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What the Campus Protesters Don’t Understand About Civilization

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Recently, when disembarking a flight, the “thank you” I gave the pilot and crew was not perfunctory. Although my gratitude probably didn’t seem effusive from the outside, a depth of emotion touched me after I delivered it.

Airline travel is one of the miracles of modern living, requiring human cooperation and coordination. Deeply, I felt the human connections the miracle of airline travel requires.

I’m still thinking about that recent flight. As I grow older, the miracles of human cooperation and civilization profoundly touch me. Since I live in rural America, flying takes a few more steps and hours of travel than for most.

A staggering number of people, visible and invisible, support modern travel. Think of people who work in auto and aircraft factories or parts manufacturing, the people who mine and refine raw materials, the farmers who grow our food, the truckers who transport food to restaurants serving us while we travel, the employees of the airlines, airports, car rental companies, hotels, and on and on.

After the flight, my next stop was the car rental counter and an interaction with Carlos. Carlos explained how my evaluation of him would help him reach his goal of moving up to management. Most companies who deliver a service strive to create cultures that align their employees’ self-interest with their customers’ interests. Carlos seemed genuinely warm, but had he stayed in Cuba, would that side of his potentiality be developed? The interests of commerce led Carlos to develop the better side of his nature.

On the same trip, I found a restaurant I returned to many times over a week. The staff spoke little English, but I still made a warm and friendly connection.

Since the profit motive drives good service, the instances of poor service are jarring. Things mostly go well, and we simply don’t notice the web of human connections supporting our efforts.

We don’t notice how we are so fortunate. We arrogantly forget how quickly we would perish if we depended solely on our own efforts.

“99% of our present population would perish in even a primitive, foraging society,” Leonard Read observed in his book Students of Liberty. He added, “Man is interdependent! And his existence on this earth beyond a primitive state requires a recognition of this fact and a knowledge of how to deal with it skillfully.”

Consider how this contrasts with the recent pro-Hamas protesters on college campuses. These protesters assert a claim of moral superiority, lecturing us about the greed of capitalism. The privileged life they enjoy is because of capitalism, but they are ignorant of the civilization that they are working hard to destroy.

The protesters have vandalized campus buildings built by others for those who valued learning. Their professors have rejected the study of Western civilization’s scholarship and ideas in favor of Marxist revolutionaries.

How dependent the protesters are on others was brought home when a Columbia University protester begged for “humanitarian aid” (food and water) for the protesters. Yale professor Nicholas Christakis wrote of the protester’s plea:

This is the way someone who has never been Yale challenged to defend her views with facts and reason speaks. This is someone who thinks she is winning the battle of ideas simply by articulating her desires. Someone her university has not taught.

Will the protesters learn that when you step out of civilization, life is not so luxurious?

Unlike Carlos, the protesters are developing the worst side of their nature. They are full of venom and hatred for Jews and America. As Read wrote, “The alternative to violence is love.” He continued:

Love, as here used, refers to the application of the kindly virtues in human relations such as tolerance, charity, good sportsmanship, the right of another to his views, integrity, the practice of not doing to others what you would not have them do to you, and other attributes which result in mutual trust, voluntary cooperation, and justice.

This is what these protestors have rejected in their detest for society.

A quote is widely attributed to Einstein, but there is no record of him saying it: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.”

The sentiment may sound good, but it misses the mark. There is a third, more typical way of living life: mostly forgetting that everything is a miracle but sometimes remembering. The future of civilization depends on remembering that if we forget what creates the miracles of modern life, others will be tearing down what we fail to defend.

Image credit: Unsplash