The main idea for this book came to me when I was twenty-four, and the experience of that vision proved to be the pivotal point around which the course of my subsequent life turned. It turned out that, at that young age, having something to say that I felt was important, and that I was completely committed to articulating to my fellow human beings, was a mixed blessing: on the one hand, it was wonderful to have a sense of purpose, a calling; on the other hand, it led me into encounters with the world that were rather different from what my upbringing and my image of the world led me to expect.
It was as if, after some years of walking into some establishment through the front door, and seeing things as they are set up for the customers of the place, I was suddenly coming in through a different entrance, into a less public part of the business, and thereby getting some unexpected glimpses of what really happens in the guts of the place.
In my bio posted on my own website, it says simply that "Schmookler went on to earn his doctorate in 1977 at the University of California at Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union in a program specially created to accommodate his comprehensive theory of human history." It really was not that simple.
My commitment to developing and communicating a big idea that I still regard as the most important thing I've ever written brought me into a whole series of surprising discoveries concerning those institutions of "higher learning, "devoted to "the life of the mind."
The first step in this adventure of discovery was my experience as a graduate student in American Studies at Yale University. And that is the story told in the piece offered here, below, for your weekend reading. Entitled "Weltanschauung," this piece was written in the mid-1980s, about fifteen years after the experience it describes.
Andrew Bard Schmookler
There's a story I've been wanting to tell for a long time. It's about my disillusionment, and the tale begins with my father. No, it's not that my father disappointed me. Far from it. But in a strange and wonderful way, he set me up to be disappointed.
My father was a scholar, and I grew up with my thinking sanded smooth by coming up against his critical mind. Whatever I could defend, he would respect. Whatever he could not defend against my arguments, he'd gracefully abandon. His positions were important to him, but he would surrender them to the truth. Such was his integrity.
I grew up assuming that my father's spirit was characteristic of all scholars, and that it would be my destiny to work in academia with men and women like him as my colleagues. It was around 1970 that I learned I had committed the fallacy of over-generalization.
This was a time when the social fabric was unraveling in a way that laid bare some fundamental questions about order and justice, about freedom and civilized society. The cities in the U.S. had been burning, the war in Vietnam continued to grind on, and I was tormented with the question of why civilization brought forth so much destruction and pain.
My searching brought me to a searing moment of epiphany in which I felt I'd been vouchsafed a part of the answer. It was a vision that brought together all that I'd learned before about the world. And I committed my whole being to articulating what I had seen.
I was then about to begin graduate studies at one of our great Eastern universities.
Fortunately, I thought, my project would serve the declared purposes of the program I was entering, so immediately upon my arrival I began to seek the freedom to carry out my work under its aegis. My requests, however, fell upon deaf ears until I sent my message in a language that administrators could not ignore: for the second semester, I signed up only for independent studies.
That got their attention, and led the heads of the program to request the meeting I'd vainly been seeking since my arrival. It was decided that the two men in charge --both world famous scholars-- would come to my house for lunch.
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