College, Conservation, and Computers

Photo by George W. Ackerman

What College Students Need Is a Taste of the Monk’s Life.” Molly Worthen explores the possibilities that college offers for helping students unplug from their devices and think deeply: “We need an intervention: maybe not a vow of silence, but a bold move to put the screens, the pinging notifications and creepy humanoid A.I. chatbots in their proper place. They are our tools, not our masters. That doesn’t mean a futile attempt to wall off higher education from the modern world; it does mean selectively returning to the university’s roots in the monastic schools of medieval Europe and rekindling the old-fashioned quest for meaning.”

Is There Anything Left to Conserve?” Paul Kingsnorth responds to this question, posed to him by UnHerd: “What, in this world, can we possibly ‘conserve’? Nothing. In a culture which does not agree that nature exists, or that we have some basic, shared assumptions about reality, the question barely even makes sense. The challenge now is not to ask what we can ‘conserve’ or ‘restore’. We have to go much further back. We have to dig down to the foundations.”

Overlooked America.” This symposium published by the University of Richmond Law Review tackles some of the pressing legal and cultural issues that burden rural America. As Anthony Pipa concludes in his foreword to the issue: “The interpretation of United States laws and policies, and the extent to which they obstruct or support rural places and people to take advantage of opportunity, are at the nexus of our nation’s ability to reweave the social fabric and create a new compact between its rural areas and the rest of the country. It requires recognizing our interdependencies, our mutual interests, and our shared humanity. The Articles contained herein get us started—it is incumbent that we build on these contributions to take their ideas forward and provoke new and constructive policy debates.”

Protecting Our People Means Protecting Our Land, Too.” Danielle Butcher Franz writes in support of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act: “While a bipartisan consensus on an essential issue in Congress is always encouraging, the work begins on the ground. As RAWA is centered on local engagement and expert stakeholders, we must empower communities to care for themselves and their environments.”

The Zoomer Question.” Isaac Wilks responds to two recent books about the plight of Gen Z. iPhones and Instagram play a role, but they don’t tell the whole story: “Since the middle of the twentieth century, childhood in America has been slowly squeezed in a double envelopment: public disorder on one side, therapeutic smothering on the other.”

Tim Keller’s Critique of Liberal Secularism.” Molly Worthen, who recently converted to Christianity in part through the influence of Keller, tries to make sense of his life and ministry in this essay for the Atlantic: “Keller’s aim was never to make the gospel any less outrageous but to make our own private idols moreso. He wanted to help sincere and restless people (and that’s most of us) finally see the false gods we are worshipping—whether we realize it or not.”

Why the Nation State Failed.” Mary Harrington ponders the meaning and future of the nation state: “Our situation now is a troubling one: a Europe that is largely post-industrial and, at least as far as its elites are concerned, functionally post-national. And this means, in the terms that emerged during the industrial era, post-democratic. For if working people gained a voice by dint of being indispensable to manufacturing, events since Brexit demonstrate that they may safely be ignored now high finance has replaced making things, without the wheels coming off the state.”

How Not To Interview A Transportation Secretary.” Albert Burneko isn’t too impressed by a recent “interview” of Pete Buttigieg: “if the average person can’t know the quotidian details of the Secretary of Transportation’s work life, it is enough for them to know, as a simple and indisputable fact, while kitchen faucets in East Palestine vomit deadly poison into drinking glasses and doomed-from-birth high-speed rail projects die near-instant deaths around the country, that Buttigieg is doing a very bad job in a very important role. In light of that, for a journalist to compliment him on what a small portion of his ‘cathedral mind’ he evidently devotes to his job is f— obscene.”

ChatGPT Is a Plagiarism Machine.” Joseph M. Keegin wonders why so many university administrators aren’t addressing AI more explicitly: “The transformation of institutions of higher education into institutions of higher credentialism means that for many students, the only thing dissuading them from plagiarism or exam-copying is the threat of punishment. One obviously hopes that, eventually, students become motivated less by fear of punishment than by a sense of responsibility for their own education. But if those in charge of the institutions of learning — the ones who are supposed to set an example and lay out the rules — can’t bring themselves to even talk about a major issue, let alone establish clear and reasonable guidelines for those facing it, how can students be expected to know what to do?”

The Birth of the Personal Computer.” Kyle Chayka reviews The Apple II Age: How the Computer Became Personal and identifies what’s lost as we become more passive consumers of our devices: “Nooney’s book tells the story of how computers became irrevocably personal, but what’s most striking, revisiting the history of the Apple II, is how much less personalizable our machines have become. Computers today, small enough to fit in the palms of our hands, require much less work on the part of the user. . . . We control their superficial traits—choosing between rose-gold or alpine-green case covers—but make few decisions about how they function.”

To Labour is to Love.” Jessica Hooten Wilson reflects on Dorothy Sayers’s theology and practice of work: “If we place the end before the work, we may justify the means, imitating Machiavelli or Hitler more than we intended. Instead, we must attend to the work to which we’ve been called, without knowing whether it will show forth fruit in this life or the next.”

Dispatches From the Front.” Brian Volck reviews two recent volumes of poetry that search for language to describe the battle with cancer: “This war rhetoric, like all metaphorical language, renders incompletely that which it’s intended to describe—namely, the experience of cancer. After all, the supposed enemy is one’s own body, or rather certain cells of one’s body doing what they should: grow, but now in an uncontrolled and invasive manner the way modern cities sprawl outward, replacing once fertile farmland or delicate ecosystems with monotonous strip malls, gimcrack housing, and mile after ugly mile of soon to be crumbling pavement.”

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