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Work has become. From from the concrete to business of making a stone axe or turning a pot on a wheel has become a series of abstractions. It's answering the memorandum picking up the phone and trying to get somebody to do something. It is the withdraw. Of. The part of reality that is perhaps most important to the men because they still have the energies they still have the feeling that they must give themselves to some task and they never see the task done. One of the causes I think of modern disaffection from the state believe that politics are. Perpetually corrupt. That that no city is a city in the ancient sense of being able to evoke patriotism loyalty and love all that comes from the feeling that nothing can get done. Nothing is done. For example. Air and water pollution. We know a great
deal about its physical chemical operations. We are all agreed that it is bad there is no party or leader that I know of that's in favor of air pollution. So there's no there's no formal resistance. And yet we can do nothing about it. And the more we know the less we seem to be able to bring it about. That of course is partly a result of numbers it's also a result of the kind of organization of life and interpersonal relations that we've set up for ourselves. Now being in touch with the reality of course we are open to all the fantasy is that the active brains that are not taken up by real work devise in their moments of of despair and self-contempt. A third corrosive of the quality of life is Democratic
competition and envy. This. Descriptive. Effort. At saying what. One side of democracy is like does not mean that we should abandon democracy but the element based on equality generates envy and competition competition not in the sense of outdoing your neighbor in some productive work because that opportunity has as I've just shown. But it well vanished. But competition in the sense of justifying your existence but if we only could take an objective look at the amount of talk that goes on in our society and that comes down merely to self praise beginning with. Individuals and going on to institutions to colleges and
universities but peculiarly but also to every committee every little group every. Momentary or or permanent establishment feels the need continually to say what good work it is doing and to show other groups that aren't paying any attention or indispensable to the welfare of the whole. The company is a combination of envy and self justification have dire consequences in the first place. They lead to a. What might be called a biased self analysis. What am I doing here. Why am I doing it. Have I done more in the first six months of this year than I did in the first six months of the year before. And all this generates a self-consciousness which is just as bad as the intolerable shyness of an
adolescent. Standing now on one foot now on the other putting his fingers in his mouth and not knowing whether he wants to be there or under the ground. This self-consciousness is at the root of. A further feeling that reality has has withdrawn. For the very obvious reason that if we're always thinking about ourselves our place in this room or in the world or in the whole line of endeavor that we happen to pursue. We are not living we are spectators at life. Notice how it comes out and in our talk the self-depreciation which has become just as bad as the South prays the two are. The two hobs of what would be a real life lived. The next one could say that a certain quality of which we have on Lay they Grech elections has come from the
limitations on life's goals. I say we have only a vague recollection of it because there are relatively few people if you take large populations who. Have a memory or have an experience of the old and best religious feeling. I don't mean that people aren't religious and don't go to church and have not systems of belief in transcendence. But it is extremely hard to sustain them in a world that quite quietly believes that that is so much moonshine. So life is limited to what you can do within the span of Dr airing. Indicated the active life of being a useful cog in a vast machine and that for reasons that I think inherent is not enough of a goal for most people. It's.
A fine thing to do to be an enthusiastic young salesman of vacuum cleaners. But the time comes when the idea penetrates. Is this what. This whole planet and its teeming millions ought to be dedicated to selling each other and vacuum cleaners and I. With this. Instant of time at my disposal. This this life of mine the only life life with a capital L. Doing with it what I should. When I'm simply ringing doorbells and telling prepared. Modifications of the truth about a gadget. This is very noticeable in what might be called the crisis of the 50th year among business men. Many of them
suddenly say Well I've I've made enough money or I could live on less money. I want to devote myself to something else something good and they gravitate towards the hospitals and the universe days and the charitable institutions and go to them with the hope that they can be translated to a different realm where every action will be self justifying where the stuff dealt with it will not be merely a. Service to do bodily needs but will somehow. Accumulate credit in a way Heaven which need not be at all religious or transcendent some kind of. Independent spirituality. And those same men are terribly disappointed when they're told that if they really want to work. For the university or the charity organization they will be given a desk a telephone secretary and start the same old thing over again with
different words equally mendacious. What limits the goal of one's life. Of course also. Is. The notion of democratic equality because it says everyone is like everybody else therefore nobody is a hero and Bishan in the old sense is is dangerous and destructive. We can't have. Great powerful reet leaders. We distrust power. We don't like the apparent conceit or pride that goes with high leadership. And besides the worshippers of greatness left because everybody is either concerned with his own little self feeling the need to nurture it and therefore very. Sensitive to the appearance of something that is
going to. Stop them. And so one spends one's time indirectly getting satisfaction out of belonging to some going concern that might be said to be good or great or. Or permanent ambition limited means life limited. And the third possibility under this head. Of life goals that of. The meditative life we have made very very difficult by removing sanctuaries. We have no mastic life possible. The last place where it was possible was the university and its gone worldly and its members are always in the jet planes in the big hotels. Which is not a
monastic experience. The sanctuary of course permitted that natural reversal of values which comes out. Pretty much the same as ambition. If you kill a great ambition by your own desire and devote the released energies to contemplation meditation and the achieving of inner peace you are doing as great a piece of work. You're becoming a saint. Let us say as if you were Napoleon or gangers Khan or as if you were a great statesman. I'm not bloodthirsty enough to want only great leaders in the military. But now the sanctuary is. Practically gone. Nuns and monks in secular attire they travel everywhere under the Social Gospel to do good. And the amount of. Of true meditation that goes on could be
contained in an ordinary Lily Cup. And of course that is one reason one of the reasons why we have. So few products of leisure meditation and reflection. We're all journalists now and the great works of poetry or philosophy or music which were in part the result of a little sanctuary even in men who did not completely retire from life on no longer possible. The conditions of growing collectivism growing inequality and similarity prevent their coming into being. Finally I think the. Last great limitation is that where at the end of an era the era of the began around fifteen hundred with what we call the Renaissance
and which developed all the forms of art all the forms of social thought philosophy. And political institutions under which we still pretend to live. These were in many cases causus with a capital capital C one one fought for political liberty and died on the barricades for it. Now we have not achieved political liberty to it to its fullest. But the theory and the idea are so widely accepted there's nothing to fight about. Nobody believes in slavery nobody believes in discriminating against women even children of their rights. There's no emancipation to be fought for. There's the practical business of carrying out. The belief in liberty. In other words liberalism is dead. And it is
one of the chief traits of the half millennium that I'm describing. Similarly in the arts it used to be a cause with a capital C to fight against conventional or academic art of the art of the last period and produce new masterpieces to show that there were other ways too to paint or to write. Now there's no fight left there no filler Stein's left to knock over the head with epigrams and great works. Anybody can get a one man show anybody can do anything on canvas or without it to just pick up a few things in the junkyard and assemble them. And you're a modern pop or pop or some other monosyllabic wonder. So the absence of causes which you might incidentally take as
a subhead if you wished under the absence of work the absence of any feeling that one can wholly lose oneself in some effort which has a goal transcending the self and which will leave a mark. One might put it another way the absence of any stage or platform. Where any idea a person can be seen again connected with ambition. All these things. Create the sense of futility which inhabits our young and many of our older inhabitants of the suburbs. And with this lack of the sense of accomplishment. Alas lack of of a cause to which to give oneself. There is the very destructive illusion of change. If you want to count the instances when you encounter and print.
The statement of the world is changing so rapidly that that's why we are in a mess. That's why we feel so badly. We will see. How much of a cliché and an obsession it has become. And if you do a little reading of history you will see that very little has changed for the last. Hundred or a hundred fifty years. I mean in the relationships of individuals of men to machines of men to their beliefs what has changed is is the very interesting and negligible surface of life. We may go faster in airplanes and slower. In order to Beale's than on foot. When one is in a city. These these are interesting variations on the theme of locomotion but the fundamental things the things that contribute to the quality of life haven't changed since
the days of call Island and Ruskin who already began to complain about all these things and to predict. It was Ruskin who said that the conditions of modern work. Would. Induce in every work even the humblest and least reflective self-contempt its contemporaries didn't know what he meant. We do not do these things we try to bring remedies of various kinds. And I won't go into them you're probably much more familiar with them than I am but by a mere listing you will see that they were certain the disease they removed further qualities from life because they all partake. Of. The idea of engineering in the bad sense. There's sociological engineering people who tell you what what to believe and what to do so that we can fix this
affects that. The idea of a problem to be solved is at the root of this. Effort. And it is a. Foolish idea. Human affairs do not contain problems with solutions. They contain predicaments and difficulties which only play on a common one it is possible to overcome them. That's very different. The sociological is perhaps. The least in favor now because we are living in a technology and so you have the the genetic remedy. We have the gene optimists who think they can manipulate our genetic structure and produce ideal men or better men. Because their we're limited by. The imagination of the manipulators and from what I've. Heard from some of them I don't trust their imagination to range
very far. There's a psychiatric remedy. Let's let's all get into a group and tell each other. Troubles and the kind of. Washing of spiritual dirty linen in the same tub. We will all come out whiter. There's the politico economic. And that runs into the greatest difficulties. We talk about the great society till you're blue in the face you have to recognize at the end of a noble and and probably intelligent effort that you can waste a lot of money and mend and manpower and and and carbon paper accomplishing just nothing except perhaps exasperating the demands of those who were to be the beneficiaries of the change. And so we are not
surprised when we come to the remedies that I began by mentioning as making our subject very relevant. Namely. Relief if not remedy from a neo primitivism religious in some cases general a humanitarian and like primitive isms like like primitive Christianity for example. Closely connected with the feeling of kinship closely connected with sexual license which seems to be the recreation of a bond however temporary and. Further than that since some go through that phase very quickly. The Neo primitivism obtain through through chemistry I mean drugs which tap a lower level of consciousness unconsciousness and which all wind up all these primitive isms in some kind of a NorCal self-will. The life of
impulse and self well as against the life of reason and civility. So. Even after a short tour like this through the conditions that make the qualities the quality of life. Evanescent. We arrive at the likelihood. That. We're in a period of cultural dissolution and before the wellsprings of a. Tolerable existence tapped afresh we will go through some dreary times and and more anguished moments what the future will be is not the business of an historian to say. But whether it is whether the future lies with or without industry with or without democracy with or without science. And it's quite conceivable that the future would be without them either
through catastrophe or total rejection. Whether it does these things. We can say that. The search for the quality of life will not cease even in the last shivering inhabitant of a devastated planet because it is deeply implanted. And we must also say that. However it is really achieved it will have to deal with those three elements that I've. Listed at the very end. It will have to cope with industry cope with democracy. And though I say it in a medical school. Cope with the great great difficulties of science with um been listening to. Dr Jacques Barzun. World famous historian philosopher author and the university professor at Columbia University. As he discussed a philosophical perspective on the topic of the value of life and this
lecture was part of the man and value of life symposium sponsored by the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine as one of the special programs highlighting the university's sesquicentennial celebration. Next week we present Dr. Rene Dubow a distinguished microbiologist author and member of the faculty of Rockefeller University. He will discuss the biological limitations of freedom these programs were produced at the University of Cincinnati station WGA U.S. and distributed by the national educational radio network.
Man and the value of life
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#1 (Reel 2)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Identifier: 69-22-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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Duration: 00:23:40
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Chicago: “Man and the value of life; #1 (Reel 2),” 1969-04-11, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 4, 2023,
MLA: “Man and the value of life; #1 (Reel 2).” 1969-04-11. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 4, 2023. <>.
APA: Man and the value of life; #1 (Reel 2). Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from