I have written often about Robert Moses’ style design and the balkanization of the culture and the effects of those things on society. One of the effects I have not emphasized is the creation of disparate subcultures and the effects that has, not only on people being unable to empathize with each other on an interpersonal level, but the lack of a common culture with which to communicate with each other. It seems that except for the biggest stars and the most famous items, people are generally ignorant of the canons of their fellow citizens. The front page of this website has Taylor Swift but I would guess that had I chosen someone only slightly more obscure then I would have failed to relate to most of the audience. The very event mentioned in the corresponding caption, the Christmas Truce of 1914, is likely unknown by most of the population despite being an event with the global fame of an A-list celebrity, just one slightly more obscure than the celebrity in the picture.
As much as the Western Canon has been criticized by people on my side of politics who find it too Western and therefore ethnocentric, the values, culture, and lessons espoused by them are generally benevolent and add to the characters of those who consume them. By Western Canon, I do not only refer to the literary and artistic canon but also include science; all physical, social, and psychological, philosophy, history, and politics. And as the West has come to dominate the world and annex other geographies, I also include Eastern and other items that have come into the Western Canon such as the scriptures of Eastern religions, some artistic works, and some philosophical works. Lao Tzu should be as common knowledge as Dante, neither are common knowledge, and they both should be. As well should be Marx and Milgram and Fanon and Gandhi.
The result is both amazing and wonderful, in the most technical and literal definitions of those words, and sad and tragic. The disunity of the culture and the infinite variety and number of semi-isolated tribes of the land are the stuff which childish urban explorers like myself gulp down like opioids. Long ago, there were four cable networks, no internet, and the cultural canon was much more unified and furthermore the canon did not just feed people what they wanted to know. I learned philosophy, sociology, and history because I went in that direction and keep tabs on astronomy and particle physics because I have an amateur interest in them but if people just want to study sci-fi or fashion or anything else, there is no requirement that they learn it, they don’t learn it, and they end up with a myopic technical knowledge of their field and a third-grade, if that, knowledge of everything else.
As an Aristotelian ethicist, I believe that eudemonia that includes personal rounding is an inherent good with no qualification needed but in addition to that it has more utilitarian purposes and has purposes that better one’s personal traits aside from the rounding itself. A society that exists as atomized cliques each a universe unto themselves not only has less empathy owing to contact theory and expanding circle theory but also is less capable of effective empathy when they attempt it. They have a lesser knowledge of what humans are like and of the human condition, generally. Thus their attempts at empathy are clumsy and are much less effective than they could otherwise be. When designing political policy or charity, they lack the ability to reach into the different fields to bring together solutions with the benefit of multiple sciences. One need not be an expert in all fields but one must have an introductory knowledge in them if one is to know where to look and who to ask. Everyone is expected to participate in politics and thus affect policy and therefore it is even more to be rounded and well-educated.
Yet, with the myriad of media choices, it is the luck of wanting it that makes people rounded. Just like with the Robert Moses’ design effect making friendships almost purely elective and thus contributing to many of the problems with it. Education has become almost purely elective. People know what they want to know and therefore know less and can relate less to each other. While humans are as much siblings whether they can relate or not, they feel like and appear less as siblings the less they can relate to one another. Therefore, we should try to create a system where there is a shared cultural canon that imparts the needed background to make good siblings in the human family. That pulls the most fruitful of the world’s traditions to feed the people. With that, people will not only love each other more but be able to love each other better, which is almost as important.