Observing my millennial peers, I notice we are deeply familiar with the latest news concerning singers, actors, technology or fashion. We are proficient in how to use iPhones, post on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, and even familiar with the latest controversy from Capitol Hill. Yet, I wonder how many of us are familiar with notable events and figures before our generation. I am sure most know names such as Marilyn Monroe or Martin Luther King Jr., but how many of us know Plato, Homer, Bernini or King Louis IX? We may be familiar with the impact of the Trump or Obama administrations on our daily lives, but do we know about the long reaching impact the fall of the Roman Empire, Western or Byzantine, has had on our daily lives? I am afraid we are too engrossed in the affairs of our day-to-day lives, or the latest in the saga of Kanye West’s life, to consider the implications metaphysical idealism or moral relativism has had on us.
What’s worse is our mere familiarity with contemporary issues, however important they may be, cloud our sense of judgment. After all, how can we judge what is good, what is right or what is important, if we do not know the long horizon of history and philosophy that transpired before us, by which we may judge things? It is like a person trying to judge which food is best when all their palate has ever experienced is fast food. We are not able to judge sufficiently contemporary events, or even our purpose in life, unless we have a broader perspective, which is why I’m reminded of a line from Star Trek The Next Generation where Captain Picard tells the young Ensign Wesley Crusher: “open your mind to the past. Art, history, philosophy and all this may mean something.” While we have access to more information today than any previous generation has had, we are profoundly ignorant because we lack knowledge about such things.
Yet what concerns me the most, more than our lack of exposure to the past or our ignorance of their implications on our daily lives, is how many contemporary would-be prodigies are too distracted by frivolous Android applications or pop-star controversies to flourish and reach the full potential of their capabilities? How many Mozarts, Ciceros or Aristotles lay hidden today, wasting their potential behind a snap chat filter? I shudder and grieve at the very thought.
(Originally published here)