Why ?

Prometheus watched the wretched man shiver and chew on the raw innards of that thing he had killed. The god wrinkled his nose and turned back to look at his own table, laden with delicacies: fruit from his own orchard, ambrosia, tender loins of gazelle and roasted unicorn, long loaves of golden bread with honey from Zeus’s hives, wine from Dionysus’ best vineyard.

He looked down again at the sad scene below. There was a woman now. She sat with the man and stitched at a rabbit skin. She was young and quite beautiful, a bit like Persephone, but her beauty would not stay. The world there was cold and cruel. She would not last.

And then she laughed and the god was enchanted, lost in the silver sound of it. The laughter in Olympus had not sounded so pure and fresh in a long time. He had forgotten.

Prometheus turned back to warm his wine. The fire sent out a flame, a finger of light toward him, and the god trembled. Yes. No, he mustn’t! But he wanted to give the man, the woman this gift. This one gift that would make their lives livable, perhaps even happy. And the girl? Perhaps she would stay pretty for a  few seasons longer. Yet did he dare?

Zeus would be furious, but the old lecher had gone hunting. If he were chasing a goddess, it would take a while.  Prometheus couldn’t resist the thought.  If he could be quick, Zeus might never know.

Below, a cold rain and the dark  stopped the work and the man and woman crawled into the cave to curl together under their animal skin and sleep. When he awoke, it was strangely warm, not at all like the cold at this season. He rose and went to look.

At the entrance a beautiful bundle of light, with fingers of glowing red and yellow reached for him. He put out his hand. It was hot and he jumped away, then put out his hand again. If he got too close, the light hurt. Why? What was this? He took a long stick and poked at it. The flame captured the stick. It became one of  the burning fingers. Why? He took more sticks, some from the trees, some old ones from the ground and the old ones picked up the flame and made it brighter and warmer. Why?


Why is probably the most important word in the vocabulary of civilization. Why?

Man’s struggle to discover, to explain then use the things he found has built this world. If he could understand, he could conquer, possess and improve.

After he left the forest and settled into a home, grew his food, and wove his clothing, he built a university to answer his questions.  A place where learning was passed from hand to hand, mouth to mouth and even written down. A haven where the great could train the greater and civilization might be gathered like the wheat in the fields, and kept like the gold that tumbled in the river. A university. A place to learn to think.

Learn to think. To reason. This was the mantra of the old and famous schools. If one could think, one could divine and the colleges of Arts and Sciences were prestigious affairs. Some studies, like engineering  took the facts that thinkers picked from the why’s and put them to use. Remarkable, but not pure  thought. Things like that were only reason’s eggs, off springs.

My biology teacher said he gave a big percentage of his grades based upon the questions students asked. He said you could not ask an intelligent question  if you knew nothing about the subject.

Today, many (most?) universities do not have the basic requirements of a rounded education. If you don’t like math, or science, you can take women’s studies or African problems. History has become the tale of the woes of the world. The great wars that determined the shape of Europe and the Americas have become the story of monsters and the degradation of the peoples. According to the abbreviated view of mankind’s history, he is a greedy Goliath who needs mastering by the elite.

All this is very interesting, but it is lopsided, like an ice statue too near the candles from a warming dish. The substance melts and when the base is no longer there, the statue leans.

There is plenty of evidence that questions are no longer asked in many of our most prestigious universities. Recently, Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State, was invited to address the graduating class of Rutgers University. A professor and his students who did not agree with her politics, objected, made a scene, and she withdrew. A University, a place of learning, of the stored wisdom of the ages, protested against an illustrious and proven scholar, refused to hear her wisdom, because they disagreed with her. You might as well shut down the universities if the “why” is not debatable.

The young are nearly always idealists. As an exhibiting artist, I would wander through the show to check it out. In those days collages were popular, especially with young boys. The work nearly always was the product of the idealist in him.  His work was almost always some monstrous world.  When the boys became men, the art more often than not, became studies of life.

The young are perfect pigeons for the theorists of the useful. They can’t see why they should have a foundation in literature and history, physical geography, math and languages. Those are things they think they’ll never need in the revolution of thought and practical politics they are convinced will solve the future. The only reason for history is to see who is to blame.

Lyndon Johnson is a perfect illustration of what the lack of questioning can do.

He looked around and saw hungry people. He saw fatherless babies and slums and crime. He wanted to feed them, expecting then all the other things like crime and teen age mothers to go away. The direct route was for the government to give aid and Johnson was a practical man. Our congressmen too, mostly lawyers without the rounded education that makes the difference between a smart man and a  wise one.

If they fed the man, he wouldn’t make trouble.  The trouble with a dinner is that the next table is empty. Instead of a chicken, a man needs a shovel.

Our founding fathers were taught to think. They probably knew half as many facts as we do, but they knew how to find the real heart of the problem.



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