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I am part of those who –one could say—- consider themselves “T” kind of people. As in the letter “T”, the central column shows people who are highly specialized in one area of life; in my case the Humanities (ex-University Professor who was also a PhD candidate in Political Philosophy; with some serious caveats, though). But at the same time, as the letter “T” shows, many of us believe that in order to gain a better perspective on the world it is of great importance to go beyond one’s specialization into other areas of life. This will broaden one’s outlook and will generate a more holistic/deeper approach to our lives. This is what is also known in some academic circles, though unfortunately much less practiced nowadays, as a kind of liberal education. But only in a true liberal kind of education —which goes far beyond what has just been said—- is there a truly liberating spirit. Liberal education in its original and fundamental sense liberates. The origin of such stance towards education and life can be found in the Greeks; specially in the work of Plato, Xenophon and Aristotle, all of whom were deeply struck by the life, the words and the actions of Socrates. (1) This PUBLIC blog only tangentially deals with this —–much more fundamental and much more important—–form of liberal education.
In other areas of life “T” people are also known as multi-taskers (specially in business), or as generalists with a specialization (specially among the natural sciences), or as those interested in interdisciplinary approaches (primarily among academics), or as those involved in holistic approaches (primarily in the medical sciences) . However, the connotation of a “jack-of-all-trades” with its pejorative undertones (those musicians who are actors and stylists and political commentators, and …..) must be kept squarely in sight in order not to fall into confusion. A liberal education has nothing to do with this. In contrast, a liberal education is the necessary condition for the creation, in part, of a free and thoughtful citizenry.
Perhaps another way to see what is at stake is to compare two sports in the Olympics: the 100-meter race and the decathlon. When watching the Olympics one tends, as a modern, to remember the 100 meter dash as the crowning race of the entire event. The cameras and newspapers will let us know if any records were broken in this culminating race. This seems natural for moderns; we desire to be the fastest. In contrast, few know who is the current gold medalist in the 10 000 meters (and, ironically, the winners in these races all come from “backward” countries that run at a “different pace”). But more importantly, few of us regard with much interest the decathlon or the pentathlon. And yet, the decathlon is THE sports symbol which stands against the dangers of overspecialization. If physical education is a crucial part of our education as citizens, then a pent-athlete might be better prepared for the real world than a 100-meter sprint athlete. How can this be so? To see my point just reflect briefly on the following view of Greek sports. In Kitto’s very introductory but very beautiful The Greeks, one finds the following perplexing words:
”A sense of wholeness of things is perhaps the most typical feature of the Greek mind….. It was arête (note: the Greek for “excellence”) that the games were designed to test –—the arête of the whole man, not a merely specialized skill—– the regular events were a sprint, of about 200 yards, the long race, the race in armour, throwing the discus and the javelin, the long jump, wrestling, boxing and chariot racing. THE GREAT event was the pentathlon; a race, a jump, throwing the discus, and the javelin, and wrestling. Needless to say the marathon was never heard of until modern times. The Greeks would have regarded it as a monstrosity.” (p. 174)
A liberal education, though not forgetting the importance of the 100-meter race for us as moderns, places much more importance in the political need for a creation of a kind of citizen much more versed in the decathlons and pentathlons of public and private life. It even points beyond the political, in a very careful manner, into the realm of political philosophy.
In my particular case, one of the wings of the letter “T” has been dedicated to issues regarding language: as ESL teacher for over 15 years, and as certified translator in the two countries of which I am a citizen, Canada and Colombia (link). The other wing of the letter “T” extends towards the area of art where I have developed my skills in painting and photography for many years now; my work in these areas can be found at: www.andresmelophotography.com. Hopefully, later on I will be able to create such a website/blog for my understanding of the teaching of languages and the multiplicity of exercises I created myself for my students. However, the extension itself of the letter “T” has come about through the serious and questioning dedication to the life of the Humanities both within AND, very importantly, outside academic life. (For a summary please check my resume which is found in this blog. Likewise, a much more developed post on the nature of T-people, entitled T and Ω: a critical stance on our dangerous desire for overspecialization can be found here.)
In general one could say that “T” people have great interest in questions rather than ready-made answers. “T” people are explorers and serious risk-takers regarding questions dealing with our humanity. “T” people enjoy reflection for its own sake. Hope you are a “T” kind of person yourself, and therefore would be interested in working together in developing a broader conversation that questions who we are. As Socrates is said to have said: “if … I say that this happens to be the greatest good for a human being, (that) the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being —you will believe me still less. But it is so, though to persuade of it is not easy.”
This specific blog, entitled Rarefactions , is a continuation of my learning to use the internet as a vehicle for the enhancement of a reflective attitude towards ourselves primarily, and secondarily towards others and the world. In this respect, this project is a kind of continuation of the work I carried out on my web page www.amelo14.deviantart.com several years ago There I wrote about a multiplicity of topics mostly dealing with art, as that was an art-centered website. I will upload those reflections here at Rarefactions as well.
But besides these, Rarefactions invites its readers to seriously take up the challenge of a reflective stance towards themselves as the only real avenue for change. The topics to be explored will deal with those areas central to a liberal education, namely: art, philosophy , rhetoric and politics. Other topics will also be touched upon, primarily illness (as I suffer from a certain illness), the family and issues revolving around migration as I have lived this experience three times —at different ages— as dual citizen of both Canada and Colombia. I will likewise dedicate an area of the blog to responses to columnists of the Colombian newspaper “El Tiempo”; responses which will be in Spanish. Moreover other posts will deal with philosophical issues themselves, issues which lie primarily at the heart of Classical Political Thought (Socrates, Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle), the work of Charles Taylor —recent winner of the important Templeton Prize (who is the topic of my PhD thesis), the work of unforgettable and challenging Thomas Pangle (and Leo Strauss) and the challenging work of the duo Nietzsche/Heidegger.
I have also set up a map of the site as a separate page where you will find a chronological ordering of the posts included within. These have been separated primarily by the academic period to which they belong, for instance those belonging to my Master’s degree, those dealing with my PhD degree, etc. I have not included many from my undergraduate degrees, though I might simply put up the titles in order to see the progression of my interests. While researching my PhD thesis I have reflected on a series of issues dealing with art, and have done so in the Socratic spirit of continuous puzzling over questions which remain unasked. The more recent posts will take a much more aphoristic/shorter style, and hopefully, as I progress in the writing of my PhD thesis, the chapters themselves might be shared with a wider audience. If interested, my resume has been included as a separate page as well.
To end these introductory and very incomplete remarks: Rarefaction actually means “a decrease in density and pressure in a medium, such as air, caused by the passage of a sound wave”. Rarefaction decreases the density and the pressure of who we are. In decreasing the density, it allows for a certain openness which may be frightening at first, but which nonetheless is required in order to remain in open expectation to the puzzles which underlie our human nature. And moreover, in decreasing the pressure —which includes the very the pressure of our modern lives—- it allows for the first appearance of the possibility of a happiness which leads beyond what we normally consider to be the foundations of our material success in the utilitarian vein. In contrast, rarefaction may open us to the possibility of a happiness which has been lost to our tradition, that happiness whose explicit defense lies in the most important ethical text ever written, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. (Commentary, here )
That sound wave which passes and creates this momentous condition is not primarily action , but rather reflection on ourselves as individuals; deep and permanent reflection on our actions, on our emotions, on our needs and most importantly, on our very own thoughts. It is the express intention of this blog to try to rarefy myself, and perhaps initiate some rarefaction in its readers. Perhaps such activity may prepare us to open for ourselves a deeper and truer sense of what liberal education means and entails.
(1) For the most concise defense of liberal education in its TRUE and FUNDAMENTAL sense see: Strauss, Leo. Liberalism Ancient and Modern, “What Is Liberal Education?”, pp. 3-8, 1968. On the web, here .
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