I read a very thought-provoking article this morning in Wired magazine entitled “Cultivating Genius” (click here to read the article online). In the article, the author (Jonah Lehrer) examines the periods of dramatic intellectual and artistic advancement, such as Athens around 400 BC and Florence during the Renaissance, and points out the cultural similarities between these periods. Two that stand out for me are that these periods were open to cross-cultural sharing of ideas fostered by open immigration policies and that there was the focus on education. Unfortunately, it seems that our current social paradigm is the antithesis of this formula.
There is no question about the current feeling toward immigration in this country. In a country that was built by immigrants, that saw its rise during a time when immigration was encouraged, it baffles me that we have become so fearful and hostile towards people wanting to come to this country, to bring their ideas and motivation. When I lived in Miami I worked with many Haitian immigrants, and they were all hard-working, motivated people. Why would we not want these people to join our society? Is it because they are black or because they are politically active?
As far as education goes, it’s downright depressing. Not only is financial support for public education routinely cut, but there is now this bizarre hatred focused on the educated, or the “elite” as they are now called with disdain. It almost seems that the smarter you are, the less people trust you. I don’t get it. How did it happen that people started looking up to individuals who seem less educated?
While I tend toward the cynical, I do have a shred of optimism. I know from experience that the social pendulum always swings back, and it is only a matter of time before people open their eyes and again realize the importance of education and the arts.