EgoIoYoEu wrote:Our attention spans grow shorter, our knowledge base smaller, and our profundity as thinking beings undermined by "pop culture." We're into fast food, instant gratification, and split-second internet connection. We, as a culture, have lost patience and endurance. We have become weaker in our minds as well as our bodies. Who can deny these things?
I can deny these things. MUAHAHAHAHAHA!
Throughout Western history post fall of the Roman empire, only a small fraction of the population has at anytime gone into in-depth study of the classics. Through the Renaissance, most of the population was illiterate. They weren't stupid, and some of them were very knowledgeble in various ways, but they hardly studied the classics. And I think they probably liked instant gratification as much as we do - they just didn't have as much access to it, we don't have as much of a record of it, and what records we do have are not that interesting to us because the bulk of "pop culture" is very forgetable. And frequently those who were studying the classics were not interested in self-enrichment but in attaining some type of social status (much as today many people go to college to get a degree, not to learn). I think the truth is, and it's not a very happy truth, that there have throughout history only been a limited amount of people who are really interested in devoting the great effort it takes to master the classical languages in order to reap the benefits, and that it has not changed.
Now, I belong to a number of intellectual circles, and I have heard a lot of people say "Most people never think about the meaning of life, or reflect on their own lives, or ponder about what is truly valuable." The thing is, I would like to meet somebody who has never reflected on their own life, and who has never delved into serious introspection. Granted, some people are better at it than others, but I don't think I have ever met anybody (well, not anybody older than 4 years old, and who was not mentally handicapped) who has NEVER pondered their lives in a philosophical manner. I may be sheltered because, as I say, I spend a lot of my time in intellectual circles, and I live in the richest nation on earth. But even when I engage in conversations with total strangers I meet on the street, if we really discuss something beyond "Do you know how to get to the ---- ?" I find that they have reflected on life. So I challenge you to give me a specific time period and place where the culture had "more patience and endurance", and where THE POPULATION AS A WHOLE (not a group of individuals) was significently stronger in the mind, and PROVE IT.
Oh, you'll probably point out the Ancient Greek and Roman period. The Romans are pretty easy to pick on, seeing as they built coliseums where the masses could enjoy watching gladiators fighting with bulls or whatever (talking about instant gratification), among other pop culture things which resulted in instant gratification. The Greeks - the Greeks were extraordinary. On the other hand, I believe a lot of their literature came from the extraordinary individuals responding to the problems they percieved in their own culture.
Now, having just seriously countered your "My god we're so degenerate, and the past was so wonderful" argument, I will allow that there is some truth to what you say. Children do develop more attention span disorders than before, and scientific studies have directly linked this to television. And most people do think of themselves living in a head attached to a body rather than living in a body, which (I personally think) leads to a bunch of problems. On the other hand, life spans have dramatically improved compared to many periods in time (though, notably, it was not unusual for somebody to reach their 70's in Ancient Greece). However, whenever somebody comes up with this "We are so degenerate, and the decline of the classics is why!" rhetoric without backing it up with proof, I generally think it comes from romantic feeling rather than from careful consideration. If you can prove otherwise, well, prove otherwise.
On the whole Modern Education thing - I'm not as allergic to standardized tests as some people here (though the SATs and ACTs are pretty useless, a fact many colleges are realizing, since the SATs and ACTs are growing less important in college admissions decisions every year), but I'm not so fond of them that I'll devote a lot of energy defending them either. And for a variety of reasons, I think education is best handled by the local government, with assistence from the state government, and very little interference from the national government.