How do we Shape Souls Without Longing?

Nice looking backward at Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind. Deneen correctly locates the import of the text in its prescient concern with the dis-ease of indifference.

Today we live in a different age, one that so worried Bloom—an age of indifference. Institutions of higher learning have almost completely abandoned even a residual belief that there are some books and authors that an educated person should encounter. A rousing defense of a curriculum in which female, African-American, Latino, and other authors should be represented has given way to a nearly thoroughgoing indifference to the content of our students’ curricula. Academia is committed to teaching “critical thinking” and willing to allow nearly any avenue in the training of that amorphous activity, but eschews any belief that the content of what is taught will or ought to influence how a person lives.

Thus, not only is academia indifferent to whether our students become virtuous human beings (to use a word seldom to be found on today’s campuses), but it holds itself to be unconnected to their vices—thus there remains no self-examination over higher education’s role in producing the kinds of graduates who helped turn Wall Street into a high-stakes casino and our nation’s budget into a giant credit card. Today, in the name of choice, non-judgmentalism, and toleration, institutions prefer to offer the greatest possible expanse of options, in the implicit belief that every 18- to 22-year-old can responsibly fashion his or her own character unaided.

Who Closed the American Mind? | The American Conservative

My own recent attempts to grasp how university education veered so far afield of what actually profits its stakeholders–students & researchers as well as the public at large–recognizes this indifference: Apathy is the sufficient condition–or breeding ground–for the Control virus which translates the life-world into the enframed or coded account. I call this “viral ledger” the Book of Life.

Now, at issue here is our mostly unchanged humanity. We are still very similar entities to those who were first recording about and reflecting upon their life-world 5000 years ago. Our technoscientific organizing withstanding, there is still a desire in inexperienced youth which not only can be but should be shaped by experienced age. But the latter has no business mentoring the former from a skewed sense of our situation. Apathy must be overcome in the aged as well as the young.

This requires us to attend to a recurrent pattern in human development, a pattern that oft deforms: what the Greeks called AKEDIA or slothfulness. Rather than being just plain laziness, sloth can also be the ‘busy’ trap. That is, we become overtly busy and take confidence that we are accomplishing something.

In becoming a degree mill–really better, a degree generating corporation–the Global Education Meta-Network labors at hiding the ground of indifference beneath the steady busy-ness of undergraduate, graduate, and faculty instruction/research. This benefits the viral ledger by allowing for non-stop encoding while transforming the coder into his/her own controlled node within the network.

Anyone who sees this unending busy process of generating & circulating references as “productive” or even “virtuous” is suffering from the long con of pseudo-authenticity.

The consequence of this confidence game lies in believing that the youth in themselves are without eros or desire. The passion may be amorphous but it only can be annihilated if those who are constantly busy with their own versions of encoding do not realize that the constant busy work hoisted on youth–be it studying for standardized tests or gathering data for yet one  more research project–distends desire to the fracturing point.

We must envision more clearly how our own minds–distended & deformed by indifference–allow us to overlook the dynamic possibility to shape the soul’s of our younger friends & fellows. It is too easy to believe there is nothing in the Millenials  to be shaped. Those of us who heed the vocation to convert–to get youth to turn-together with us toward the life-world–must comprehend our situation within the long con of busy progress. Rather than saying the youth are without longing, we must better acknowledge how we ourselves belong to indifference and how our busyness within the Society of Control belies how much of our own existential responsibility we have abandoned in the name of being accountable to our “projects”.

So I am not asking how do we shape souls which have no longing. Rather, I inquire after my colleagues: How can we shape souls when we are so busy & indifferent, when we are without a longing for the good these youth may discover even in our current situation?


  1. Keith,
    This is excellent. You know, there is an expression in medicine, “getting rid of patients,” that this reminds me of. Though most often people go into medicine wanting to HELP, once they graduate and become doctors in a residency, there is often a not at all veiled behavior that involves doing whatever it takes to get out from under taking responsibility for patients’ care, AND blaming the patients in the process.

    Similarly, those of us in academia too often label students as lazy, empty-headed, etc. etc. and correspondingly dumb down our teaching because, we argue, “They are not curious and don’t want to learn anything anyway.” Talk about the sadness of the “long con.”

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