02 March 2007

Amateurs and War: A Nibleyesque Musing

Nibley’s “Day of the Amateur” really expressed well my own views on education. I find it strange that even at BYU there are people going through the motions of getting a university education only for the purpose of obtaining a piece of paper—a “passport” to a better job, as Nibley says. The problem is that the university has two functions: to enrich individuals with a liberal education and to provide the education needed for more advanced jobs. Both of these purposes are important, but they interfere with each other. In job-training mode, the university’s job is to teach content that’s applicable to what individuals will be doing in the work place, but in liberal-education mode, it ought to be teaching methods of thinking and general knowledge. Too much liberal education, and you hear students complaining that there’s no point to what they’re learning, since they’ll never use it again. Too much job training, and the material soon becomes dry and boring, like a checklist. Myself, I see the need for both types of education. As much as I enjoy theoretical concepts, it’s also important to pin things down to how you can actually use them, and vice versa.

I also liked the idea we discussed in class about maintaining amateur enthusiasm and mind-set while still obtaining professional credentials. Keeping up a good attitude can be hard when you begin to study anything seriously. Spend enough time with anything and you’ll start to get bored with it—you realize its flaws, the repetitive tasks you’re going to do over and over. Keeping our enthusiasm about what we do is a huge task, but if we can do it, it does so much for our lives.

Reading about Nibley’s war experiences has really brought into relief my own changing perceptions of war. It’s not that I ever thought war was a good thing, or even okay, but I think that there are fewer justifiable causes for war than I previously thought. What is a justifiable cause for attacking another nation? Clearly not greed or hatred, but what about injustice, cruelty, and wickedness? How far ought we to allow things to do before we feel justified in stepping in? Do we have to wait until their choices start adversely affecting us, or should we help out if innocent people are being destroyed? And aren’t innocent people always being affected? Yet we also have to make some allowances for agency—the wicked have to be allowed to prove they deserve destruction, and that can’t be done without injuring someone else. But how much is too much? When would God approve of us stepping in to stop suffering? I think some of the answer lies in why Nibley never talked about his experience visiting the concentration camp at Dachau. (I really wish he had spoken about it—I’d like to hear Nibley’s reaction to that total loss of human conscience. The brutality there seems to be the only hole in his statements for total pacifism.)

It must have been particularly hard for Nibley to serve in WWII after having spent his mission teaching the German people. But then again, it should be equally hard for any person to serve in a war against any other people. I watched The Last Samurai a few weeks ago with George. It’s a movie about a Japanese civil war between the forces of modernity and the traditional samurai. During one of the battle scenes, George remarked that the destruction was even sadder because it was Japanese killing Japanese. I sometimes wonder why we think this. Essentially, all war is equally tragic, people killing people. If we are truly trying to be like Christ, we should be seeing every person as he would, and fighting against any of them should be as painful as fighting against our own family.

1 comment:

Portia said...

I definitely hear you on the studying -one-subject in depth issue. What are all these Nibley writings of which you speak?