“Literature and history, those two great branches of human learning, records of human behavior, human thought, are less and less valued by the young, and by educators, too. Yet from them one may learn how to be a citizen and a human being. We may learn how to look at ourselves, and at the society we live in, in that calm, cool, critical, and collected way which is the only possible stance for a civilized human being, or so have said all the philosophers and the sages.

“But all the pressures go the other way, towards learning only what is immediately useful, what is functional. More and more the demand is for people to be educated to function in an almost completely temporary stage of technology. Educated for the short term.

“We have to look at the word “useful” again. In the long run, what is useful is what survives, revives, comes to life in different contexts. It may look now as if people educated to use our newest technologies efficiently are the world’s elite, but in the long run I believe that people educated to have, as well, that point of view that used to be described as humanistic — the long-term, overall, contemplative point of view — will turn out to be more influential. Simply because they understand more what is going on in the world.

“It is not that I undervalue the new technicians. On the contrary, it is only that what they know is by definition a temporary necessity.

“To my mind the whole push and thrust and development of the world is towards the more complex, the flexible, the open-minded, the ability to entertain many ideas, sometimes contradictory, in one’s mind at the same time. We are seeing now an example of the price society must pay for insisting on orthodox, simple-minded, slogan thinking: the Soviet Union is a creaking, anachronistic, inefficient, barbaric society, because its type of Communism outlaws flexibility of thought.

“…Looking back, I see what a great influence an individual may have, even an apparently obscure person, living a small, quiet life. It is individuals who change societies, give birth to ideas, who, standing out against tides of opinion, change them.”

— Doris Lessing, “Prisons We Choose to Live Inside,” 1987

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