Massive unemployment. College courses shifted online. Graduates looking for a place to celebrate. If we consider these three things in isolation from each other, without imagination, then it looks like nothing but total breakdown. Add a touch of vision, however, stir them together, and we begin to see a massive opportunity for a national commitment to higher education.
Instead of laying off dedicated college teachers, instead of denying the real value of distance education, instead of parking unemployed workers in streaming services filled with conspiracy theory documentaries, and instead of ignoring the joys that college graduates want to celebrate, we can choose to see an unprecedented opportunity.
Let's begin with the demand that college students are making to celebrate their graduations. That demand is our guiding light. There is much joy and well-being in college life. As Spinoza argues, when we know the good, we desire to share its joys. I love this paragraph from Part Four of Spinoza's Ethics:
"The good, which a person desires for themself and loves, they will love more constantly, if they see that others love it also; they will therefore endeavour that others should love it also; and as the good in question is common to all, and therefore all can rejoice therein, they will endeavour, for the same reason, to bring about that all should rejoice therein, and this they will do the more, in proportion as their own enjoyment of the good is greater." (Eth. Pt. IV, PROP. XXXVII, pronouns adjusted)
As anyone who has attended a live graduation can attest, it is a time of great joy shared among students, faculty, staff, family, and friends. The difference that a college education makes is not fake joy. There are good reasons to celebrate and to share that celebration.
Massive unemployment, on the other hand, is neither good nor joyful. Depression is filled with hateful pains that are personal, social, economic, psychological and more. When all these things could have been avoided through foresight and wisdom, the pain is all the more intense. We feel and we know that these hateful pains must be transformed. Once again, we consider Spinoza:
"He who chooses to avenge wrongs with hatred is assuredly wretched. But he, who strives to conquer hatred with love, fights his battle in joy and confidence; he withstands many as easily as one, and has very little need of fortune's aid. Those whom he vanquishes yield joyfully, not through failure, but through increase in their powers; all these consequences follow so plainly from the mere definitions of love and understanding, that I have no need to prove them in detail" (Eth. Pt. IV PROP. XLVI).
And this is where we have a choice to make about being forced to move higher education online. We can continue to hate it and fight it with hate, or we can open our attitude to another perspective, where the need for online education meets the population of unemployed and unemployable people literally where they live. There are millions of connections to make here. Seriously, we can make those connections in an unprecedented national gesture of love.
A call to share in a national renewal of higher education online is not to say that everyone needs a new degree plan. Students may want to refresh themselves in basic principles of biology, economics, psychology, entrepreneurship, technology, poetry, or film.
As we find ourselves today, we can seek to become that national leadership who exercises what Martin Luther King, Jr. called "the strength to love." To have strength for real love, we must be programmatic and strategic, mindful of material responsibilities that will support the bodies of students and teachers as we encourage their distant connection in mind. We have a choice before us. As Spinoza would remind us, we are always free to choose the uplifting task.