Letter: Getting Beyond Self-Interest

To the Editor:

I was interested in the juxtaposition of the March 8 op-edit on liberal arts education (“A Liberal Arts Education Isn’t ‘Practical,’ and That’s the Point”) with multiple letters regarding spending priorities in local towns. I have a suggestion for killing two birds with one stone: Our society needs to spend more time discussing civic and social dilemmas. For example, in this summer’s ILEAD lecture series, professor Matthew Slaughter wrote out for us the savings projected from eliminating or reducing certain government programs and policies in order to cut the national debt. He asked us to contemplate which benefits we would agree to reduce or eliminate in order to cancel the debt, pointing out that none of the reductions was capable of eliminating the debt entirely. He was presenting us with a dilemma‐‐— contemplating the choice of eliminating a bad by eliminating (or reducing) a good.

Just about every letter in the same issue addressed the same dilemma‐of choosing between competing priorities: For example, should we sell an unused school building and return the funds to the town for a tax reduction, or use the building to meet community needs? We Americans have been spending a lot of time despairing over the obstructionist approach to governing that has prevented us from solving our national problems. Almost every issue that has suffered from this approach has presented us with a dilemma such as the ones mentioned above. If no one is willing to make a choice, none will be made, and nothing will be done.

Too many of our choices involve pitting each individual against society as a whole, or “me” versus “us.” We are a country, and whatever benefits our country should benefit each individual in it, and vice versa. Self-interest, when pursued in preference to all other interests, is, to be frank, “self”ishness, and we are plagued by this illness. This has nothing to do with money, environmental impact, the size of government, disaster relief, guns or terrorism.

It is a matter of generosity of heart and the willingness to share.

Edith K. Summers



Column: Why We Need the Liberal Arts

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A spects of recent debates about the value of a liberal arts education, its usefulness and its appropriateness strike a familiar and disturbing historical chord. Our nation’s brightest students, contemplating the dedication of four years to the highest level of cognitive challenge, are discouraged by a contingent of their elders and asked to consider something more practical. “A liberal education …