I think, therefore I am relieved that Marco Rubio dropped out of the presidential race. I don’t say this as a result of passing judgment on his executive ability; rather, because he was putting out negative PR about my kind – and we really don’t need that.
Rubio’s comment at a Republican debate that, “We need more welders and less philosophers,” caused me to think a lot; that’s what I do best. I am a freelance writer and artist (and sometimes teacher) by trade, but I am a philosopher at my core. I have always been obsessed with defining the meaning of life, improving the world, and exploring ideas about knowledge. Though I’ve always been this way, I don’t recall choosing to be on this track; maybe I was born onto it. It seems dangerous to dismiss someone’s nature and promote the message that trained reflection is not considered a valuable path to take in our society.
I understand that when Rubio was campaigning he probably meant that he wanted to invigorate manufacturing and that our country needs more trained laborers. If so, I’m not familiar with current employment stats, but I can go along with that assertion. I’m all for an improvement in the vocational training that is offered to those who are inclined to use their abilities in such a way. I have nothing against welders. I actually wish I knew how to weld, because I have a broken bar stool that needs fixing, and I would also make some really cool metal sculptures if I had that skill. I could also agree with Rubio that higher education, in general, should be more accessible. Acquiring a degree in the humanities at some institutions is what I would call overpriced and out of reach for many. My kids’ schools each cost over $60,000 a year to attend and we wouldn’t be able to afford that without scholarships and the financial aid provided by their schools. But, as high priced as an education can now be, that is still no reason to conclude that it’s not necessary for America to continue producing educated philosophers. I don’t think a specific degree from a certain kind of institution is necessary to be a successful contributor to society. I know many people who have achieved impressive success without any degree. But, for those of us who have the inclination to pursue a higher education in philosophy or other areas of the humanities, I do not think our natural tendency should be discouraged by government leaders.
During the earliest years of my children’s elementary education, both of them had experiences where they were discouraged from being more philosophical than the other children in their classroom because it inconvenienced their teachers. In order for America to continue making advancements, I think it is vital that our education system – at the earliest opportunity – nurture and promote those who have been born with the intellectual depth to produce new thoughts in the world of the arts, science, math, economics, politics…
The act of politics – the practice and theory of influencing people – originated with philosophers like Plato and Aristotle. I know this because I learned it in an entry-level course when I was earning my humanities degree. It was the philosopher, Adam Smith, who gave us capitalism through his writing in The Wealth of Nations. The thoughts of the philosopher, John Locke, resulted in what’s written in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. I found myself wondering during Rubio’s campaign if it was possible that he might not have realized when he was making his stump speeches that politicians are, in essence, philosophers. If he did realize this and was trying to communicate that America needs less politicians, I can support him on that.
His passionate request for more welders and less philosophers implied that those who choose to pursue degrees in the humanities are not as valuable to American society. Those of us who like to spend time thinking about what life is and how it could be improved are already an easy target for ridicule; we don’t need politicians handing people reasons to despise us. I’m happy that Rubio’s bandwagon was stopped in its tracks so that people like me won’t get run over by society quite as much as if he had won the election. If Rubio had become president and continued putting out messages that dismissed philosophers, I can imagine that much of the country would have followed his prescription for American education – right over the edge of the cliff of world prominence.
While vocational skills are necessary to keep an economy viable, what if those skills were all we had to offer as a nation? We would completely stagnate as other countries investing in their brightest philosophical minds would dominate us economically – which, I believe, is already starting to happen. What if the United States’ founding fathers had only been encouraged to be blacksmiths or coopers, and were discouraged from pursuing their philosophical inclinations? The country might have become a great place to pick up some horseshoes and barrels, but it never would have become a world superpower. There simply would be no United States of America if George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and all of the other original American thinkers were repeatedly exposed to the message that progressive thought was discouraged. I think it is imperative that America quits suppressing the practice of meaningful thought, and returns to identifying, supporting, and promoting its deepest thinkers so that it can truly strive to be at the forefront of the world in all areas.
While I am relieved that Rubio won’t be the “Leader of the Free World,” I think he’s the kind of person I would like to have for a neighbor – especially if he knows how to weld and could fix things for me when they break.
I wish American society valued my deep thoughts.
© 2016 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Julie Ryan.