Saturday, August 29, 2009


From roaming in the pasture, summer long,
I’ve now again strapped on my racing gear
And braced myself to run among the throng
For fourteen laps till next I’m in the clear.

Inspiring and exhausting and constrained,
Semesters, like a sonnet, are a game
Where strategy and wit must be sustained
To fit a course of learning in its frame.

So round we go as marking posts whiz by—
It’s all a blur of energy and strain—
The catching up, the catching on, the try
To cross the line and beat the clock: the pain!

But then, relief and joy in work well done,
When finally the struggle feels like fun.


Thursday, August 27, 2009


“All of us will live on in the future we make.”

—Senator Edward. M. Kennedy (1932-2009)

When I ask myself again why I am now devising and teaching a course about “Human Frontiers,” aimed at anticipating the new territories that humanity will inhabit (metaphorically speaking) in the future, I find an answer in Ted Kennedy’s words above.

I find two answers. One is that we can help make the future; it doesn’t simply befall us. The other is that, to the extent that each of us contributes personally to the creation of better ways of living in the coming decades, as did the just-departed senator from Massachusetts, we’ll be remembered for our deeds.

And it’s a good time now to make our contributions to a brighter future, since, more than ever, as the old song says, “The times, they are a-changin’.” These are times of major shifts: cosmological, ecological, economical, governmental, cultural, and personal. Much is in flux. New ways and institutions are forming and reforming. And each of us gets to choose whether to dig in and resist the changes or hop on board and help steer global civilization toward the Frontier of Sanity.

It’s our prime concern in this course to imagine as clearly as we can what a sane and wise society would be. We can take heart from the progress humanity has already made (in some regions more than others) in building social systems that help people realize their potentials for healthy growth and development, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.

We can also be encouraged that our Earth itself is winning more respect from us, rather than being regarded as a planet to plunder. We are growing wiser ecologically in recognizing Earth as a delicately balanced living system (which some name “Gaia,” after an ancient goddess, “Mother Earth”). To the extent that we tamper willfully and rapaciously with her ecology, we invite disaster. But we seem to be wising up somewhat now and rectifying our recklessness.

Your job, my job, our job together this term is to think for ourselves and seek in our readings for clearer ideas of the global society that needs to shape up in the future we’re making. Imagine that.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009


The most prosaic sonnet that I know
Is this one, since it’s only meant to prove
How easily pentameters can flow
If you just get yourself into the groove.

There’s no big trick to this. The only hitch
Is that at every twentieth syllable
You have to make a rhyme, the choice of which
Is sometimes small, a hat from which you pull

A rabbit! Magic! The trick is to relax.
Don’t sweat the process. Simply trust your Muse
(Whom you respectfully invoke) will Fax
Into your brain the word you’ll want to use.

But once you’ve gained this craft’s facility,
The hard part comes: to make it poetry.


Monday, August 24, 2009


Another term begins as school cranks up:
Three rounds of courses that I’ll cycle through,
Three balls to juggle, drills to march—Hup, Hup!—
For fourteen weeks, till their last work is due.

The rhythm of it all is old routine,
As regular as sonnets in their course,
As line by line and week by week a scene
Unfolds which sequent weeks will reinforce.

Yet each term takes a turn toward something new,
A function of the faces in each class,
For though the readings all are tried and true,
With tinkling symbols and bright sounding brass,

The ways they’re taken and responded to
Bring something never seen to our fresh view.


Saturday, August 22, 2009


Looking back now from 2039, my 100th year, I can clearly see how humankind has finally completed its 10,000-year transition from an imperial Dominator ethos to a communal Dignitarian ethos and has happily shaped a global society united by principles long advocated by ancient sages and visionary avatars, but only slowly grown into by the popular culture.

The anguished adolescence of our neurotic species has thankfully passed into the sanity of adulthood, and none too soon. Indeed, it may have taken the extravagance of our collective madness—pushing us to the edge of ecocide and threatening each other with nuclear holocaust—to snap us out of the insane spell possessing us.

Women can claim most of the credit for turning the ominous tide of the former era. Having finally thrown off the shackles of 10,000 years of patriarchy, they dismantled the masculinist mentality of domination and reinstituted matriarchal precepts of nurturance and respect, of kindness, reconciliation and cooperation long overshadowed by the androgenic Will to Power.

Our new dignitarian global society fulfils the vision of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, promulgated by the fledgling United Nations in 1948. But, further, it embraces the Global Ethic document articulated in 1993 by the World Parliament of Religions. Even more comprehensively, with respect to our planet as a whole and all its vital systems, Dignitarianism abides by the Earth Charter of 2000 and recognizes humankind’s fundamental duty of wise stewardship toward our celestial Home.

I’ll leave the details of this Marvelous Transition (as it is now named) for historians to analyze, narrate and justly glorify. Suffice it in summary to say that, since the beginning of the 21st Century, most of the world’s major institutions have changed radically: governance, economics, religions, ideologies, and (most basically) attitudes, manners, and customs.

The premise of Dignitarianism, once accepted and embraced, recognized the sacredness of life on Earth and the holiness of all human beings: innately worthy of love, care and kindness; kindred in preciousness with all others of their kind.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Ostensibly, you take a Composition and Rhetoric course of this kind to improve and polish basic skills you already possess yet wish to elevate to the demands of college-level writing in your other courses.

Most fundamentally, you need to master the basics of grammar, syntax, word usage and punctuation (which should have been nailed down in grammar school and high school, but often aren’t). Here, with the aid of two textbooks, English Simplified and Sin and Syntax, as well as with your editing revisions of the essays you write, you have the opportunity to gain that compositional mastery.

On the rhetorical side of Comp & Rhet, you’ll practice making your writing impressive to your readers. You’ll write your essays with readers in mind, readers you mean to engage and persuade, which is the art of rhetoric. The main way you’ll develop your rhetorical skills will be by keeping your classmates in mind as your audience when you write. Several times this term you’ll actually read aloud your essays to us as your auditors, as well as making your written texts available to us all electronically.

But there are motives for your writing this term beyond building Comp & Rhet skills: personally enriching motives of the kind that make me write voluntarily and regularly. I’d like you to come to share those personal motives. If so, you’ll learn that writing is discovering. Writing is finding out what’s on your mind and making that insight and knowledge clearer and fuller to yourself first, and to others later.

An old and apt saying goes, “How do I know what I think till I see what I say?” Thoughts need verbal expression to manifest themselves clearly and publicly. Speaking can accomplish that manifestation more or less well, but writing does it better because the process is slower, more deliberate, and revisable.

My strong hope is that, by the end of this semester, you will have developed the habit of writing as a way to commune with recesses and resources in your own mind that you haven’t yet visited enough. The act of writing can become an “Open, Sesame” to interior riches you’re hardly aware you possess—and may never discover without the magic wand of your pen to guide you there.

Write and see.


Monday, August 17, 2009


Is it likely, or even possible, that people in society can disregard status and rank? Can they not be status-seekers, inclined in one way or another to improve or upgrade their standing, step by step?

Perhaps in more rigidly caste-based and static societies, now or in the past, the motive of social mobility was an unthinkable meme, and people didn’t consider “advancing” in rank any more than pugs think to become greyhounds. One’s lot was one’s lot, God given.

But then, even Eve and Adam, as the old story goes, aspired above their appointed station, envying God and the angels their superior knowledge. And Cain was emulous of Able’s status in their father’s eyes.

Thus it is unlikely we’ll ever not be status conscious, and we’ll always yearn to become more Somebody and less Nobody in the eyes of others and by our own reckoning.

Thus is born one-upsmanship and all the “games people play” to prove their own superiority and others’ inferiority.

How likely, then, is the prospect of a “dignitarian” society’s evolving, a post-Nobody society in which all people are deemed equally worthy of recognition and respect, concern and care?

To be hopeful, if not optimistic, I’ll answer that progress in that direction can indeed be made, even though a fully dignitarian society seems utopian: nowhere to be found or made but in our dreams.


Saturday, August 15, 2009


What’s fundamental to all dignitarians is their full respect for the human rights of others, respect for their inherent worth, equal to others. However, some dignitarians go further and prove themselves exemplary in their humility and generosity.

I think immediately of Evelyn, a cashier for many years at “Beans,” the Rollins College dining hall. While other cashiers might have smiled and been friendly, Evelyn somehow made all those she served feel better about themselves.

By greeting them personally with endearments like “Honey” and “Sweetie,” and sometimes with details she’d picked up about their lives (“How’d your term paper turn out?”), Evelyn boosted egos and cheered hearts all around her.

More than just acknowledging her customers, she evidently noticed them in particular, remembered them, and cared about them.

It’s one thing to respect the basic kinship of all human beings, but another to be kind to them, as if they were your kindred.

And that’s what Evelyn did.*

*Regrettably, the photo above is not Evelyn and not at Beans, but it's a reasonable facsimile.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


On an attitudinal scale that runs from fear and loathing for another person to the other end of love and admiration, one would find respect somewhere in between.

In a dignitarian society respect for another is a reasonable and feasible aim, respect for another’s full personhood and human rights.

It is unreasonable, however, to expect all people to like each other, much less to love one another as Christianity exhorts.

Yet respect in itself is, at best, a tepid kind of affection. It is merely recognition and positive regard, and it may even be, as the phrase goes, “grudging respect,” a chilly attitude.

Something firmer than respect must be expected of us if we are to treat everyone with due dignity, since respect as an emotion is too fickle and variable.

Instead, the Golden Rule needs to be invoked: Treat others as you want others to treat you; don’t mistreat them any more than you want to be mistreated. Except for masochists that should suffice.

“How would you like it if . . . .?”

That’s the question dignitarians need to ask demeaners and belittlers of others.

Turn the tables on them.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009


When a student graduates from college, he or she will probably find a phrase on the diploma declaring entitlement to “all the rights and privileges thereto appertaining.”

How, one might ask, does one distinguish between a right and a privilege? Allow me to speculate.

A right would seem to be a claim you’re merited to make by virtue (in the case of a college graduate) of having earned a degree. Therefore, in applying for a job, say, you may rightfully claim the distinction of having met the academic standards for graduation from college.

Yet other claims to rights could be made merely by virtue of being human. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) is a noble effort to articulate such innate rights, and The Global Ethic of the Parliament of the World’s Religions (1993) is another.

By extension, even the Earth, arguably a living entity, might declare (through us as spokesfolks) its own right to flourish bountifully.

Those, then, are examples of rights; but what are privileges? Something less mandatory, I would suppose, or less imperative. Not the cake but the frosting. Not the dozen muffins, but the lagniappe of the thirteenth in a baker’s dozen. A courtesy.

Not so, it turns out, at least by what a dictionary reveals. In fact, privilege seems less courteous than a right; rather, it is a demand made by rank (as in “Rank hath its privileges.”), “held as a prerogative of status or rank and exercised to the exclusion or detriment of others” (The American Heritage College Dictionary).

Thus to be privileged is to be allowed, whereas the underprivileged are disallowed or discounted or disregarded. That stinks. That’s rank.

Or, rather, rankism.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Scio and credo are Latin for I know and I believe, and they give us the English words science and creed.

I’m interested in considering these related ideas of knowing and believing as they are generally understood and distinguished from one another.

In both cases, when I know something to be so or when I believe something to be so, I am making a claim about what’s real or true.

Typically, though, “knowing” implies certainty whereas “believing” implies a degree of doubt, as in, “I can’t be certain I saw someone breaking in to that house, but I believe that’s what I saw, though I don’t know for sure."

A belief is a supposition: something supposed or assumed or “taken on faith,” something hypothetical rather than verifiable. What is held to be credible is reliable, but not absolutely real.

A belief is a swaying footbridge made of ropes and planks rather than the Golden Gate Bridge of knowledge.

But we depend on our rope-and-plank bridges to cross gaps from here to there. More or less reliably they let us traverse chasms of doubt and fear. They get us through the night.

We hope to know, but we need our creeds.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009


  • how to keep people from freely choosing what’s bad for them and others
  • how to maximize freedom of choice and diversity of expressed opinions without causing undue detriment
  • how to move beyond “Live Free or Die” to “Live Free and Wisely.”


Saturday, August 1, 2009


This course is intended to open and change minds—yours and mine—because minds need to be changed about important things now.

In studying the topic of “Human Frontiers,” you might guess that this theme implies exploring new territories and facing new challenges, as did American frontiersmen and women in the early years of this country. In our case, our frontiers are mental not geographical: territories of new thoughts, new behaviors, and new customs, based on new values.

In Huck Finn’s terms, why in this course are we “fixin’ to light out to the territories” this semester? Because, like Huck, we need a fresh start, and we need to leave behind a lot of truck, a lot of cultural and historical baggage that has been troubling the world for too long. We need to explore some new ideas and perspectives on how all human beings can prosper better on a prospering planet.

Frankly, as I suppose you already understand to a degree, we’re not doing so well these days as a race. As the most potent and noxious species on Earth, Homo sapiens sapiens is far from sapient, or wise, in managing our personal and communal affairs, or in tending the planetary garden (our ecosphere) that sustains us and all Earthlife.

But rather than just conceding that all this trouble is to be expected of a “fallen race,” cursed with innate depravity (as Puritans and others believe), I assume that, as an evolving species, we’re developing analogously to the growth path of an individual human being but have only reached, to date, our adolescence. Adulthood lies ahead for our still immature species.

What, then, would it mean for the human race to grow up? That is the wide frontier we’ll be exploring this semester. In which directions (we’ll ask) must we proceed so as to reach the higher potentials of human being and to realize feats of individual, social, cultural and political wisdom befitting Homo sapiens sapiens? That’s what we’ll be asking and will be working together to answer .

Two texts to guide our explorations will be Duane Elgin’s Promise Ahead: A Vision of Hope and Action for Humanity’s Future and David C. Korten’s The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community.