Commentary by Eugene Paslov: The loss of civilization
June 10, 2011
The loss of civilizationI once read an account about an ancient people – humanoids who lived more than 10,000 years ago on the eastern coast of Africa. There were two unique features of these ancient peoples. First, they had a cranial capacity twice that of modern man. Their brains were large and presumably they were extremely intelligent. Second, they vanished from the earth without a trace. All that was left – crushed skulls, scattered bones slowly dissolving to dust; there were no paintings, no cultural artifacts, no history. Some more primitive species, less intelligent, clubbed these ancient people into oblivion.
Loren Eiseley, anthropologist, poet and philosopher, relayed this morality tale with the cautionary observation that civilizations need their teachers and artists, their musicians, and their story-tellers to preserve culture, to survive and flourish. Civilization requires teachers and artists to transmit culture and values. This large-brained society didn’t honor, respect and protect those who could have been their salvation. Brain-capacity alone did not suffice. Civilization is fragile. It requires honoring, respecting its teachers and artists to survive.
Chris Bayer’s letter to the governor (Nevada Appeal on May 28) charged the chief executive, “Please stand up for civilization, including funding for the arts, the schools, the libraries and museums. There is no good future, no economic growth, no advancement by individuals, no shared dreams without these things.” Mr. Bayer’s voice is one to which we should all pay attention. It is the voice of rationality, of reason, of survival.
One can imagine there was such a voice among Loren Eiseley’s ancient humanoids – a voice that spoke out to preserve its teachers and artists. But that voice was silenced by a dull, arching club, destroying forever a piece of civilizations’ future.
A discouraging incident occurred recently in Carson City. A 34-year experienced professor, who created and operates one of the most successful musical theater programs in the nation, was told that her contract would end in 2012. Stephanie Arrigotti is an exceptional artist. She is an extraordinary teacher. Her program is an economic driver for the community. Imagine, if you will, the vacant, dull eyes of those who are only concerned about cutting budgets, mindlessly swinging a symbolic club to crush the artistic life out of our community. This decision must be reconsidered.
The same thing happened to the education program at WNC. Dr. Michelle Rouselle had also been told she will be terminated in 2012. She created a dynamic, vibrant teacher training program and it will likely die if she leaves. Where is the honor and respect for our teachers and artists? This decision too should be reconsidered.
Our future is at risk. Let’s not symbolically “club to death” our teachers and artists, our voice for a civilized community.
• Eugene Paslov is a board member of the Davidson Academy at the University of Nevada, Reno, and the former Nevada state superintendent of schools.