Questions to think about

Novelist Thomas Mallon, writing at The American Scholar, provides a list of questions — no answers — about “the future of the humanities in America.” (Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)

For a short piece of ten questions, Mallon provides an awful lot to think about. I particularly like number ten: “Are we also willing to admit that the universalization of English is more apparent than real? And that our general failure to know foreign languages is an act of both laziness and arrogance — one that threatens America’s legitimate claims to leadership in the world?”

I’m sure that will resonate readers with experience in teaching in Japan or elsewhere, but Mallon hints at a larger problem. It’s not just laziness and arrogance, it’s a general inability to empathize with foreign peoples, to try to understand their concerns, hopes, and confidences instead of just assuming to inside every foreigner is a red-blooded American patriot. I fear that too often Americans — or at least the American media — tend to group other countries and peoples into “those who like us” and “those who hate us.” The world, however, is far more complex than a public opinion poll.

If Americans cannot break this habit of simplifying the world outside of the US, the coming decades, in which the vaunted “American way of life” will be subject to events abroad more than ever before, then the US is in for a rough century.

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