The Young, the Elite and the Ignorant

My father-in-law, of blessed memory, used to say that people aren’t balance sheets. You can’t tout up a subjective view of a person’s good and bad points, do a quick mathematical computation and emerge with a ranking. Say someone always shoveled his elderly neighbors’ drives (+3), gave 15% of his income to charity (+3) and was meticulously honest in business (+4) but had an explosive temper with his wife and children (-4) and indulged in an affair (-4).  Do the arithmetic: 3 + 3 + 4 – 4 -4 = 2.  This does not mean that you can say that he was a  +2 type of guy. God will make his own calculations, but we human beings can only say that he was a complicated person, doing both outstanding and horrible actions.

The lens of history reveals John Adams, second president of the United States, as a complicated man. Undoubtedly brilliant and deeply involved in the founding of this country, as president he also signed into legislation the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts and was unpopular enough not to earn a second term in office.

Among his greatest moments, in my opinion, was his defense of the British soldiers accused of murder in the misnamed Boston Massacre of 1770, one of the events that led to America’s declaring independence. Although Adams was already favoring breaking with England, he set a precedent that made America different from Europe by establishing that everyone, even those who are unpopular or hold unpopular views, deserve honest representation before the law. He famously said,  “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they can not alter the state of facts and evidence.” 

Though he was a graduate of Harvard, I think John Adams would be less horrified at the lies, bribes and schemes of parents wanting to get their children into supposedly superior universities than at a far greater scandal currently unfolding at his alma mater.

What would truly horrify him would be the call by Harvard students to punish one faculty dean, Ronald Sullivan, for joining Harvey Weinstein’s defense team. These supposedly ‘cream of the crop’ students have no understanding of the concept of a fair trial or the basics of America’s ethical and legal system. Whether of not Mr. Weinstein’s general lifetime behavior ranks him as a +1 or a -7, he is being accused of a legal violation. Lawyers defend horrible people all the time and the behavior of horrible people doesn’t always cross a legal line. If the court of public opinion mandated to the justice system that some people (perhaps those in the offense-of-the-month club) were not worthy of being defended, our legal system would collapse. Even worse, rather than rebuking and educating the students, the administration is treating their childish complaints seriously.

Adams had no illusions about the innate goodness of man, recognizing that humans are eminently corruptible. He understood the lure of lying, bribing and cheating to gain benefit. For that reason he saw the need not only for a Constitution but also for an underlying religious and moral system.

However, when Adams said, “Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people,” I don’t think he foresaw that the ignorant people he was referencing would be students at Harvard. Perhaps the true scandal in the admissions cheating matter is that any  parent would want their child in an elite university where ignorance and indoctrination have replaced a love of learning and a serious liberal arts education.


17 thoughts on “The Young, the Elite and the Ignorant”

  1. David Altschuler

    Given the state of education and the attempted hi-tech choke-hold on some points of view, I wonder if it is still the case that “Facts are stubborn things.”

    1. Ah, David. They are still stubborn. They just get buried under a lot of garbage that has to be shoveled out of the way before we can see them.

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Hi David-
      Your doubts about that old adage serve to validate my long term lecture–beliefs are more important than facts. Most will adjust their focus on facts till they blur into the path they already wish to follow. Their beliefs are better indicators.

  2. “…rather than rebuking and educating the students, the administration is treating their childish complaints seriously.”

    This line stood out most to me. For the life of me, I don’t understand why leaders succumb to the pressures of squeaky wheels. Organizations of all types and churches of all stripes, seem to have lost a backbone or their backbone is ties to their pocketbook rather than what is inherently right.

    1. Kevin, there is a phrase now – adulting – that never existed before. I think it is because we have lost the concept of maturity and being an adult, part of which means being secure in knowing more than children. This is not a description of ruthless and arrogant patriarchy but a realization that we have an obligation and responsibility to the next generation that means not genuflecting to them.

  3. Your articles are always so insightful. It is a good idea to understand that knowledge does not always produce wisdom. We are needful of both. It seems to me that in this age of deceit you did well to go back and research what one of the ‘founding fathers’ acted upon. Harvard is certainly not the same institution that it was in John Adam’s day nor is America at present what men like him would have hoped for. Only the wisdom of God coupled with knowledge of God planted in us can bring about the redemption that we need. Meanwhile, thank God for His wondrous and undeserved grace.

    1. Dennis, in Nazi Germany, the SS officers came from the elite of society – doctors, lawyers etc. They often murdered babies in the day and went home and listened to classical music. Confusing education or IQ with wisdom and morality is a dangerous thing to do.

  4. All mankind are offspring of a loving exalted Father. We are here to learn good and evil, so that hopefully we will be able to live with Him for all eternity.

  5. Brilliant…couldn’t agree more. When decisions are based upon labile emotion we’re really in trouble. Wisdom is in short supply these days. Blessings!

  6. John S. Miramontes

    Thank you Mrs. Susan Lapin for your godly insights and comments. Well stated – we tend to judge others by their actions and we judge ourselves by our intents.

    1. John, the point of a legal system is to judge everyone fairly. Sadly, the system frequently fails. But at least we should understand the goal.

  7. What happens when these students who are uneducated aboout the real world go to law school? Will they finally understand how the law is supposed to workm

    1. Preston, I think they become judges who impose their views rather than following the Constitution.

  8. Your article is right on point. The ignorance and lack of critical thinking today is overwhelming. I don’t understand the mindset.

    1. Cindy, in complete cynicism I think the mindset is to groom a younger generation that will be reliable voters who will keep certain people in power. People who think are dangers to those who want to be in charge despite not having ideas that work.

      1. People who think are liable to expose the ideas that don’t work for the fallacies they are.
        Those who get exposed tend to panic and worry about regaining “credibility”.

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