Sunday, February 3, 2008

Good Morning, San Diego!

Thursday night it snowed eight inches in South Bend.
But Thursday morning I had boarded a plane for sunny San Diego - that's Spanish for "Saint Diego," as you Anchorman fans out there well know - so I traded the freezing temperatures for a chance to go swimming in the Pacific for the first time ever. (Yeah, it was cold, but 'it was there.')
Why the random jaunt? To attend the joint Intercollegiate Studies Institute / Liberty Fund conference on 'Law, Liberty, and the Rise of the West.' They put us up at the lovely Omni hotel, and 15 students from across the country went to town on our previously-assigned readings by such people as Max Weber and Christopher Dawson, seeking a deeper understanding of what caused what some call the 'European Miracle' - why Europe, of all places in the world, invented modern science and the Industrial Revolution, causing some serious problems but also raising the standard of living for the vast majority of the citizens of the West to levels that for most of human history would have been literally uniminagably high. As much as I am concerned about the "malaise of modernity" - and I am concerned very, very much about the listlessness that has overtaken many aspects of Western Civ - it's impossible to deny that it's better that our society is a thousand times more worried about, say, its incidence of depression than its incidence of infantile death. So grappling with the interplay of the various factors that have allowed Europe so disproportionately to influence human history compared to its size - its regional power structure that was culturally unified by the Church; its higher proportion of domesticable animals and no-need-for-irrigation farmland; its encouragement of innovation and incremental accumulation of capital - was a fascinating way to spend the weekend. We had six hours of guided discussion, which left afternoons free to explore Little Italy and Coronado Island, and evenings free to enjoy the generous hospitality of both ISI/Liberty Fund and the city.
As one of my fellow ISI Honors Fellows put it, 'ISI gave me the education I hoped for from college.' In one weekend I both learned more than some people I know learn in a month at Notre Dame - and I had more fun than some others do in that same month. For anyone interested in getting involved with such an awesome opportunity, go to


Joseph Lawler said...

Sounds like you might have heard a little "Guns, Germs, and Steel," too.

Brian Boyd said...

Yep, that was one of our closing readings. My best friend from HS tells me the whole book is very much worth thinking through. I certainly think geographic determinism is taking things too far, but totally ignoring the starting-conditions would be an error at the opposite extreme. (Ah, the elusive Golden Mean!)

Kevin Donohue said...

Guns Germs and Steel is excellent. It's counterpoint, Collapse, is also an interesting read.

Brandon said...

Jared Diamond fans I see. Personally, I prefer to listen to James Watson spout rhetoric about how white people are just genetically superior. As if that explains why Asians are overrepresented in high education while Hispanics and Blacks are underrepresented.

Anyway, on a serious note, Brian, the Pacific is always cold, even in the summer, which makes it nice.

The Omni is sweet, it's only downside is that it is owned by John Moores, who refuses to buy hitters for the Padres.

The airplanes on North Island (Coronado) are Navy not Air Force. I know you didn't mention this but a friend of mine went to SD last year and comment on the Air Force base, so I thought I'd just tell you guys that it is a Naval Air Station.

I hope you went to Mona Lisa, Zucchero, Trattoria, Vincenzo or one of the other Busalachi restaurants in Little Italy, because those are all owned by guys with whom I went to high school.

It is important to remember that Europe's disproportionate global influence is really only a phenomenon of the last 600 or so years. Hegemony is fluid. It shifts from region to region. Many people believe that there is a current shift from America to Asia. Only time will tell. The uniqueness of America's success is that it is not a nation of a few ethnic groups with a common language but the most diverse conglomeration of human cultures that the world has seen. Drawing from different traditions has made us strong; unfortunately it has also weakened us.