duty in  all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less."

I honor the legacy of General Lee, and many other men who fought for the Confederacy, not because they were men fighting for a just cause, but because they were mortal men striving to do what they believed by honorable lights was right, even though,inevitably, like so many other good men who have accepted the mantle of difficult leadership,  ultimately failed.

It is the mission and plight of the current idiots , raging much like the Taliban in the Middle East, to destroy monuments  that reflect culture and history they do not like. Given license, they cannot rest from their ideological passion until their  targets are erased from our history. And if  successful, what shall they have gained? Can we actually bind up our wounds as a nation by denying its past?

Where and when does the purge end? 
What about Washington?   Jefferson? Madison? Jackson? 
 Or, if this license is given, what about, on the other side, the life and example of Martin Luther King,Jr?.  That’s not plausible, you say?
 
Are we now testing the power of mob mentality?

 

JOH   11/01/2017



St. Patrick's Day

Saint Patrick

Life gives to each of us a mix of pleasure and regret.Of all the things I am proud of in this life one on the top shelf is that my mother gave birth to me on St. Patrick's Day.

 Revered as the patron saint of the Irish, Patrick was not Irish.
His birthplace and year of birth are not exactly known, but he was born somewhere on the west coast of Great Britain about 400 A.D. in what is now called Scotland or Wales. His family was well-to-do.

At the age of 16 he was kidnapped by some Irish pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland. He served as a slave for six years, tending sheep herds for his master. His life as a shepherd was endless misery. Left alone with the sheep in the hills, he was usually cold, hungry to the point of starvation,without shelter, and forlorn.

But this was also a time when his soul surged: he went deep into his inner self to gain spiritual command. He realized that there was more to this beautiful land with its lush green hills where he had been placed and more intended for him than what he was doing.

 At that time his name was Maewyn Succat. It was later changed to Patrick when Pope Celestine canonized Maewyn to sainthood.

Did he drive out the snakes in Ireland? The factual answer is no, there were never any snakes in Ireland; but there is also a spiritual answer. While on his green hillside with the sheep, he came to know that he was not a good person and would go to hell when he died. In this quiet time of misery and sorrow Maewyn reached out and found his Lord, Jesus Christ.

Then by God's grace he was able to escape and return to his earlier home, but there was no intention by God or Maewyn for him to stay there. He had fallen in love with Ireland, and after a visit to Rome, returned to his adopted country as a missionary to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.

He is celebrated and honored on March 17, the day he died, for bringing the light of Jesus Christ to the nation and people he loved. 

Until he came the common religious beliefs were that of paganism and druidism, full of fear,terror and captivity of darkness.By bringing the light of Christianity into Ireland, he drove out the “snakes of evil.” In less than a century the Irish Catholic Church, as distinct from Roman though allegient to the Pope,was founded.

Patrick used three leaf clovers of the Shamrock to explain to his @people the three persons of the Godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – Blessed Holy Trinity that we confess in Patrick's Prayer of Lorica. He taught that it is not our physical death we should fear but our spiritual death, being totally separated from God. Thus he restored us, as Jesus and his disciples did, to hope, faith and love.

And so I say to my family and friends, HAPPY SAINT PATRICK’S DAY!

It  I discovered the facts of this story when I visited the island of Iona, just off Craigmure, Scotland several years ago.I still remember this experience vividly: the monastery and nave where I found information on the lives of St. Patrick and St. Columba,the huge Celtic crosses, long hours spent on the rocky cliffs above the harbor,the charm of a little house where I stayed at Craigmure, and the walk across the moor to the ferry. 

 

 

JOH 11/1/2017

 

 

The Royalty of Marriage

 

The royal marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton proves once again that the British have the market on pomp and circumstance. It was a glorious affair, raising hope once again that the monarchy is not done. The image of this beautiful young couple with no power outside of their  celebrity is a welcome and, above all, promising---yes, promising---historic event. 

Yet, when a marriage takes place, royal or otherwise, can divorce be far behind?  A marriage these days, unlike a diamond, may not be forever since nothing must get in the way of the pursuit of “personal happiness”.  Will William and Catherine make it as responsible, exemplary monarchs, willing to sacrifice for something greater than themselves, or will they be the last breath of the Windsor house proven at last to be totally useless?  They shall need intelligence and courage beyond the norm of people their age. If they can maintain, their contribution will extend beyond their own family and country.

Given the embarrassments of Prince Charles and Diana and of Edward VIIIand Wallace Simpson,
the monarchy’s run would be over by now were it not for the examples of a valiant wartime king, George VI, and his daughter, the  sensible hard working Queen Elizabeth II. (What an interesting time connection between this marriage and the Academy Award winning film, “The King’s Speech.”)  The pressure now will be great, especially from the British intelligentsia which hates the idea of monarchy and will never rest until they get the micro destruction they desire.

The royal marriage revealed again the power of tradition. Too many fail to catch the significance of it and how important it is in a world gone chaotic. What does this all mean for all of us who still  believe in our fundamental western institutions and the orthodox process of civilization---and are willing to fight for preservation? 

The scariest part is that it is among the lower classes that marriage continues to collapse in an exponential fashion. What does a drop of 40 per cent in the marriage rates within a generation signify?  The social statistics are now clear on what we have known intuitively for a long time about wholesome living.   Married women experience much less domestic violence than unmarried women do and their children are far more healthy both physically and mentally.  Unmarried mothers and their children are 40 times more likely to become victims of sexual abuse.

Place this social nightmare in the context of trends driving many of our young people today: why for example does dressing, talking and looking like prostitutes appeal to naïve young women? (Ariel Levy brilliantly analyzes this question in Female Chauvinist Pigs.) Why do young men wish to flaunt their “masculinity” by extolling their sexual identity in a vile, raunch culture that saps their identity and leads to the irony of their emasculation? Why are we facing a coming age of feral children? We are now well past the time of recognizing that these trends have a lot to do with our moral culture vanishing into narcissism and greed---the self above all.

The fundamental values embedded in marriage and family are not just about love: perhaps more important are the values of loyalty and trust  and mutual respect.  Good marriages may survive diminishing love but not likely the disintegration of this essential triad.Mature people will try to sustain it.

That is why the British rejoicing of the marriage of William and Catherine is not just an event meaningful for them.  It touches us as a celebration of the  historic and heroic exercise of something meant to last. One of the journalists covering the event said that all marriages should be royal marriages: maybe that is too far into fantasy world, but it’s not a bad wish. 

JOH:lbh  5/01/2011

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The Girls of Tehran

 

I remember the Chinese students in Tiananmen Square twenty years ago.(See Letter # 22.) The Tiananmen revolt failed because the Chinese government was willing to use brutal methods of suppression combined with the timely economic expansion that began to create a rising middle class.Newspaper sources reported that over 3000 protesters were massacred. There was no possibility that the young revolutionaries could gain power despite the justice of their cause and their courage.

Is there a similar situation now unfolding in Iran? Whatever the outcomes we are witnessing a major historic event that demonstrates yet again the universal hold, especially on young people, of desire for liberty and justice. The young Iranians are the young Chinese are the young East Europeans are the young Africans, and further back the young Americans, expressing values of integrity and dignity that are instinctoid and are not washed away when their blood flows.

I think what makes the Iranian experience of 2009 different than our own revolution of the late 18th century is the central role of moral leadership taken by young Muslim women. Even when the male leaders retreat they hold their ground-- these are the girls of Tehran!

What is the reason and source of their defiance? Is it because they lost the most when the theocracy was created after the fall of the Shah and have the most to gain from its acquiesence to reasonable demands for reform and accountability? We have only glimpses of what these girls endure in their daily lives under a despotic theocratic regime.

In the streets it is best that they not be seen nor heard, keeping eyes focused on the ground, not daring to look at passersby. Azar Nafisi, author of “Reading Lolita in Tehran” (2003),explains that the streets are patrolled by militia called the Blood of God to make sure that women wear their veils properly, do not wear makeup, do not walk in public with men who are not their fathers, brothers or husbands. At any moment they may be hurled into a patrol car, taken to jail, flogged, forced to wash toilets and humiliated in other perverse ways -- for their own education and protection. The humiliation of women stems from new sharia law that lowered the age of marriage from 18 to 9, reinstated stoning as punishment for adultery and prostitution, as well as other offenses not clearly defined.

In a recent case, the Iranian painter Delara Darabi, 22 years old and in prison since she was 17, accused of murdering an elderly relative, was hanged even though she had been given a temporary stay of execution by the Chief Justice. The British journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown reported,”She phoned her mother on the day of her hanging to beg for help and the phone was snatched by a prison official who said,’we will easily execute your daughter and there's nothing you can do about it.’ …” Mother, I can see from my window the scaffold where they are going to hang me.” Darabi’s paintings reveal the cruelty to which she was subjected.

Domestic violence is a serious problem in all countries, but in Iran and some other Muslim countries it is validated by laws. There have been enlightened times when Muslim civilizations respected and honored females. Apparently this is not such a time in Iran. The Ayatollahs have induced a culture of hatred of women.

Some of us in the West have wondered why Muslims conceal or condone the persecution and violence against women and other backward practices? Why do some Muslim women seek to justify honor killings, forced marriages, polygamy and childhood betrothals?

Except that now we have the brave girls of Tehran! Against the massive forces of paranoia, cruelty and legally validated persecution and violence against women, they are stepping up to the front lines and declaring their opposition. Can they win anything? The possibility may seem remote, but they are telling us that this is not a time for hopelessness and despair.

From the tragedy of Hungary in 1956, to the Praque uprising to the Czech "Velvet Revolution," to the collapse of the Soviet Union,fundamental change succeeded despite enormous odds against it -- much due to the words of peace-bound literary leaders such as Vaclav Havel, Solzhenitsyn,and John Paul ii. In her account of the struggle of women in Iran, Azar Nafisi adds to this power of literature -- not propaganda, Truth.

Currently in America it seems that we are struggling to find national consensus on our values in a time of complex negotiations with dictators and and of the inability to recognize evil in the world even when it is clear for all to see. The meretricious argument of moral equivalency too easy prevails.

What is required for America to stand in support of the Iranian revolution? It is not a question of interference but of whether or not we shall continue to express the principles, ideals and aspirations that were crucial in the founding of our own nation and that have made America the best hope for a devastated world that again needs our example. Shall we be brave enough to stand alongside these young Iranians?

JOH 7/10/09

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Artificial General Intelligence and the Singularity (Part I of III)

 

Even though I place major priority on the value discussions in my “Letters to Young Friends”, my spirit tells me that this is the most important Letter that I can offer for young people today. It is intended as a warning, a challenge and a reassurance of your ability not only to survive but to prevail in the exciting time of exponential change now upon us. I will begin by explaining my own interest in the subject, then asking you to respond in your own way.

When I was Dean at Niagara Community College in the late 1960s I joined the World Future Society and became an active member. By the late 1970s I had grown disillusioned with the Society’s agenda and dropped out. I thought then that preoccupation with artificial intelligence was a wrong footed approach to invention of the future.( I have since humbly changed my mind.) But it was through that association that I first became aware of the significant differences between linear growth and exponential growth.

The lesson of exponential growth is well captured in the description of a lily pond which may grow plants at a seemingly innocent rate, doubling each day until half the pond is covered. The next doubling suddenly covers the entire pond. That is exponential growth. The effect has proven time and again in various activities, such as a bank savings account in which a 21-year-old puts aside $2,000 per year, never touches it and finds a yield of a million dollars when he retires at age 65.

The significance of technological change that is now occurring exponentially is outlined by the brilliant computer scientist and forecaster, Raymond Kurzweil, in “the law of accelerating returns”. For an immediate penetrating description of Kurzweil’s work go to the web and click on, The Singularity Is Near. A film based on Kurzweil’s book of this title is now in production with a pledge of release in late 2009.

In a very creative example of why and how we now stand on the verge of the most transformative period in human history, the film uses a computer avatar named Ramona who gradually acquires self awareness. Ramona detects a secret attempt by microscopic robots (nano-bots) to destroy the world. Although her warnings are ignored because “she is not a person”, she nevertheless stops the robot attack by virtue of her superior artificial intelligence.

While most people may be aware of sci-fi depictions of AI creations in movies such as Matrix, The Terminator, or I Robot ( from Isaac Asimov) few are aware of the broader significance of AI in all phases of human endeavor. A few examples:

*I am using Dragon software to dictate this article (a great help to me because I was never very good at typing); but even more sensational are INTERACT programs which allow us to converse fluently with someone in China even though we do not speak Chinese and our Chinese friend does not speak English.

*Carnegie Mellon University's school of computer science has a car, Ralph, that can drive itself.

*One of Kurzweil’s inventions is a machine reader for the blind; another is the Kurzweil Synthesizer which accurately duplicates the sounds of real instruments.

*Cisco Collaboration Technologies is creating a set of computational tools for artificial intelligence that can be used to do things like predicting traffic jams, improving machine vision, and understanding the way cancer spreads.

*A computer mind chip that gives an individual immediate access to his own library.

 

These examples are certainly not mundane but they are at the low level of AI possibilities, pretty much alreadytaken for granted--like our “Tom-Tom’s-- because we are moving on so rapidly--from narrow AI to Artificial General Intelligence.

Ray Kurzweil and others now see the coming of self-aware machines of super intelligence within the next 30 to 40 years, perhaps sooner. This will happen because of the event of technological singularity. Kurzweil defines the Singularity as a coming epoch, almost upon us, in which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed. ”Although neither utopian nor dystopian, this epoch will transform the concepts that we rely on to give meaning to our lives, from our business models to this cycle of human life, including death itself.”(K.)

We are now beginning to reach the “knee of the exponential curve”, which is the stage when the exponential trend becomes noticeable. Then the trend quickly becomes explosive.

Kurzweil believes that the Singularity will represent “ the culmination of the merger of our biological thinking and existence with our technology, resulting in a world that is still human but transcends our biological roots.” He expects thinking machines to pass the “Turing test”--meaning its nonbiological intelligence will be indistinguishable from our biological intelligence by 2029. The nonbiological intelligence will be millions of times more powerful than our own unaided intelligence.

What are the implications of such astounding development if it occurs? How shall we learn to live with these machines? Is there much to fear from them, as Asimov’s story suggests? Or in considering the “nanobots” of Ramona’s story are we in danger of destroying our world by allowing nanotechnology to proceed with the development of these microscopic self-replicating mechanical structures? Will we lose control of the development of the New Creation? Is all of this fantastic discovery and invention playing God? What are the possibilities--and consequences—of a neo-Luddite attempt to halt the drive to the Singularity? Are Kurzweil and other singularitarians wrong in the first place as some critics argue?

These are premier questions and issues of your future. Will you be a singularitarian--or an informed critic-- or an “AI detective”? In part two of this series of “Letters” I shall attempt to provide a framework for discussion.


Letter to Young Friends ( April 10, 2009) JOH

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Artificial Intelligence and the Singularity  (Part II of III)

 
Throughout my career as an educator I kept my graduate association with the US Army Artillery School in Oklahoma. During my last visit there, I saw a tall, broad shouldered Sergeant walking down a stair -- with an artificial leg! I was stunned, and I believe you will see the significance. In conversation with him I learned that he was preparing to go back to Iraq as a functioning squad leader. The prosthetic device he is using is driven by microprocessors at each joint, just one of many new applications that permit amputees who previously would have been unable even to lead normal civilian lives now to return to the battlefield. In one sense the Sergeant is a special soldier, yet in a broader context of how our Army is developing he is not extraordinary.
 
U.S. Army Research, in conjunction with DARPA, is working on a “super warrior”, 10 of which would be equivalent to today's brigade. They will have an exoskeleton that allows them to carry 180 pounds as though it were 5 pounds, run and leap like track stars, and will be plugged into a Pentagon grid. Add this new hardware capacity to predator drones that already exist. Combine this with new “smart” artillery which is deadly accurate and very fast. Yet even these recent developments pale in comparison with the robot army coming.
 
In this new era the military robots will have the intelligence to make battlefield decisions that presently belong to humans. They will have significant cognitive advantages over human soldiers. Herein lies the danger  that the US office of Naval Research is now seriously considering. The perception that robots will only do what humans have programmed them to do falls apart in at least two ways: It fails to take account of artificial intelligence becoming Artificial General Intelligence;  second, that programs are no longer written and understood by a single person. There are teams of programmers, none of whom know the entire program so no one can predict how large programs will interact without testing in the field -- an action unavailable to designers of military robots.
 
This does not mean that the robots cannot learn a warrior code, just as our human soldiers have done through superb training.(See my Letter on “Soldierization”.) But it will be a dramatic undertaking and immensely important to develop the ethical dimension if we are to avoid the peril projected by Asimov in his story “I, Robot”. Can this be done? Probably but not certainly. Could we simply stop the development entirely? Perhaps but not likely.
 
The dilemma posed here is but one of several in a future of continuing exponential growth --  ironically,  dilemmas which may depend on non-biological super intelligence to solve. The compelling likelihood is that in your full maturity you shall either learn to coexist with subservient robots and conscious machines or face a battle for survival against these super intelligent machines turned psychotic. Do not be afraid! Face the existential fact that  life is a challenge! The odds for positive outcomes are high.
 
The AI fantasies imagined by science-fiction writers have not materialized (not yet at least), but AI is already in more common usage than many of us realize. As Nick Bostrom (another AI scientist) has pointed out, AI inspired systems are already integral to many everyday technologies such as Internet search engines, bank software for processing transactions, software for large inventories, and in medical diagnosis. “A lot of cutting-edge AI has filtered into general applications, often without being called AI because once something becomes useful enough and common enough it's not labeled AI anymore.” (Bostrom)
 
 My generation has exemplified adaptation to rapid technological change, even those of us who are not technically savvy. Consider these developments of the past 30 years: the Personal Computer (as college president I first authorized expenditure for one TRS 80 in 1978); then ability to communicate greatly enhanced by fax machines in the late 1980s; and then the Internet, invented by US government but exploited tremendously by entrepreneurs in the private sector. At the same time on the bionic front, I know a man with two artificial knees and two artificial hips; the quality of his life is far beyond what it could have been 50 years ago.
 
As computers became more powerful they also became correspondingly less expensive to own and smaller in the bargain; in the near future they will look like pens that we carry in our pockets. Now it is almost standard that everyone has access to a computer. Of course there are  issues (e.g. loss of privacy), but we learned to adapt and adjust in relatively easy fashion. Our world changed and we changed with it. But there is a dialectic at work here too: we ordinary people did not see much of this change coming; we are like passengers facing backwards on a train hurtling with ever greater speed into the future.
 
What my generation has experienced is mild on the growth curve compared with what your generation shall see. The issues will become much more profound, going to the very heart of what it means to be human. The first question is, can a machine with nonbiological intelligence become self-conscious? Kurzweil, Bostrom and other Singularitarians are convinced beyond doubt that such an event will occur during your lifetime. If so, how can humans ensure that these super intelligent machines are benevolent allies of humankind? What strategies and policies need to be considered now in order to ensure that the relationships between humans and machines will be positive? What are the prospects for -- and the potential consequences -- of trans-humanism, the merging of machines and humans in the same entity? Where is God in the equation for whatever shall evolve?
 
If we view  the dangers as too great to allow continuing technological development along these lines presented, what are our  options? Can we stop these trends? I would argue, citing Kurzweil, Bostrom and other AI scientists as well as their critics, that we may indeed modify our directions of development in the sense that we have always played a role in our evolution, but that the evidence is too overwhelming contrarily to think that we can, or should, place extreme barriers in the path of science and technology as it seeks to discover how Intelligence is flooding our world.
 
So far in human history,science and technology have steadily advanced, sometimes with quantum leaps. Yes, there are also wrong moves and stoppages.  A recent example of the latter is a worsening of  famine in Africa due to the movement opposing genetically modified food. In Africa and Central and South America people starving or on the edge of starvation are asked to give up the promise of expanding their food supply by elitist organizations for ideological reasons.
 
Science also has a natural overarching capability to go around irrational obstacles. The long-term trend of technological innovation is perpetual advancement. As Ray Kurzweil put it, “Only technology can provide the scale to overcome the challenges with which human society has struggled for generations. Emerging technologies will provide the means of providing and storing clean and renewable energy, removing toxins and pathogens from our bodies and the environment, and providing the knowledge and wealth to overcome hunger and poverty.”
 
It is often said that education is preparation for the future. So what is your best preparation? This is just my opinion-- you must decide that on your own-- but in whatever field you find yourself  I commend you to become an “AI detective”  Look for the pros and cons, the dangers and potential benefits of emerging technology. You do not need to be a Singularitarian, but as an educated person you should have awareness of what this term means. Whatever your major, find a way to explore through electives in the liberal arts and sciences, such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, cognitive science, and philosophy of ethics (Kant) and aesthetics. In all of your coursework, strive to develop a positive but critical frame of mind. And if there are moments when the load becomes too much to bear,”choose something like a star… to stay  the mind upon.”
 
 

Letter to Young Friends (April 15, 2009)                                                                               JOH

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Artificial Intelligence and the Singularity (Part III of III)

When the Singularity comes, as I believe it will when you are in your mid-40s, another great leap in the evolutionary process will change our world (and potentially the universe) in a manner similar to the human species becoming self-aware aeons ago. When that was exactly we cannot know, but it was then that God created us in his image, not physically but spiritually, with a capacity for moral choice and creative design.

Just as the appearance of the first flowers miraculously and beautifully adorned the landscape of lushgreen vegetation that had been rioting on the earth for thousands of years, so this new human creature, separate in kind from all the other animals, arrived as God's new miracle. At some point in the development of the human animal there emerged what can only be called the human soul. Our soul's presence is self-evidence that we live in a spiritual as well as physical world.

Whether or not our new self-aware creations -- Thinking Machines -- will have a soul is a subject of debate in the community of artificial intelligence scientists. The level of intelligence that they will bring is also debatable but most projections place it much higher than our own. There is an important difference between our evolution and their’s: we did not create ourselves, but we are the agents creating these machines, at least until such time as they supersede us in their replication. In this sense we are a partner in the evolutionary process. I believe this is how God works.

But wait! Let's stop for a moment to reflect on what we mean in reference to God. First, God the Creator:The Primary Cause-- the architect of the universe -- did not need to be concerned about humankind, and in my view likely was not concerned, when He fashioned the laws by which the universe is governed. I believe in the power of prayer, but I do not believe that the Creator left a loophole for our whims of the moment to intervene in His creation without reference to the grand design about which we know very little. God is of course almighty, but insofar as the physical universe is concerned, not primarily benevolent.

But evolution is not just physical; it is also spiritual. With the emergence of the human soul there is a different sort of Deity which begins to express itself, not to spare humankind from “the problem of evil” but to provide guidance, compassion and the healing power of love. In our conscience and experience we can find the highest, noblest expression of this love. In the words of St. John, “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."

I would agree with those who contend that this belief can only be taken on faith. Yet there is a distinction between God as Creator, indifferent to our needs on this tiny planet, and God as Love, who will not leave us to face our trials alone. The mystery of the difference between physical evolution and spiritual evolution is magnified by its receding dialectical nature and the upending unity of all forces--the “all in all” of Christ. Despite the tragedies of human carnage, the evolutionary process has been steadily upward--from vegetation to flowers to poems--from material substance to spirit--from brute existence to self-awareness to the power of love.

God is majestic beyond our poor power to grasp. His majesty is revealed in evolutionary patterns which move inexorably to greater complexity, greater elegance, greater beauty, greater intelligence, greater creativity, greater love.

Yet, again, hold on: on what basis can we believe these things? Is it science, or philosophy? I will contend for, and urge you to think seriously about, a new ground being formed which authentically combines science and faith in the invention of the brave new world through artificial intelligence. Faith in a loving God left out of the equation for guidance and wisdom is an omission potentially devastating.

If you are still with me you probably are wondering what all this has to do with artificial intelligence. Let us expand the term to “ artificial general intelligence ,”and then the idea of unification has a lot to do with it. First, as I pointed out earlier in this series, artificial intelligence has been with us for more than four decades in ways we now take for granted; but no machine has yet passed the “Turing test” designed to determine if the machine could “ think” like a human. When this point of technological singularity is reached--now well on the way--the exponential change curve goes straight up from specific/mundane to general. “When you have an AI system that can assist in the design of improved versions of itself you could go overnight to something radically superintelligent.”(Bostrom) This shall be the next great flashpoint of evolution.

Unity is our watchword in dealing with artificial general intelligence -- unity of human beings and superintelligent machines. I am not thinking of trans-humanism here (although some AI experts like Kurzweil envision that kind of development), but obviously our challenge as creators will be to help ensure that intimate loyalty is structured into the “soul” of these machines, not simply as an “Asimov rule,” but as part of a mutually held moral and ethical consciousness given to us by God.

Can a machine understand its human origins, its history ? Even more charismatic, can a machine become aware of God’s presence? It remains to be seen. But there are ample reasons to believe that, aided by superintelligence, humankind may reach a higher ground, spiritually and materially, than we have ever known before. This is your ultimate challenge.

“Some day, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love: and then, for the second time in the history of the world… man will have discovered fire.”

- Teilhard de Chardin

 

Letter to Young Friends (May1, 2009) Last in AI series. JOH

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Alcohol and Co-dependence

 

By Dr. John O. Hunter, President

 

Co-dependence is a disease of the soul. It can afflict anyone who lives with or loves someone who is addicted to alcohol or drugs. Just as an alcoholic is dependent on others to keep the addiction going until death, the co-dependent feels bound to meeting that person's needs. Eventually, it affects the co-dependent in all his/her relationships. The co-dependent may become addicted to a substance, too, but co-dependence is an addiction to destructive relationships.

 

A co-dependent person may have a fear of rejection, thus easily become victimized. Other traits of co-dependence include frozen feelings, anxiety, excessive delusion/denial, low self-esteem, even self-hatred. It is a fatal disease, but it can be diagnosed and treated as a mental health problem. The Twelve Steps of Healing process used by Alcoholics Anonymous for treatment of alcohol addiction has also proven effective for co-dependence.

 

In a dysfunctional family, particularly where alcohol or drugs are abused, the likelihood of young members becoming co-dependent is high. These are some of the rules in a dysfunctional family which can lead to co-dependence:

 

"It's not okay to talk about problems."

"It's not okay to express feelings openly."

"You must be strong, good, right and perfect."

"Do what you are told, not what you see."

 

The Twelve Steps program of Alcoholics Anonymous (Al-Anon) is easy to understand. I believe the twelve steps harbor three principles that are normative in human experience:

 

1. The truth of the Orestean Myth: We must accept responsibility for our actions.

 

2. Belief in a "power greater than ourselves." God is gracious to those who make the leap of faith. (The Al-Anon reference is to God as you understand him.)

 

3. Spirituality as a liberating force in our lives: Once discovered or re-discovered, spirituality fosters forgiveness, healing, health.

 

The Al-Anon approach and the emerging field of Co-Dependence theory and treatment are focused on the health of the whole person, including spiritual health. The Al-Anon reference to "A Power Greater Than Ourselves" is of a transcendent God, however we may define him/her. Such reference does not deny freedom of religion or compromise the standard of church-state separation, but it does frankly recognize spirituality, including belief in a transcendent God, as a dimension of human existence.

 

The Al-Anon program is all about power. Its vitality with the individual patient depends upon his/her recognition of how powerful alcohol is and what a threat it is to life itself. Since there is a power even greater, there is the hope for an intervention that would replace the destructive power of alcohol with the loving power of God. This is clearly a personal God while, at the same time, there is considerable room for personal religious or spiritual preferences and inclinations. Still, the method would not work if the God did not care about the person who is afflicted. Some step of faith is necessary.

 

This faith step consists of both personal belief - acceptance of a power greater than ourselves - and trust - commitment - or surrender to that power. This step of faith rekindles hope and leads on to further spiritual awakening as grace is received.

 

The field of co-dependence theory has shed light on the deepest and most pervasive problems of student life. Since co-dependence is rooted in dishonesty, the remedy is in truth. These are truths that every one of us may claim:

 
I am a child of God. I have an equal share of personal integrity and dignity. My worth comes from my identity, not from what I do. Ifs okay for me to ask for help if I need it. I can accept responsibility for my own actions. I am free to express my feelings. I am capable of love.

 

Note: This article is an edited version of one Dr. Hunter published in College Student Journal, Exploring Co-Dependence and Spirituality in College Student Life, December 1992.

 

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Getting Real

 By Dr. John O. Hunter, President

 

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a long time, ever since I sat in an intense conversation among students sorting out a problem. One guy was making the case - not lying exactly, but distorting the issue, making more of it than it deserved. Another student sat listening for a while then turned to him and said, "Get real, man!"

 

I liked that - a whole lot! For me, it lifted the problem to a fresh level and really got my attention.

 

The thing was, everybody understood, immediately. The second guy was saying, "Let’s get to the heart of this matter which deserves serious consideration, but we can only make progress if we keep it in perspective and balance the pro's and con's; then maybe we can see clearly enough to make a whole where now things are fractured." It was all there in that simple admonition: "Get real!"

 

I don’t think that advice can be much improved upon, but since it’s my nature and role to philosophize about what I learn from students, I would like to offer a follow-up.

 

What this was all about is called "integrity," which is a universal (or normative) value. By "universal" I mean that all people everywhere share the desire for integrity in their lives. Even hardened criminals in prison will seek to measure behavior according to a code of integrity.

 

Integrity is the striving for authenticity and wholeness within our inner being.

 It is matched in human values of the highest order by "dignity," i.e., believing in our own dignity, we are made able to believe in the dignity of others.

 

Dignity is the reliance upon the uniqueness of our personality and its entitlement to respect.

 

The value of integrity may be applied not only to the individual person but to the elements of an organization and the organization as a whole. In your activities, you represent the integrity of your school, for example. Dignity, on the other hand, is purely personal.

 

Now, of course, universality does not mean that these values are sacrosanct and always upheld. You may say, "this sounds fine, but I know some people who are dishonest to the core, they would steal from their mother blind. Where is their sense of integrity?"

 Yes, anyone of us can violate our own integrity or fail to respect the integrity and dignity of others. (When we do, ifs usually with regret, right?) Then, too, rationalization comes into play. We have a great capacity for self-delusion.

 

Because of these and sociological differences among people in different parts of the world, there are social scientists who dispute the notion of any absolutes beneath the relative. "Everything is relative" is their tired watchword.

 

But for those who are open to see, the evidence is clear that, despite our tendency to be sinners and scoundrels at times, there is a reverberating call, both immanent and transcendent, for the observance of the integrity and dignity of all human kind.

 Within each one of us and bigger than all of us together, there is a God saying, "Get real!"

 

JOH

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Love of Truth

 

 By Dr. John O. Hunter, President

 
“Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that unless we love the truth we cannot know it."

 -Pascal

 

How do we know the truth of anything? Some philosophers tell us that truth is totally subjective. Another way of putting this argument is that we do not live in the world: we live in a picture or vision of it that we have formed. Others say that truth is external and objective, to be discovered by all who seek it. On the extreme end is the "true believer" who not only knows that he has the whole truth but is responsible to see that others accept it also.

 But the lover of truth, I believe, is somewhere in between. Somehow he or she comes to recognize that the truth of anything is measured slowly, yet the desire for it is universal. Its revelation is the light of faith and hope.

 

The lover of truth does not confuse sincerity or passion with truth. He or she understands that truth demands great care, not because of any fragility, but because of the damage done through carelessness. Lies and bad faith do not always appear as such; they may wear the mask of truth.

 

The lover of truth is aware that it is easy to be deceived, especially by ourselves. He or she knows that the search is not easy. Those paths trodden many times by others may contain errors. New paths are often a thicket of difficulty. That is why to love truth may not be possible without charity.

 Nor is it possession alone that is loved; it is not a question of making truth an idol. Truth is alive; it grows and deepens as a person develops. What was true at ten may have new meaning at twenty. It is not just an accumulation of "facts" though these are essential in the discovery process.

 

I write in this way to you because I believe we have come through a long midnight in education during which political ideology was more important on the college campus than truth, and we are still enduring it to some degree. But we have been shocked out of the predominance of ideologies, some as dull as ditch water but favored all the same, first by the collapse of communism and its intellectual underpinning of Marxism, and now by the relentless force of terrorism brought real to us.

 

Your generation has a great opportunity to restore basic principles. Carpe diem! The search for truth isn't everything. There are other things just as important. (For example, beauty, friendship, joy, romance, motherhood, masculinity, femininity, solitude, peace, patience, compassion, the loveof God, just plain work, the laughter of children.) But in the core of a school or college's "reason to be," truth sits in the highest chair. My hope and prayer for your generation is that as it grapples with the new world disorder you shall keep her there and resist those forces which would bring her down.

 

JOH

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Young and Reckless Behavior in a Declining Culture

 By Dr. John O. Hunter, President

 

I spent time on Prince Edward Island in Canada recently. While there I heard and read about a 19 year old athlete and underage girls (younger than 14) who became sexually involved. It is a sad story. Of course, all stories about wasted young lives are sad, but this one has a troubling, even frightening aspect.

 

The boy was an all star baseball player, a catcher highly regarded by baseball scouts and just given a contract to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers. (His name is well known in Canada but I will not reveal it here.) His fame now centers around his conviction for procuring illicit sex from the underage girls.

 These girls are children. Like many seventh graders, they were silly, but the tragedy lies in their complete lack of direction and lack of moral sense. Apparently, they engaged in oral sex on older popular athletes to gain status of some description (?) despite having no other contact with them. They didn't talk, kiss, date or in any way engage in a social exchange. The boy is now facing a prison sentence of ten years, and his life is changed forever.

 

The girls too are paying a high price. An article in the Halifax Chronicle Herald states that they are being harassed at school and bullied on the school bus because they dared to testify against the "pride of the school." According to the news article, the girl's aunt is furious because the media has focused on what the conviction will mean for the athlete's career, but the impact on the girls has been largely ignored. But I wonder, where was the aunt, where were the parents, before this happened?

 The girls testified in court that they and other friends routinely perform oral sex on boys. "It's everywhere," said one of the girls. "It's not really a big deal. It's just casual." The girls’ naivete (innocence?) takes me back to a statement by the President of the United States a few years ago that oral sex is not really sex. Well then, what is it? (Is the question narrow-minded? Is it "politically incorrect?") The superficiality of this moral relativism is radiant.

 

One person with a reasonable moral perspective on the case was Judge Nancy Orr. She said, "If half of the community thinks the girls were the perpetrators here, there is something seriously wrong with the message we are getting out to young people about appropriate sexual behavior and about what is criminal and what isn't in the eyes of the law."

 Back to America, there is another equally sad story. (How many are happening in our communities that we know nothing of?) A pretty vivacious 17 year old girl's life is suddenly, horrendously altered by a sexual encounter with a boyfriend "who loved her." For that brief moment of ecstasy she will probably pay for the rest of her life because of a sexually transmitted disease that is hard to get rid of. How can we measure the cost — to her personal health? to her loss of esteem that she may not be good enough for anyone else? to her fear that she may not be able to bear children? and what of the boyfriend who transmitted the disease? Does he not suffer as well?

 

Along with AIDS, STD is devastating the lives of many bright, talented, otherwise wholesome young people across the country.

 

If our response to the AIDS/STD crisis is no more profound than to sell more condoms and constantly remind people to buy them, a lot of young people may become caught in a whirlpool of disease and addiction and meaningless relationships spinning away to desolation. A cure for these diseases would be wonderful, but what is the cure for a society which can no longer distinguish the values of permanence and love in the drive for sexual freedom and pleasure above all else? Why should a hedonist community care about victims? Its future is vanishing.

 

None of us are androgynous (male and female combined). There are and always will be differences between male and female in the human species. Male-female attraction and union is a primary force in God's creation. This green fuse is not just physical; it is spiritual-the longing for completeness-the "yin and yang" of reality -and the tension is moral.

 

The desire for intimacy is as strong as the denial of death. It has founded and destroyed empires, and created our most enduring myths and legends as well as the most beautiful works of art and literature. For all of history, up to now at least, such desire has been at the core of human drama.

 There is mystery and beauty - and magic - in the life process that brings male and female together.

 

Can desire be corrupted? Passion trivialized? Yes, of course. Obviously, we are no longer in a Victorian age which sublimated the corrupt and the trivial. Desire and passion are exploited every day with TV images and consumer oriented messages. The connections of desire and sex and love may be a fair corrivalry for adults, but when the exploitation reaches to teenagers and to children who end up dismissing sexual relations as "no big deal, it's just casual," is this not symptomatic of a declining culture?

 

With an increasing number of kids, spiritual and moral values are not being internalized. Where are they going? They're in danger of ruining their lives before they reach adulthood, and if we're going to be of any help to them, we've got to get beyond the superficial doctrines of moral relativity whatever their source.

 

 

JOH 2002

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Abortion

 

By Dr. John O. Hunter, President

 

Is it any wonder that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas refused to discuss "Roe v. Wade" in his confirmation hearings? This 1973 landmark decision that legalized abortion is one of the most controversial cases in the history of our Constitution.

 

It has divided the American people more deeply than anything else in the past twenty-five years. The division over the morality of abortion is likely to continue no matter what new decisions may be issued by the Court. It may be that the rights of women and the contending rights of an unborn child cannot be resolved legally in a way to end the controversy.

 

Indeed, it seems fair to say that this is an issue your generation will have to face even more seriously than mine has done, and you should therefore engage in an analysis of it.

 

Why is this so? The answer has a lot to do with technology.

 

When I was an undergraduate student in the mid 1950's, I heard about one case of abortion involving a student and how worried her boyfriend was. It was an isolated piece of information, probably more prescient than we realized, but there was no context of public debate and furor in which to place it.

 

This is not to say that the abortion issue has no history at all, but it is really quite recent that this issue has become so intense.

 In the 19th Century and earlier, abortion was outlawed, but more significantly, it wasn’t accepted by women as a safe or desirable practice. Because medical techniques were much more primitive in those days, abortion was highly dangerous for the woman. Combined with the strong moral and legal codes against it, this made abortions far less frequent than today.

 

There were unwanted babies then too, but infanticide and abandonment were more common solutions. These practices of course, were criminal; there was no contention that they were a matter of rights.

 

In an almost paradoxical way, the abortion issue demonstrates how pervasive and deep is the influence of technology on all of modern life. New reproductive technologies have had immense impact on cultural patterns and values and life­styles in this century, and have shifted dramatically the regard for abortion in considering the welfare of women.

 Surgical advances have greatly improved the safety of abortion for the woman. Other advances too have reduced the risk of complications. As the technology advanced, many women began to see the prohibition of abortion as the real danger to their welfare. From there, the idea of abortion as a right developed quickly. On the other side, of course, the rise in the number of abortions quickened the moral and legal arguments on behalf of the unborn child.

 

The technologies continue to advance. For example, apparently a fetus can be treated independently of treating the mother, including its removal from the womb and re-implantment. What implications does this have? How will the abortion issue be recast as we learn more through technology? More is coming.

 
But, whatever happens, it is unlikely that technology will decide the issue.

 

I think there will always be, at the least, a moral need to distinguish between freedom to terminate an unwanted pregnancy and freedom to kill an unborn child— terribly perplexing though this need may be.

 

JOH 2000


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Marijuana


By Dr. John O. Hunter, President


Some interesting new stuff about the use and abuse of Marijuana has recently come to my attention. Credits belong to research done at Duke University, Johns Hopkins University, National Drug Abuse Center, and summaries by Dr. Mitch Earlywine, University of Southern California (see especially, “A New Look at Marijuana”, 2002.)

 

First, it’s true that using marijuana is not physically addictive; it’s not a “gateway” to other drugs; it does not destroy motivation; and it does not lead to violence. The main attraction to it is the relaxation and “good feelings” of a high and the loss of inhibitions. It is understandable why it is a drug of choice among young people. They see the hypocrisy in adults who express alarm about it and are themselves abusers of alcohol, which in many ways is worse. In this age when young people have more information available to them than previous generations had, it is also understandable why superficial conclusions are drawn that marijuana use has no dangers.

 

Earlywine dispels that notion in a compelling way. There are indeed dangers! Especially for chronic users! “Chronic users” are those who smoke five or more joints a week or more than 100 in a year. While these folks may not be physically addicted they experience “cravings” from the habitual use that are difficult to overcome.

 

The biggest danger is the potential effect on the balance of brain matter, gray and white. Duke University research shows that chronic use is altering the frontal lobe---scary implications! Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Drug Abuse found similar results.

For their own knowledge and safeguard all students should check out these studies. There are other negatives as well. Learning is not possible when someone is on a high, and the legal problems of possession and selling can be devastating.

 

This review is not meant to scare you. I have great faith in young people’s competence and good judgment but the college environment is now far more dangerous than when I was an undergraduate. And that means you must rely even moreso on your intelligence and courage to prevail as a whole person Protect yourself and others. Be a leader!

JOH 2003

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Reality Testing


By Dr. John O. Hunter, President

 

“Education is preparation for the future.” How often have we heard this said? There is a philosophy reflected in our educational programs which offers hope and expectation for a future life. This philosophy is not wrong, but it may be misunderstood.

 

What does it mean to be a student, now? Here is a question about reality. Whatever else education should be, it has a lot to do with reality-testing. Students may be trained to do a job for a salary in the future, but education is more than training. Education reaches for the person, as being, not just becoming a skilled member of the work force.

 

Tomorrow, the lights may blink off, or shine differently, but reality-testing is what we are seeing and learning now, according to the lights of the present. Reality is always in the present. Regrets about the past, hopes for the future may drive us, but if we are coping with reality, we live in the present.

 

Of course, when we look at the misery of a large part of the world, we may feel that this reality is harsh or more simply, that it isn’t fun. And so, people turn to drugs and alcohol to escape---only to wake up and find that misery and fear and degradation have increased. To the trapped, desensitized addict, reality is an increasing horror. The dream of heightened awareness is revealed as a terrible lie.

 

The truth is that every person has an interior capacity for awareness and intense perception, a natural ability to see beauty in things, to marvel at the unity and diversity of nature, to seek and give love, to be suddenly overwhelmed by the joy of life.

JOH

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The Bad Example of Professional Athletes

 

By Dr. John O. Hunter, President

 

Athletes today who insist on using performance-enhancing drugs are not just harming themselves, they are harming young people who look up to them. These so-called champion athletes, such as baseball's Barry Bonds, are demonstrating that to achieve great things in sports it is necessary, even desirable, to take serious hearth risks. Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001. Now suspicion is high that it was done by cheating.

 

Of course, it is no longer certain that cheating in professional sports really matters. Recent comments from some sportscasters and writers clearly indicate that everyone knows or should know that the use of anabolic steroids is an increasingly common practice. But if this is true, of what real value are these athletic achievements by people who are betraying their sport as well as better men and women who still play by the rules?

 

I remember as a young athlete, even if I did not succeed, I had to play the game straight. My heroes were distinguished players like Stan Musial, Johnny Unitas, Bob Cousy, Bill Russell. They were known by all of us to be standup guys who always played the game clean and straight. What happened?

 

I remember a few years ago when Cal Ripken retired from baseball and was feted for his marvelous record of consistency and his work ethic, a columnist commented that we would not see his like again given the way athletes are pampered today. What a sad comment!

 

I know that these days it is considered naive to think that athletes should be good role models for young people. They are given many excuses for bad behavior, along with their millions of dollars in salaries. The recent trend of criminal violence on the basketball court and the ice rink confirms a situation out of control.

 

I think it is time to stop coddling these characters because of the dangerous example they set for young people and because they are destroying the sports tradition in America. Estimates of anabolic steroid use among high school boys now are as high as 11 per cent. These kids are at risk of muscle injuries, liver and cardiovascular problems and unknown emotional problems.

 

Yes, it is true that we should not be surprised by the breakdown. Just look around in the corporate world. We have just come through a period of stunning revelation of corruption and greed that is still not completely over. The sleeze in the last election was also an abysmal portrait of American politics. In public service, there are many artful dodgers of responsibility. In education, the teaching of moral philosophy is bankrupt. In religion there are exemplars of the ultimate hypocrisy in those televangelists who mock God by preying on the faith and emotions of believers. When lies and unethical practices and hypocrisy are so rife in society at large, how can we be surprised when it happens in sports as well?

 

But is not this all the more reason why we should take a stand in this arena where the influence is so great upon our young people? Is it not the responsibility of every mature athlete and all of us who want to champion some cause in life to express clearly to the young that cynicism and skepticism do not yet reign-that we and they can still hold to a creed of moral responsibility and intellectual honesty, even accounting for our disagreements and errors? Can we not still say that a victory that comes through cheating is not winning? A victory that is marred by corruption is not winning. That our aim always is to win with honor.

 

Young people who learn what winning is all about are prepared to win in life. Winning is about courage and valor, honor and integrity, responding to challenge, constancy and fatigue in hardship, grace under pressure, discipline, self-confidence, self-improvement, sacrifice, loyalty, team building and team work, comradeship and celebration and understanding that victory and defeat both are of value. In other words, winning is about ideals and values all young people need to embrace to have a healthy perspective on life and to be leaders.

 

If there are athletes who no longer stand for these ideals and values, why bother with them? To be seen on a field of glory they need to prove themselves by the lives they lead.

 

JOH


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Facing Violence

 

By Dr. John O. Hunter, President

 

What does the horrific terrorist attack on our country September 11, 2001 mean for your generation? Think about that question.

 

Reported in USA TODAY, Kirk Cassells, a SkidmoreCollege student said, "It changes everybody's life in the sense of our safety and hope. Stuff like this happens every day all over the world. You wonder when people will let go of the hate and the misunderstanding that drives them to do the wrong thing."

 

Kirk's reaction is understandable, but I suggest that there is more to learn that can be applied to our lives every day.

 

If Sept. 11, 2001, is a defining moment in our history — much like Dec. 7,1941, Pearl Harbor was — then we need to examine it on more than one level.

 

President Bush is leading us in a national response to terrorism, as he must. He calls it the first war of the 21st century, and he is determined to win this war. It's hard to know exactly what that means, but we do know it will take courage and wisdom.

 

One thing is absolutely clear: we are confronted by cold, calculating, uncompromising evil that will bring violence upon us in every way it can. Fuzzy-headed tolerance of this evil will only beget more of it. We are not a people motivated by hatred, but we will fight back, and we will prevail in defending our freedom.

 

But there's another level of violence too right here in our own society. We see images of it every night on television and in Hollywood films. We have also seen how violence affects our schools and colleges and the lives of individual students. It is sad to recognize how that violence in our midst has increased in recent years. Any student who has experienced it is also a victim of terrorism and it isn’t just physical. Any person who has been violated suffers not just physical wounds but within his or her soul.

 

That is why we all have an obligation to give support to the victim, close friends especially, and to cooperate fully in the investigation of any assault.

 

Fractures and abrasions heal, but if the inner wounds are not treated, the effects will be felt in other ways because what is at stake is that person's integrity. What he or she has experienced is a little act of terror and it is very important to come out of it whole.

 

Often, the violator will count upon that terror. That is the clear implication of statements like, "Your ass is mine." Sometimes it works. The victim may fear the consequences of pressing charges, or he/she may hope that the crisis will disappear if it is ignored. But it won’t. The inner soul knows that it has been violated, and until there is a re-affirmation of its integrity, the person will suffer - through bitterness or perpetual fear or some illness that seems to have no cause. I am not addressing here those spontaneous fights that sometimes happen between guys who quickly decide to forgive and forget. (The forgiveness is essential.) Maybe that's part of growing up. I mean those intentional acts of violence and threats of violence against a person in order to abuse and intimidate — the little acts of terror. This has become a problem on many college campuses, particularly involving male/female relations. None of us want it to happen, but that means we must be willing to act positively, with courage, when its shadow appears. We live in a violence-prone society. There is no absolute guarantee against any one of us becoming involved in an act of violence. But there is one thing we can do to prepare ourselves for such a crisis:

 

Make a decision. In a very quiet state of mind, go deep into your inner being, and claim this knowledge of yourself:

 

1. I will not commit violence against another person.

2. I will not allow acts of violence to influence my life.

3. If I am confronted with a situation of violence, I will follow a path of courage and integrity.

 

Then, if you believe in God, follow with a prayer or meditative appeal that God shall uphold you in these affirmations for your life.

 

JOH

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Dinesen's Wisdom

 

By Dr. John O. Hunter, President

 

"Who is Karen Dinesen?" She died in 1962. From old Danish aristocracy, she was born Dinesen, married Blixen, took pen name of Isak Dinesen, intellectually gifted, a woman of courage, a story teller, artist. She was, perhaps, one of those rare people who through experience and grace manage to get beyond illusions. She left much that is wise and good for us to ponder.

 

Dinesen discovered that life cannot be lived like a story; it is a story. The difference between the two conceptions is profound.

 

Karen Blixen went to Africa at the age of twenty-seven under the spell of an idea of herself that she was determined to follow. She suffered and learned from it. Nothing of her life in Africa met her pre-conceptions, yet her experience there was immensely important to her.

 

There she met Denys Finch-Hatton who was probably her equal intellectually though not artistically. He helped her to see and feel the rhythms of a beautiful and terrible nature which clearly separate the wild and the domesticated. To hold him, she told stories that fascinated him, and because she loved him, the stories grew powerfully. Finally she decided to write them down. Her stories unified her experience with her intellect and faith. Thus was born the art and wisdom of Isak Dinesen.

 

In this world, anything is possible, but the sin which corrupts and distorts is to play at being God. A story - a life - cannot be forced or made to come true. To be real, life must not be a fiction which we are trying to live up to. The story must be allowed to emerge, and for its emergence joy and suffering are essential materials. Imagination, as opposed to fantasy, allows us to see connections and possibilities as the story unfolds: what is happening to me? to others through me? how does this fit into the creative purpose of my life? what actions are required on my part? Such a view almost enjoins the active and the contemplative life.

 

The craving to impress your will and your being upon the world and to make the world your own is turned into a longing to be able to accept, to give yourself over to the universe - Thy will be done. (Dinesen)

 

"He relinquished himself to it." (Faulkner)

 

The most truly bold life is one which recognizes creative power, greater than self, and through that recognition forgets self and obtains grace.

 

In one of her essays, Dinesen tells the story of an old Chinese Mandarin who gave a ring to the Emperor when he came of age to reign:

 

"In this ring I have set an inscription which your Majesty may find useful. It is to be read in times of danger, doubt and defeat. It is also to be read in times of conquest, triumph and glory."

 

The inscription in the ring read: "This, too, shall pass."

 

The inscription does not mean that life should be lived passively. Dinesen explains: "It should not be taken to mean that in their passing, tears and laughter, hopes and disappointments disappear into a void. It tells you that it will be absorbed into a whole Story that shall see them as integral parts of the full picture of the man or woman."

 

Dinesen's relationship with Finch-Hatton is depicted in the film, Out of Africa, created from a composite of five books by or about Dinesen. It is a good film.

 

Even better is a Danish film based on one of her stories, Babette's Feast. Babette proclaims the longing in the heart of Dinesen and perhaps every artist: Give me the chance to do my very best.

 

Karen Dinesen's life was not easy and more than once she thought of committing suicide but remained tough and always chose life at the end. She said of herself, "Nobody came into literature more bloody than I."

 

JOH

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Power of Love

 

By Dr. John O. Hunter, President

 

 

"Scientific knowledge is power."

 

-Francis Bacon

 

"Some day, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love: and then, for the second time in the history of the world...man will have discovered fire."

 

-Teilhard de Chardin

 

These quotations reflect two different ways of thinking and knowing.

 

Science is indeed a powerful way of knowing. But it is not the only way of knowing. There is an intuitive way and a mystical way. These ways may not describe the physical reality which is the domain of science, but there is ample evidence that the scientific paradigm (world view) does not contain all reality.

 

There is a question about reality constantly before us, so pervasive and so simple it's on the lips of every child: "Do you love me?"

 

Science doesn't know much about love, which is the biggest reason you seldom find it in your textbooks. But rest easy, science/technology student: there are other ways to think about it.

 

Victor Frankl, founder of the school of logotherapy, was a leading scientist, yet he includes mystical reference to his survival in a German concentration camp during World War II. The suffering he endured would have been unbearable except for his ability to commune with his beloved wife, whom he could not know was alive or dead. One day, while working in terrible cold, his soul dying, suddenly a small bird flew to his feet and there not stirring, looked steadily at him. For Frankl it was confirmation that the communion he felt with his wife was real. He was restored to life because he knew that his wife was still alive and returned his love.

 

Now the skeptic may see this story as delusion or mere coincidence or some such curiosity of little scientific value because it cannot be replicated, but it was a moment of reality for Frankl, fragile as life itself but hard as stone. Here is miraculous love with the power of resurrection no science can match.

 

Other examples abound. To discover them, keep an open mind, and don’t allow yourself to go into a paradigmatic freeze just because everyone and everything around you is screaming, "this is a material world."

 

JOH

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Paradoxical Reality

 

By Dr. John O. Hunter, President

 

"We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion.

 

The great task in life is to find reality."

 

-Iris Murdoch

 

Obviously, the world is different for us in America than it was before the 9/11 terrorist attack on the WorldTradeCenter. It isn’t so different for most people in other countries, however. In some ways we have joined the rest of the world in the knowledge of imminent danger and the need to be constantly alert. We can’t ever go back to that care-free, anesthetized view of life in which violence (more and more of it) was just something we saw on the screen.

 

At the same time, we still value most highly our freedom. As a nation, we still have the responsibility of leadership - moral, political and economic - as the world's only super-power.

 

So what are the things we should be thinking about? And not just what but how? Here I want to raise a topic that might get us started.

 

If you are not right, you must be wrong. Right? Wrong! Stay with me for a moment to see if we can make sense of how you can be right and wrong at the same time.

 

It's called paradox. In our culture we have not been taught to think much about paradox. For the most part we are linear, "either-or" thinkers. In other words we believe that things must follow in sequence, that there is usually one answer or explanation, a thing is either true or it is false.

 

A paradox occurs when two opposite things are held in a kind of tension. Nature has a way of holding opposites together. That is part of the mystery of creation.

 

There can be good and bad qualities in any situation which are difficult to unravel. Sometimes, in our eagerness to correct something clearly wrong, we lose something of value that we did not see in our first appraisal. Or, to put it another way, sometimes the solution to a problem creates another problem.

 

What is the practical value of this discussion? I am asking you to think about paradoxical reality because it is so obvious that we are not in control of our world, and we are going to have to learn to live with conflict which is increasingly multi­dimensional.

 

With the collapse of communism a decade ago, we thought about a "new world order" (words of President George H.W.Bush) . This world is neither new nor orderly, and we are going to have to adjust. I'm not saying here that "everything is relative," a tired and hollow doctrine that I'll come back to in a future article.

 

Nor do I mean that we should learn to live with violence and injustice. Far from it. In order to stop violence and bring justice we must be willing to act, but we must also be sure that our means are just and we have carefully considered results.

 

So it has a lot to do with truth. Sometimes truth is simple, but often it is paradoxical and therefore hard to come by.

 

In the Taoist world view, there is perhaps a greater understanding of paradoxical reality than we have understood in Western culture. The "yin-yang circle" teaches us that night becomes day, weakness is strength, goodness presupposes evil. All of life is a paradox.

 

If this is reality (we could debate it), how do we keep our balance? An awful lot depends upon our respect for truth and our concomitant desire for goodness, beauty and justice in the world. Each seeks the other while admitting to the pervasion of enemies, like weeds among the flowers in a garden not easily cultivated. It helps if we can hold opposites in mind at the same time, without losing faith in the transcendent light that ultimately shines through everything.

 

 JOH


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Mimophantry

 

By Dr. John O. Hunter, President

 

"... here is also the virgin plant, which they term the sensible tree, which after the least touch of one's hand I see fall down withered, and then revived after a little space."

 

-Fr. Andrew White

West Indies, 1634

 

Fr. Andrew was describing the mimosa plant, which is remarkable for the sensitivity of its leaves, hence the name, sensitive plant.

 

Everybody knows what an elephant is.

 

A "mimophant" is a hybrid species: This term may be used (I think) to describe that remarkable person who, like a mimosa, is very sensitive to his/her own feelings but quite capable of trampling like an elephant over the feelings of others. You would think that someone ultra-concerned about his/her own feelings and needs would be equally concerned about other people's, yet this is not always the case, is it?

 

You may have noticed that "mimophants" also aren’t used to taking responsibility for their own welfare (or morale). They may have talent and skills, but when problems come up, it’s somebody else's fault. They're energy sappers, not radiators.

 

A sub-species, "mimophant-jokester," are those people who delight in playing practical jokes on others but become angry when the joke is on them; they can dish it out but can’t take it.

 

Then there are "mimophant-mommas and papas," nice folks suffering from their overindulgence.

 

Okay, enough of this malarkey. Let’s get serious about it for a minute. I'm not suggesting that the fun term, "mimophantry" be taken seriously in social research, but many of my colleagues in education will agree that there is a growing affliction of excessive self-absorption in schools and colleges today.

 

Social research that focuses on the disadvantaged community will not touch it because this is a problem of too much advantage, indulgence trained from an early age.

 

As America became more affluent over the last quarter century, we began to value happiness for our children more than their character education. The result has been too many kids-even from families with modest means-who have too much money, too many things, too much protection, and too little challenge. Too much of a good thing can be toxic.

 

When parents seek a perfect life for their children, without pain or disappointment, those kids are stripped of the opportunity to develop their maturity-to learn from pain and failure, to be honest with themselves, and to be empathetic.

 

Often these kids are hollow inside-deprived because they have been too advantaged and getting away with too much all their lives. And they know it.

 

I'm primarily concerned with those of you in this fairly large group who are now trying to succeed in college. Your success is my job, but it's getting more difficult for me and your professors because many of you are not strong enough. You've been spoiled, and you expect an unearned entitlement to continue.

 

But I am not writing from despair. Far from it.

 

First, I know your potential and your resiliency. A basic question for you is, what kind of person do you want to be?

 

JOH

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Mythical Reality

 

By Dr. John O. Hunter, President

 

When I was growing up, my teachers sought to put me on the right track by de-mythologizing (or "de-bunking") everything. I learned that anything mythical was false, unreal, unhistorical or unscientific and therefore either insignificant or bad.

 

I liked my teachers. They were well intentioned, not cynical in their desire to separate myth from truth, but I realize now what a terrible disservice it was to me personally when I bought into this crimped way of looking at the world.

 

It was many years, in fact fairly recent, before I began to understand how powerful the myth is-and more importantly, how essentially true and fundamental to a coherent, sane explanation of reality it may be.

 

I realize now that to impart culture as though history is what happened and myth is fiction distorts immeasurably our understanding of who we are and where we come from.

 

Myth is a reflection on reality, a way of explaining through generations what actually happened. Let's take an example.

 

At the center of nearly every civilization is a remarkably similar Creation myth. Basically, it is an account of how the world came to be as a gift from God.

 

In primitive times, when it was feared that the gift would be taken back, human sacrifice was offered. To ensure that spring would come again, a king or a deity would be taken into the hills to be torn apart and scattered. The world was saved in a dionysian frenzy.

 

There are two essential parts to the Creation myth: the world is a gift, and the world's survival is threatened.

 

Many would say that we are now above this bunk. We know that spring will come again. Science and technology will take care of us. Anyway, we don’t sacrifice people that way anymore.

 

Ah! Are we really so superior?

 

Creation also means Creator. If this world is God's gift, we have more than selfish reasons to protect and keep it clean, don't we? It's becoming pretty clear that selfish reasons won’t suffice, and that's also part of the Creator-Creation myth.

 

The myth explains a relationship of God, man and nature in which man cannot stand alone nor dominate.

 

 JOH

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Soldierization

 

By Dr. John O. Hunter, President

 

The first real job I ever had was Executive Officer of a battery of 155 self-propelled howitzers. Just twenty-one years old I was assigned after being commissioned at the Artillery OfficerCandidateSchool, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, renowned as the home of the "King of Battle," U. S. Army Artillery. This was many years ago.

 

I returned to Ft.Sill recently, arriving the same day as the 13th Field Artillery Battalion was returning home from Iraq. For four days I had the opportunity to meet and converse with young soldiers and a few older officers, each of whom has a personal story. Not all of them were combat veterans; some were going through "soldierization'-civilians being turned into soldiers. It is a wondrous process of training and indoctrination of Army values that I must admit is better-more effective-than what I experienced in my time.

 

Ft.Sill is the oldest of five Army training posts. Its origins are with the famed Buffalo Soldiers, and it is now the artillery training base for both Army and Marine Corps. Volunteer soldiers who are destined for artillery take their training here. The first goal is to transform civilians into soldiers.

 

Young people enlist in the Army for various reasons. Bonus money is probably the biggest recruitment tool. They come from various backgrounds and probably have not experienced a regimen of motivation, discipline, physical fitness and training similar to Army or Marine basic training.

 

Their initial training consists of three phases. The "Patriot Phase" teaches personal health, courtesy, self-respect and respect for others, drill and ceremonies, inspections and first aid-a personal orientation and introduction to Army values. Second is the "Gun Fighter Phase" focusing on weapons training, obstacle course, and hand-to-hand combat. Third is the "Warrior Spirit Phase." Here there is a strong emphasis placed on team work, individual tactical training, hand grenade, gas mask, live fire exercise-a rounding out of the basic combat training intended to put each soldier onto a warrior path of development. Upon graduation, each soldier goes on to Advanced Individual Training.

 

In all three phases there is an environment of total control intended to inculcate the Army values:

 

Loyalty-Duty-Respect-Selfless Service-lntegrity-Honor-Personal Courage.

 

Those values are what make a soldier. Each time that a soldier slips in the standards of performance expected of him/her, the question is, "What value did you violate?” There is rigor and realism in this combat training, but for most of the young men and women who experience it, there is also a new sense of freedom and self worth.

 

I have met and talked with many of these young men and women and have an enormous respect for their growth and development through the Army. Without exception, those whom I met showed uncommon courtesy-on an Army base "Sir" is voiced all over the place-yet I saw no lack of individual pride. Some had served in the Gulf War, some had just returned from Iraq, and some were waiting for their first assignment. (It is the Army's intention that every soldier will serve productively in the first unit to which he/she is assigned.) The steady look in their eyes was the same that we have seen in the combat pictures of young NCO's on television and in the newspapers-looking barely out of their teens-who knew exactly what to do on their mission. The training and doctrine so much in evidence at Ft.Sill, doubtless on other posts as well, has given us the best Army in the world. A lesson from Viet Nam has been learned well by this army: "Never send a soldier into combat untrained." This is the new Army's contract with America.

 

I was at Ft.Sill for an OCS reunion but more specifically for orientation to the new leadership training and the values it espouses. One night as I was returning to my BOQ I was stopped for a gate check (surprised that the security was not even more intense). The MP on duty noticed my OCS cap and began asking me about my time at Ft.Sill. In the Army, there is great respect accorded to the "greatest generation"-the Veterans of World War II. Now I don't go quite that far back, but I think that is where this soldier placed me. I'm not sure these young guys have a good sense of chronological history: Viet Nam and everything before it seem to coalesce in their minds. He asked me what I had done in the service. Later, I realized that he was primarily interested in my training. When I told him that I kept going to schools, some of which he was familiar with such as Ranger school, he became even more attentive. Then he did something that totally surprised me. With his eyes fixed on mine, he snapped to attention and gave me a sharp salute, "thank you, sir!" There were many others, Sargent Austian, MLRS unit; Lieutenants Chang, Lowry, House, and Sargent Thomas, 155 SP howitzer (still the work horse) units; Pfc. Webber; Lieutenant Rob Paceif; Captain Nicholas Martin. These are the young, mature soldiers who stand at the wall for us.

 

Having met them, I am even more astonished by the observations of so many television commentators, journalists, academicians, and some of our political leaders and representatives who prior to the war in Iraq, and all during the war, could not overcome their doubts.

 

Chris Matthews of NBC said that if we go to war in Iraq, it will be a "military catastrophe." Maureen Dowd echoed in the NY Times: "While these leaders were not part of the Viet Nam war, couldn't they at least, like read about it?" Other talking heads predicted we would take a couple to three thousand casualties. Again from the NY Times, R.W. Apple said on March 29 "with every passing day it is more evident that the allies made two very gross military misjudgments in concluding that the coalition forces could safely by-pass Basra and Nasaria." Seymour Hersch, who broke the My Lei massacre story in Viet Nam said on March 31, the halfway point, we "simply failed to anticipate the consequences of protracted warfare. It's a stalemate now."

 

Even after it became clear that a blitz krieg victory by our forces was in the making, with less than 200 casualties, it continued-the din of criticism of military tactics, the over-hyped and just plain false reportage of civilian casualties, the cynicism expressed about the military failure to protect museums and immediately stop the looting (the breadth of which no one predicted).

 

Just as with the assault on the Taliban in Afghanistan, these critics did not get it just a little bit wrong, they were totally wrong!

 

Their arrogance is dumbfounding to military officers. In truth, it was the Army itself, not our political leaders, that learned the hard lessons of Viet Nam and resolved to build a new and better Army. We may or may not have a long-term strategic victory in Iraq. It's too early to tell. But our forces in the field achieved a brilliant victory which ought not to be sullied.

 

One of the most deplorable attempts to do so is the case of Jessica Lynch. Several sources have said that we did not need the force to rescue Jessica Lynch that we applied. One of the principles of protecting both our troops and civilians is to apply as rapidly as possible an overwhelming force to get the job done. Whether or not it was needed, this was the right approach to rescue Pfc. Lynch. To have to apologize for it now is absurd.

 

These commentators are unable to see what really happened in Afghanistan and Iraq. A completely new military force with capacity to conduct several simultaneous operations at great speed, prepared to deal with uncertain, unpredictable circumstances which require tactical decisions at the unit control level, simply made it impossible for the Iraqi forces to respond to their multiple dilemmas created by the overwhelming combinations of force and speed. They could not communicate effectively and simply collapsed. Before the war it was predicted that the oil fields would be set ablaze, but the Iraqi forces couldn't even get to the oil fields.

 

Another error is that all of this was done simply because of American technological superiority. While it is true that we have technological superiority, the technology enables the soldier in the field; in the end the victory is won and the sacrifices are made by this new generation of warriors and their families.

 

There is indeed a need for a sharp analysis of the errors in our efforts to free the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq. It should focus first on civilian authority. There are problems beneath the surface which threaten the stability of this Army in ways that enemies in the field could not. The honesty of media coverage is also a serious issue.

 

There is a weird way of turning the world upside down in the thinking of some of our journalists and “talking heads” who readily ruminate about America's perceived failures. Many are remarkably sensitive to the grievances of terrorists yet cannot see that despite our mistakes we are a democracy which is trying to lead the way to peace and freedom in places like Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East.

 

Whether or not our troops should go to these places is a question for civilian judgment. Our troops do not question civilian command. They are ready to serve and rightly proud of their role. And there is no moral equivalence. Unlike their adversaries, they do not murder civilians. They do not torture children.

 

The major force for order in the world is America's influence, nurtured by our military power. But we don't have an imperial army. Those who do not understand the difference and preach self-abnegation and withdrawal are still afflicted by the spirit of Munich which partly caused World War II.

 

American military officers have been involved in many conflicts in many different parts of the world. Another of which I have some personal awareness occurred in El Salvador. One of the common and false criticisms is that we trained the Salvadoran death squads and were partly responsible for massacres. The truth is that after a long and terrible civil war that ravaged the country, the Salvadoran military hierarchy agreed that they must come under civilian control. Thus peace finally came through treaty signed in January 1992 establishing a democratic government. Why did they so agree? Because of the influence of their American military colleagues.

 

The battalion return at Ft.Sill was poignant. Not all of our troops shall be returning alive of course. Shown on public television was a scroll of the names of those who died in Iraq with their ages-19, 20, 21, 27-a few in their 30's, but the majority under 30. And of course there were many more like who have been seriously wounded and traumatized. Those who died were like so many other young people who were struck down before they reached the prime of life and did not get the full opportunity to achieve their hopes and dreams. What other victories and achievements they might have gained we cannot know. But we can pay tribute to them. Following are some lines from a poem by Stephen Spender: "I think continually of those who were truly great."

 

I think continually of those who were truly great.

 

What is precious is never to forget

Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother

With noise and fog the flowering of their spirit.

 

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields

See how these names are feted by the waving grass,

And by the streamers of white cloud,

And whispers of wind in the listening sky:

The names of those who in their lives fought for life,

Who wore at their hearts the fire's center.

 

Born of the sun they traveled a short while towards the sun,

And left the vivid air signed with their honor.

 

JOH 2005

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Professor Bloom's Critique of Relativism


 By Dr. John O. Hunter, President

 

Several years ago, I wrote a review of a book by Allan Bloom, a University of Chicago philosophy professor, titled, The Closing of the American Mind.

 

The book became a phenomenal best seller, apparently chosen by many people who do not ordinarily go for heavy doses of philosophy.

 

As predicted, it made no friends for Professor Bloom in Academe, where the book was subjected mostly to scorn and derision. For awhile, it was almost a standard at higher education conferences to cite Bloom's error and arrogance in attacking higher education. Some critics cite Bloom's hatred of students; some cite his lack of a curriculum reform; others (closer to the mark) question Bloom's emphasis on German philosophical influence, particularly Nietzsche. The State University of New York's former Chancellor, Clifford Wharton, called it "racist." The controversy was very interesting.

 

Poor Professor Bloom has had a very rough time. His academic critics include many whom I suspect have not read the book but think they have caught its general spirit.

 

I agree with Bloom's colleague at the University of Chicago, Mortimer Adler, who said that there has been no worthwhile criticism of it yet published. He detests the criticisms as much as he dislikes Bloom's philosophical analysis.

 

Why, then, was Bloom's book a "best seller?" Obviously, it struck a chord with the general reading public which it did not with the intellectual elite (which may be another reason for the latter's resentment.)

 

I would like to suggest that it is Bloom's main thesis - obscured by the criticisms - which seems compelling to a lot of ordinary people who are smarter than we in higher education are sometimes willing to grant. That thesis concerns the false-profoundness of prevailing views in higher education that everything is relative in a materialistic universe. Relativism and materialism teach that to postulate any absolute values is like believing in fairies and witches.

 

These dominant philosophies of our age rightly project liberal openness and tolerance as enduring universal values but wrongly conclude that there are no others. Just as Bloom's critics question his inept conclusions about higher education, many other readers question the "conventional wisdom" of materialistic relativism -- a tired and hollow doctrine no longer sufficient to sustain a free society or a safe world and seriously challenged by both old theology and new science moving "beyond the quantum."

 

Or maybe Bloom's readers do not make a philosophical interpretation. Perhaps they simply identify with his thoughts because they see the critical need for a moral center: There must be some value anchors, something to hold onto, in a world which all too clearly is out of balance and control. In this sense, Bloom's book is a reminder of a remarkably prophetic poem by W. B. Yeats:

 

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

The blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity."

 

For many people, spiritual values and the "old verities and truths of the human heart"(Faulkner) are still important. For many, God is still alive in a cynical world.

 

Bloom's store of knowledge is impressive, but he is not original. He is simply opening an old door that enters into a room which is well-lighted. For the higher education community, it is a room full of classical artifacts; it is also a room where religious values may be comfortably discussed. Not everyone may choose to enter, because there is free will and free choice, but it is an option that the gray dogma of relativism shall not close from the mind.

 

JOH 1991, 1999

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Misbegotten Respect for Suicide Bombers

 

By Dr. John O. Hunter, President

 

In my last article on the collapse of the Soviet Union, I referenced the work of Robert Conquest, who documented the price paid by the peoples of the Soviet Union for the cause of the state religion of communism framed by Lenin and Stalin. It likely shall be a long time before Russia, the Ukraine and other countries of the former USSR recover from this failed experiment with totalitarian doctrine which tried to bend all human values and interests to its service.

 

Question: Is that what is happening again in the Islamic world today? I am stimulated to raise this question by an AP news report I have just read about a world conference of Islamic leaders who tried to focus on defining terrorism. The results of the conference were to my mind stunning, hard to believe.

 

The major conclusion was that terrorism should be defined by the United Nations; in other words the conference couldn’t do it and therefore failed. In itself this would be understandable. But these Islamic spokesmen went on to proclaim - and this is the stunning part - that they were opposed to all forms of terrorism except the Palestinian suicide bombers - they were not terrorists - they were religious martyrs. Here we have it all again: the deconstruction of logical thought combined with the complete lack of any standard of humanity.

 

How any religious leader can argue that intentional and indiscriminate killing not of soldiers but innocent people, including children, is justifiable by a higher cause is indeed difficult to understand. The astonishing thing is we are beginning to hear from some American commentators willing to rationalize the argument. It is not reconcilable, I believe, with belief in a loving God.

 

It's certainly true that the complexity of the problems in the Middle East seem unresolvable. The suffering and sorrow endured by both the Palestinians and Israelis is heart sickening. Forty years ago when the looney tunes philosophy, "God is dead," was in vogue, the journalist I.F. Stone said, "If God is dead it must be that he died trying to solve the Palestinian-Jewish problem." Well, at least we have that mindless pejorative behind us.

 

God is not dead. He's alive and still works through men and women of good will. Both the Palestinians and the Israelis are in need of prayer and more of it.

 

What's your perspective? Politically speaking, I believe that President Bush is trying to do the right thing and he is joined by some other world leaders, such as Tony Blair of Great Britain, who are balanced and responsible in their view of the dispute over Israeli peace and Palestinian land. Their efforts will be made even more difficult, however, if respect for suicide bombers should grow and define terrorism in such a way as to exclude these horrible acts. If that should occur it is hard to see anything but an apocalyptic end. Such a reigning religious doctrine - already being taught to eight and nine year olds in Palestine - would bring the most brutish human condition the world has yet known. For if such a monstrous evil did dominate the human heart, how could there be any room for forgiveness and atonement?

 

If Karen Dinesen is correct it will not come to pass. She wrote that "the thought of forgiving ones enemies will always everywhere be deeply admired; I know that this is so among Muslims who are otherwise pretty fierce in that direction and among Orthodox Jews...for a noble minded Muslim the overall view of how to live a good life coincides, where the best of them are concerned, with good Christians.'”

Let us hope and pray that this is indeed the case and we can hold to the distinction between Islamic faith, rightly understood, and an unfit moral corruption.

 

JOH


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Lifting Lenin's Curse

 

By Dr. John O. Hunter, President

 

Sometimes it seems that life goes along in an unchanging pattern. Then a cataclysmic event occurs, and we know that life will not be the same. This happened to America on September 11, 2001. Back in 1991, just ten years before, in the Soviet Union events were telescoped and presented to a world immediately changed.

 

Historians will write mega volumes about the summer of 1991- the collapse of the Soviet Union, coming quickly after the removal of the Iron Curtain across Eastern Europe. Lenin's curse had finally been lifted.

 

It came so fast that a lot of scholars who called themselves "sovietologists" had to re-think their methods, and a lot of other folks who were charmed by Marxist-Leninist vision - in Europe, Central America, Africa - were completely discredited. The ash-heap of history was redefined.

 

It's not clear what will take its place, but totalitarian communism is dead or dying. This crime against humanity had its roots in a birds-eye view of history by Karl Marx who thought that "class struggle" would bring the demise of bourgeois capitalism, emergence of a classless society without private property, and a gradual withering away of the state.

 

Marxist prophecy never happened where it was supposed to, but in Russia in 1917, a revolution was captured by Lenin who brought about a new communist state in the name of Marx though not in the Marxist way. Lenin founded a new religion of great power - without God.

 

What Lenin had in mind was not just a new state but a "new man." There were to be no Russians or Ukrainians or any other nationality, only Soviet citizens. There was no need for churches or synagogues because the "new man" would face squarely the fact that life was totally material and would live in peace, without spiritual crutches, because of his loyalty to the state.

 

What a price was paid for this doctrine! Robert Conquest, a very competent sovietologist, estimates that under Stalin 25 million Soviet citizens were killed by it. In the 1970's the great Russian writer, Solzhenitszyn, began to outline the truth of the new system in books like Gulag Archipelago. As a student, you should get some idea of Solzhenitszyn's work.

 

A lot of the plain horror is now coming out everyday, sometimes by those who perpetrated it, like KGB agents.

 

For example, a report on Olympic athletes of East Germany (formerly a communist state) reveals the complete contempt for the souls of these athletes by those who wanted them to be "winners." A process of body engineering involved feeding massive quantities of steroids to children who were potential athletes. Those who could not metabolize steroids were released from the program. It was all done in full knowledge of the side effects. One document is of a famous sprinter who suffered liver damage, yet officials kept her on steroids because she was a key member of a relay team. The athletes were forbidden to talk to their parents about the steroid use or to consult physicians outside the program.

 

In the end, more powerful than the state are the ethnic and spiritual forces in the lives of Russian and Slavic peoples. Who can tell their future? The legacy of communism will not be easily overcome. Religious and ethnic conflict can be demonic too, as we know from the Middle East. Nor does the western brand of materialism have much to offer people starved for freedom, spiritual as well as political. But out of the Russian people's experience, there may be another, greater hope.

 

Perhaps Anthony Ugolnik, a Russian Orthodox priest and English professor, expresses that hope when he says, The Russians are ahead of us in realizing how life is a unit, how the soul and body, faith and culture are inter-related."

 

But, I think even more hopeful are the lyrics of a young Rock band in Moscow called Black Coffee. Here they are, as reported by Ugolnik, a fresh reflection on life and enduring values in Russia:

 

"See the wooden churches of Russia, feel their warped and ancient walls, come close and ask them about life. In these timbers, beats a heart, lives a faith.

 

In the midst of our chaos, suddenly, underneath it all, emerged your eternal peace. In the scene I am painting for you, notice small detail, old church perched on a hillside. Clearly, there is no limit on the horizon.

 

The ancient churches stand still. Their life is without limit, in time and in space. In these timbers still beats a heart, still lives a faith. Hush, hear the heartbeat. Seize the faith."

 

JOH: 1991, 2001

 

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Tiananmen Square

 

China is perhaps the last place in the world where re- commitment to the principles of the American Declaration of Independence would be expected. Yet there it was, for a short while last May for all the world to see, in Tiananmen Square of the city of Beijing. The calm yet passionate demonstration by Chinese student was perhaps the most significant reflection of the universal power of the ideals of freedom and justice and democracy that we have seen in this generation. The shift of action to realize these ideals in a historically closed, tradition- bound society is both ironic and inspiring.

The brutal end to the students’ dream on June 3-4 and the subsequent repression and lies by the Chinese government may have been predictable, but it is also testimony that violence requires the lie for its justification, and the lie can ultimately only be sustained by violence.

Newspaper sources have reported that over 3000 students were massacred in Tiananmen Square. Our first difficulty perhaps is to internalize what that means. It is like all the students of this college being killed at once. In place of tanks running over people, imagine soldiers storming the dorms and spraying machine gun fire in every room, as university students were killed in Bangladesh in 1971. The first thing is to see that these students are just like us.

The second challenge is to understand what these events mean. The killing has happened before for similar reasons. It is aimed not just at life, of course, but at the ideals, principles, values which are in conflict with the prevailing ideology -- stated simply, that to hold the nation together, people must think the same way.

By the conventional wisdom of “cultural relativism”, the events are indeed tragic, but the Chinese students were naïve, and the response was not only predictable but understandable in a cultural context: these values don't fit China; they could not be expected to endure there. This level of tolerance is itself ideological, lacking critical reflection.

What happened is perhaps better understood in the context of the evolution of thought. Freedom and justice and democracy may be sociologically relative, but there are also categories of thought which are universally born and working their way to expression in all societies. Fundamentally, these ideals which the Chinese students expressed and gave their lives for are related to the immanence of dignity and desire for integrity in all people everywhere.

How men and women think, what commitments they make, and what and why they sacrifice are supremely important. Derivatively, that is why the cause of the Chinese students and what happened to them in Tiananmen Square, June 3-4, 1989 deserves our intensive scrutiny and reflection.

JOH: July, 1989

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A Lesson From George Washington

 

By Dr. John O. Hunter, President

 

There have been a stream of books out in recent years on our founding fathers. One is on the life of George Washington by Richard Brookhiser.* It’s excellent - solid research, well written. Brookhiser is not one of those deconstructionists who like to debunk everything and show the kids that there really aren’t any heroes in American history, just a bunch of scalawags. In his view, Washington was definitely in the heroic mold, human though he was, and he is rightly called the father of our country.

 

It struck me in the reading how similar the events and the problems of his time were to those of our time. Great differences too of course. We were not a super power during Washington's presidency.

 

I had forgotten that 9-11 was not the first time New York City had been attacked by enemy forces. In 1776, the city was invaded by the British - now ironically our foremost ally. Brookhiser estimates the British forces had at their command ten ships of the line, dozens of other ships, and 32,000 professional soldiers. The American Army under Washington had no Navy, no ships and 19,000 soldiers - most of them untrained. In New York City, they were completely routed. There were eight battles fought between 1776 and 1778. Washington lost six of them.

 

On 9-11 we lost the two TradeTowers. Washington lost the entire city. Ultimately of course we won the war, but it was not because Washington was a superior military strategist or our troops were so much better in combat. The turning point may have come in 1778 when the French came in on the American side. (Yes, ironic now, isn’t it, that but for the French we may have entered the 19th century still British subjects.)

 

There is evidence, however, that even without the French intervention the revolution would ultimately have succeeded. Brookhiser thinks the rebels won for two reasons - two qualities that Washington insisted upon - perseverance and flexibility.

 

I began by saying there are both similarities and differences between our time and Washington’s time. No matter what problems confront us, we are not called upon to sacrifice the way that Washington and the patriots of 1776 were. But we are called upon not to be selfish, to thrust beyond our own personal interests; and when we do so, we render our interests more enlightened, and we feel good about ourselves. Isn't that true?

 

The difference is between self-sacrifice for a great cause and simply refusal to withhold on our commitment to other people.

 

There are also similarities. What can hold the family, the school, the community and the nation together in trying times are those same qualities we can see so clearly now in those revolutionaries: persistence and flexibility. There is a paradox here, a paradox of leadership in a democratic institution or society.

 

The paradox is this: If you are a leader there are times when you must simply take charge and move decisively regardless of what people think; if you don’t things will fall apart. Washington understood this. He was very decisive but he also understood that success in the end depended on the people he was leading. "My brave fellows," he would frequently say. Compare that to Frederick the Great, a contemporary regarded as a "brilliant military strategist," who would say to his troops, "Do you dogs expect to live forever?"

 

Another great general, Napoleon, said that "the first quality of a leader is constancy in fatigue and hardship." Washington abundantly displayed this quality: during eight years of command he never allowed himself to take furlough.

 

But it was his other leadership qualities that steered away from Napoleonic totalitarian vision and kindled the fire of democracy. During the war, there were many disputes with the Continental Congress, whose members grumbled about costs. Washington pressed hard and often, sometimes with a sense of despair, for the needs of his army, but he refused to accept arguments that he should override Congress, thus implanting from the beginning the principle of civilian authority over the military.

 

Washington was a democrat by instinct. He saw himself as a temporary leader of equals. He knew that this time would pass. One of his greatest contributions to democracy, now so inured that we hardly think about it, came when he refused to be king and accepted the office of president of the new nation only as its temporary steward. It was this paradox of his leadership that allowed flexible responses yet within the framework of commitment to the goals of the revolution.

 

Washington died in 1799 and was buried without any funeral oration. But John Marshall of West Virginia wrote of him as "the hero who lives now only in his own great actions." Henry Lee, father of General Robert E. Lee, eulogized him as "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."

 

The influence of George Washington has been pervasive and deep throughout American history. One of the most important lessons he exemplified is that we must strive for flexibility of response to our needs and problems while maintaining a strong focus on our basic values, and persevere. Cursom Perficio.

 

* Richard Brookhiser, Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington, Free Press, 1996. (Available through Amazon.com:books)

 

JOH

 

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Solzhenitsyn

 

By Dr. John O. Hunter, President


In a recent article on the demise of communism, I mentioned Aleksander Solzhenitsyn.

 

Solzhenitsyn is a Russian writer, exiled from the former Soviet Union in 1974. He lived for a few years in Vermont, then returned to his native land when the Soviet Union collapsed. In 1970, he was given the Nobel Prize for Literature.

 

His Nobel Prize Address, One Word of Truth, is a stunning portrayal of the power of art and literature to defeat the lie. He has some personal traits I don’t like, but there is no denying that Solzhenitsyn is both a great writer and a prophet.

 

What makes Solzhenitsyn so remarkable is that not only is he a writer with a total world view, he has made a direct connection between literature and morality - not as a propagandist, as so many writers do, but as a true artist. His works express universal values and will live on.

 

What is it that a writer should write about? Not political issues of the day, for these are likely to be short-lived. Rather, the writer as artist goes to universal themes, essential questions about humanity, which take us inevitably to definitions of good and evil.

 

Solzhenitsyn shows us that the evil man is not set apart. He begins, believing that he is doing good or at the least, is acting in accord with approved ways. Solzhenitsyn explains the relationship between good and evil and the crossing over to an irretrievable condition of evil. With powerful insight, he revealed the root of evil in the twentieth century to be unconstrained ideology and saw its collapse in his homeland.

 

Solzhenitsyn is well known in western circles, but he is not very popular. Why?

 

Basically, he does not fit into current western theories about freedom and art. Solzhenitsyn sees freedom as spiritual, not political in nature. His theory of art rests on two fundamental concepts: (1) truth is absolute, (2) reality is objective. Both ideas grow from belief in a personal God who created and sustains the world. Art is a gift from God.

 

In contrast with this view, other artists of this century see themselves as creators of independent spiritual worlds. They are doomed to failure, by Solzhenitsyn's view, because lacking orientation to God, they have no moral order to rely upon and drift into confusion and despair. But Solzhenitsyn's disaffection from the west is more than disagreement about art.

 

In the Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn wrote about an entire country which was brutalized and annihilated by a cruel and inhumane system. Enduring humanity is one of Solzhenitsyn's themes. Human freedom and goodness can live in the human soul, despite degradation and suffering, and can triumph. His own life proves it.

 

So, when he was exiled and came to the west, he was astonished to see a different kind of enslavement. He was not "grateful" for his new freedom. He saw that western materialistic values have led to greed, corruption, and alienation from God-all destroying the human spirit as much as concentration camps do.

 

Solzhenitsyn probes the truth of the human condition and experience in the twentieth century with great power and moral vision. No writer is more worthy of your attention.

 

JOH: 1991,2000

 

August 3, 2008

 

Alexander Solzhenitsyn died in Moscow today at age 89. In his last years, he somehow reconciled with the current government of Russia led by Vladimir Putin, former KGB official.

Although some of his final statements are perplexing, it is not too difficult to understand the historical context in which he set his argument.

 

The Harvard historian, Crane Brinton, framed a theory of the stages of revolution that shows the last stage as a dialectical return to the state that had existed historically. The notion that Russia could break permanently from its totalitarian tradition is specious. To recognize the hold of history does not refute or contradict the idea of spiritual freedom existing bi-laterally with stability and security. Whether or not this will be the case in Russia remains to be seen.

 

JOH

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Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

By Dr. John O. Hunter, President

 

Let me confess: my words are not sufficient to honor Dr. King, but I'll tell you what I think: In my view of American leadership I rank Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King side by side. Though 100 years apart, they are the paramount champions and martyrs of the quest for a united nation founded on liberty and justice for all. One white leader and one black leader - we cannot recognize one and not the other, for they were equal in the task God ordained for them.

 

Dr. King is a continuing inspiration for all of us, and a national hero at a time when America needs heroes. But then, when was ever a time that we did not need heroes?

 

I think what also sets him apart from many political leaders is that he was a very graceful man.

 

He had the grace of boldness in standing for what is right - that we know certainly. But he also had the grace of kindness - wherever he went he took something of the love of God - the grace of a thankful, uncomplaining heart - and my, was he not wonderfully graceful in his use of language?

 

We who follow him should be grateful to God - and I know we are - for his example and his legacy to guide us in the continuation of the cause of brotherhood, which he so ennobled.

 

It is the case that we never know where the influence stops of men and women who excel as Dr. King did. A very recent example of that is work of Investigative Reporter Jerry Mitchell in Mississippi which is finally bringing to justice the Ku Klux Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen for the 1964 murders of civil rights workers. Without his courage and dogged pursuit of the truth these events may have remained unvindicated, locked away forever. It's no accident in my view that Mitchell was inspired by Dr. King. Mitchell said, "It's been a matter of faith for me throughout this whole thing. God's hand is in it. It just doesn't make sense otherwise."

 

I believe that's what Martin Luther King would have said too.

 

So the quest goes on; the struggle goes on. But now at least we can sing together:

 

“Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us, Facing the rising sun of our new day begun."

 

JOH

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A Personal Tribute to John Paul II

 

 

By Dr. John O. Hunter, President

 

"I have looked for you. Finally you have come to me. And I thank you."

 

These dying words from Pope John Paul II, God's great servant, uncompromising apostle of life, may be interpreted in many ways in years to come. I believe they were uttered as he met God face to face.

 

I attended the funeral of John Paul II and experienced first-hand the deep love of this man by thousands present from all over the world. History will remember him as spiritual guardian of the sanctity of life and great moral leader and teacher of the salvific power of faith. He came in an era when western civilization has fallen into moral chaos. He will be remembered for having sparked the flames of freedom, ascending as Vicar of Christ when bloody communism seemed dominant in the world. Less than twenty years later the Soviet empire collapsed due in a large way to his influence.

 

"Be not afraid!" "Be not afraid" he said over and over again even in the darkest of days. Along with Roosevelt, Churchill and Reagan, he was one of the great liberators of the 20th Century, yet he had no armies, no guns, no bombs, only religious and spiritual authority.

 

Born in Poland, it was there his leadership first emerged. Without him, it is unlikely that the spirit of freedom defined in the Solidarity movement of the 1980's would have caught hold. When triumph came the stage was set for the idea of freedom to begin to roll in other parts of the world.

 

I remember the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the FMLN in El Salvador, and the accompanying new power of "liberation theology" which converted many Catholic priests to Marxism. I saw the giant cross in downtown Manaqua with the face of Karl Marx superimposed on the figure of Jesus Christ. John Paul II would have none of it. He fought his own battle for Christ against poverty, always with human freedom in mind.

 

Some criticize him for not being more assertive about pedophiles in the priesthood, not allowing women to be ordained, and other matters of reform. I make no judgments on those Church matters—not my business. I am not a Catholic. Yet I see his splendor, anchored in conservatism. He reminds me of Disraeli's comment: "All great minds are conservative."

 

It seems to me a remarkable coincidence that the Pope and Terri Shiavo died in the same week. In the Pope's mind Tern Shiavo was a victim of the culture of death. Although he could see the complexity of issues surrounding the technology of keeping people on permanent life support, he held that there is absolute moral law against both suicide and the killing of a patient by the deprivation of basic human needs of food, water, air, and warmth. If in a mercy killing there is a right to deprive someone of food and water, why not get it over with by putting a bag over the head to deprive the person of air?

 

In the debate about Terri Shiavo's fate, Kathleen Parker distilled it to the simplest terms: "If as claimed she would not suffer from dying, then she also would not suffer from living."

 

If we are not careful, the decision of death for Terri Shiavo can also be applied across the board to many others defenseless among us. John Paul II saw the consequences clearly: parents killing their children, and children killing their parents. A slippery slope indeed.

 

Throughout the Pope's many travels, his message was catholic - the true definition, universal. He was the first Pope to visit synagogues and mosques.

 

Given the hedonistic culture and addictive society in which young people are growing up today (is it any wonder they cannot distinguish freedom from license?) it is indeed heartening to observe how this Pope inspired many of you and stirred so much outpouring of grief:

 

Last week a 20-year old boy flew to the Vatican and slept in the street. Asked why he was there, he replied, "to pay my respects to the Pope. If I don't see him today, I'll be back tomorrow."

 

A young woman at the Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago said, "I felt propelled to come here today because my heart felt so heavy." "It just hurts", she added. "He needs all the prayers of his people."

 

Hearing of the Pope's final moments, another 20-year old who lives in a home for at risk youth prostrated himself in prayer on the ground in front of a church in New Orleans.

 

A beautiful young girl in Krakow, Poland said, "I don't know how we can go on without him. He was my father."

 

Millions mourn the passing of this great leader, John Paul II.

 

Charles Kranthamner states: "We mourn him for restoring strength to the Western idea of the free human spirit at a moment of deepest doubt and despair. And for seeing us through to today's great moment of possibility for both faith and freedom."

 

Outside of my family, no other person's death has brought tears of sorrow to my eyes as did this man. Perhaps others join me. For whom does the bell toll?

 

John Donne tells us: "Do not send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee!"

 

JOH

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Facts, Lies, And Rumors

 

The Neil Simon comedy, Rumors, is delightful.

Beneath the comic situations, Rumors reminds us how tangled up our lives become when facts are confused with inferences and how easily rumors take on life of their own.

In the use of logic, the first thing, of course, is to learn the difference between fact, inference and opinion.

Facts can be empirically verified through observation or measurement.

“The sun rose this morning.” If it did, that’s a fact. (If it didn’t , you’re not reading this.)

“The sun will rise tomorrow.” Most likely, it will, but that’s not a fact---it’s an inference.

“There is a global warning trend.” If there is, you would never know it by the temperature of one day or even one year. The accumulation of facts over a long time is the only way to discern this trend. These big inferences ought not to be made or taken lightly.

There are different kinds of facts (or data contexts)---political facts, economic facts, academic facts, etc.

Then there are opinions. You’ve heard it said, “everyone is entitled to an opinion.” True. But not all opinions have the same worth. In general, an informed opinion is much better than one based on ignorance. Analysis usually makes a difference.

Which gets us to values. In the academic world, if you can imagine it, there used to be an idea that facts could speak for themselves. Now we know better. There is always a fusion of facts and values in human situations because the human person makes the facts dynamic through perceptions and interpretations.

Now we’re talking about truth and lies---and rumors (which are usually, but not always, lies).

Some people are just careless about facts. Others like to spread rumors because they think it makes life more exciting. To get a reaction : float the rumor and see what happens. When you hear a rumor, it’s a good idea to check it out before passing it on.

The problem with rumors is that they can do a lot of damage. A rumor may b e partially based on fact, but more often than not, it exaggerates the fact or leaves something out. That’s when it becomes a lie.

Lies are not always malicious, but when they are (i.e., deliberately used to hurt someone), it is the worst form of human corruption.

JOH


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Rational Process And The Mountain Of Irrationality

As a college student many years ago I was blessed by what was called the “liberal arts tradition” in the hands of admirable professors who recruited me for it. One introduced me to literary criticism, and another to the “Socratic method”----both aimed at search for truth. At that time we had not yet fallen into the trap of “no such thing as truth---all is relative.”

While I was not an all-star student in those days, almost inadvertently I discovered something magnificent that set me on a course eventually to become my professional life. It is a process of rational inquiry and dialectical arrival at conclusions. I was not alone. We were inspired by the idea that even if our skills were inadequate or our notions too strong, the process or method would retain its integrity and lead us back to it. It goes something like this.

Keep three skills in balance: inquiry, acknowledgment’ and advocacy. There is truth to be found but none of us will ever have sole possession of it. You never know what you don’t know.

We see the world from our own perspectives. Each of us has our own story. Learning someone else’s story or side of the issue may let us see something we didn’t see before. In this learning conversation, we ask questions about the information. Examine the empirical data. Trace our interpretations of it.

The process goal is always the same: What is the truth? Not what is most popular---or what is easiest to accept.

Socrates stressed humility in the face of truth, but there is also room for enthusiasm! In fact, without it you can’t get very far.

The method does not rob you of your advocacy but it will test your assumptions and interpretations, strengthening or refining or amending them, helping you to clarify your position. The conversation ends with acknowledgment that there may still be something missing, something more to learn. At the same time if we are responsible for making a decision, we do not shrink from the responsibility. Rather we trust in our informed judgment.

Tough, honest criticism is essential, but throughout the process there is respect for the other guy. It’s demonstrated by acknowledging each other’s position. To acknowledge, of course, is not the same thing as to agree. We may achieve a synthesis, or it may be that we simply agree to disagree, at least for the present. Even with the same information we may come to different conclusions. Why? Because of different assumptions, different interpretations. Without mutual understanding of the process it will simply stop. Embarrassed, friendly adversaries withdraw to the protection of banality.

In my youthful naivete it never occurred to me that such a beautiful approach could be undermined by our culture. Or that there was another world view oriented to fantasy.

Now there is something happening in our culture as it interacts with fantastic ideology which is threatening the process of rational inquiry and coarsening the dialog.

Within our democratic society, the decline of rational method and the resulting incivility is traceable to both political excess and cultural fascination with image-making and entertainment in which image is more important than truth. We are bombarded mercilessly by images of all kinds, but the significant force is the image-spinning, the manipulation, distortion, even lies by professional media handlers who are very skilled and clever. They can turn the world upside down, building a mountain of irrationality.

 

JOH

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The Role Of Women In War

During World War II (the 1940’s) “Rosie the Riveter” was a popular stereotype because she filled in for the men away at war. Along the way, she proved that women could handle the industrial jobs which until then had been reserved for men. Other women served in the army and navy but not in a combat role. After the war, many women did not like going back to the little shop or home. Perhaps feminism as a movement began then.

Or perhaps the roots go as far back as the seventh century to Celtic Christianity. There lies an interesting and ironic tale of history.

The Celtic Church was active in prohibiting the use of women in war. There are pitiful accounts of women forced onto the battlefield before this enactment. The following is from W. J. Watson, “The Celtic Church and Paganism,” Celtic Review, 1918 (out of copyright):

“The work which the best of women had to do was to go to battle and battlefield, encounter and camping, fighting and hosting, wounding and slaying. On one side of her she would carry her bag of provisions, on the other her babe. Her wooden pole upon her back, and it had at one end an iron hook, which she would thrust into the tress of some woman in the opposite battalion., Her husband behind her, carrying a fence stake in his hand and flogging her on to battle. Adamnan’s mother chanced on a day to come on a battlefield. Such was the thickness of the slaughter into which they came that the soles of the women would touch the neck of another. Though they beheld the battlefield, they saw nothing more touching or pitiful than the head of a woman in one place and the body in another, and her little babe upon the breasts of the corpse, a stream of milk upon one of its cheeks and a stream of blood upon the other.”

Adamnan was the ninth Abbot of Holy Iona, an island in what is now Scotland. Inspired by his mother, he did not rest until he had secured the emancipation of women from war.

The Church’s effort gradually evolved into a charter for women, not only in regard to warfare, but in promoting the role of women in upholding standards of morality and sanctity of the family as well. They were to be protected from the barbarity and ferocity of men. A code of chivalry was evolving.

For the Celtic Church, the women’s charter was a way “to please God by doing things that are agreeable to Him, and so to grow like unto Him.”

In today’s world, of course, it is important to recognize the equal right of women in all endeavors including the making of war. A circle has been joined.

Maybe it’s just me, a product of an older culture, but I have difficulty warming to this idea that young men and women should be equal on the front lines of combat and die in equal numbers. Is this progress?

JOH

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Coping With Change

 

Sometimes, as we see and hear of the ravage of drugs and alcohol, the question naturally occurs: are we still dealing with healthy people in our educational institutions? My answer is, with the great majority of students, yes! If this answer were wrong, we would need an entirely different theme than “coping with change.”

Only healthy people can cope with the pace of contemporary change. But this does not mean that they shall cope. To cope means to have skills, imagination and perspective. These are also the traits of the educated person. In this sense, education is distinguished from training.

People can be trained to do a specific job, but what happens when that job is no longer there? Coincidental with growing unemployment are expressions of need for an upgraded work force coming from business, industry and the military. They consistently point out the value of these kinds of attributes: ability to communicate---computational ability---creative and adaptive capacity---inter-personal skills---critical thinking skills---alertness.

Employers know that such employees are also more motivated, more reliable, and more trainable. In the future, it is likely that these skilled people (as distinguished from ”skilled workers”) shall be in even greater demand. The question is, how shall this workforce be created?

We cannot avoid the proposition that we are all students and leaders or should be. How well schools and colleges develop qualitatively depends to a large degree on how seriously this proposition is taken throughout the organization. We must all be students and we must all be leaders!

I leave you with two things to think about:

  • The desire to learn is infectious. Instructional technologies have been shown to quicken the rate of learning and should be employed, but it is still the enthusiasm and example we bring to our relationships with others in a learning environment that best motivates us and them.
  • In a technology-intensive society, we are faced with a learning imperative. This means first that students must have mastery of basic skills---reading, writing, speaking, listening, and computation---which are then honed as critical and creative thinking skills. It also means that learning cannot be confined to a place and time in our lives. Formal learning is a life-long process. We are never too old to start, but we are always too young to finish.

Some people say, I cannot learn, it’s too difficult. Not so! It’s a matter of getting started right.

The more we learn, the easier it is to learn. It is only when we decide to take a break from learning that we begin to falter and stagnate.

Well educated people understand this imperative and naturally live by it. Continuing education becomes part of their life-style. It is ironic, perhaps, that educated people take advantage of educational opportunities while the poorly educated are not interested and fall further behind.

 

JOH

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