A great hope of AU studies, to this Fly on the Wall anyway, is that it may give us wings to see beyond the confines of our towns and our our lives, that we may ever circle the globe of ideas with excitement and optimism rather than by bearing the sickly burden of that timeless millstone of a phrase: “what are you going to do with all that education?” The doing is the being, after all!
And who are we to imagine that others know us better than we do. For we are all already doing as we are learning and being. And you never know down what magical trails our studies will lead, if we open ourselves to the doors of providence along the way.
It’s this boundlessness of vision, untrammelled by excessive expectations of unwanted responsibilities, that sets the backdrop to a wonderful character in the 1941 classic film titled Meet John Doe. In it, a disgruntled World War I Colonel (remember, Great War veterans were neither valorized nor compensated for their sacrifice in the way WWII veterans were), outlines the essential problematic faced when we seek peaceful freedom of mind over and against stultifying shackles of so-called adulthood.
Here’s a few choice excerpts from the Colonel’s dialogues and exergii in the film. I’d encourage you to, while reading them, imagine yourself gnoshing on your favourite camping food over a roaring fire on a starry night. For this was the sort of life countless veterans faced between the wars; they may have been appalled at being left behind by rapidly industrializing society, but they also realized that their freedom transcended modernist norms. Or at least, this is how the Colonel saw things.
“I seen plenty of fellers start out with fifty bucks and wind up with a bank account!
And let me tell you, Long John.
When you become a guy with a bank account, they got you.
Yes sir, they got you!
And when they get you, you got no more chance than a road-rabbit.”
The Colonel later becomes more explicit about the Ahab-like net of desire that consumerism forges for unsuspecting folks who believe that working hard to get ahead, rather than staying in school (for instance, says I!) will bring them pleasure and peace of mind.
“All right. You’re walking along—not a nickel in your jeans—free as the wind—nobody bothers you—hundreds of people pass yuh by in every line of business—shoes, hats, automobiles, radio, furniture, everything. They’re all nice, lovable people, and they let you alone. Is that right?
Then you get hold of some dough, and what happens?
All those nice, sweet, lovable people become heelots. A lotta heels.
They begin creeping up on you—trying to sell you something. They’ve got long claws and they get a stranglehold on you—and you squirm—and duck and holler—and you try to push ’em away—but you haven’t got a chance—they’ve got you!
First thing you know, you own things.
A car, for instance.
Now your whole life is messed up with more stuff—license fees—and number plates—and gas and oil—and taxes and insurance—and identification cards—and letters—and bills—and flat tires—and dents—and traffic tickets and
And a million and one other things.
And what happens?
You’re not the free and happy guy you used to be.
You gotta have money to pay for all those things—so you go after what the other feller’s got—
And there you are—you’re a heelot yourself!”
The helots of Ancient Greece, Sparta to be precise, were serfs reduced to vassalage “after the conquest of their land” (Brittanica, online). Lest we meet the same intellectual fate, reduced to servants of social norms rather than free-thinking educated adults, we might recall that school is more about learning to be ourselves than learning to meet external expectations about our identity. Fulfillment through education doesn’t have to make us into cynics but it can certainly open new vistas onto the meaning of our lives. Friedrich Nietzsche said in one of his pithy aphorisms, “there are no moral phenomena at all, only a moral interpretation of phenomena.” (Nietzsche, online). If we don’t embody the highest morals of our making then who can we blame but ourselves?
It thus remains for us at AU to learn to think about the world and our place in it in a way that will truly better ourselves. After all, whether our province thrives on dead plants and animals from a bygone epoch, or by Lotus-land mystery attracting investors from overwrought lands on the other side of the planet, or simply by transfer payments from provinces who have so much, and so much to lose, while still writhing in agony over their perpetually uncertain future and imagined calamities just around the corner, the one thing no one can ever take away from us is our education. And, like that ultimate learned skill of an attention span, there is great dignity and pride in a worldview forged by a truly educated outlook.