Tarnas' first book was published in 1991, and was called The Passion of the Western Mind. I haven't read it, but it supposedly traced the whole history of Western thought from the presocratics through postmodernism. Quoting Santayana, and in the tradition of Carl Jung and Joseph Cambell, Tarnas finds himself within that immaculately ignored tradition of powerful thinking that resists and has been resisted by academia.
Think about that again for a moment: Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect. In Tarnas' opening chapters, he suggests that we are living in a kind of intellectual sea-change of the same magnitude as that represented by the Copernican revolution. He tells the story of those early astronomical reformers, and reminds us that Copernicus and his immediate followers were not hailed as the geniuses that history revealed them to be. Instead, they "wrote letters to each other across centuries," and they argued with the twin authorities of the church (which might be expected) and the general scientific community, who regarded a heliocentric theory as betraying the most fundamental of our sensory observations.
Tarnas challenges us to imagine the same kind of new thought emerging today. It would have to be described by politicians, by scientists, by academics, and by theologians -- by all of them, it would be dismissed as ridiculous. There would not be a vast and happy transformation over the course of 18 months; instead, this transformation might take centuries.
All of this makes me think about the prejudices of academics -- the ones that I have observed in others, of course (as I am blind to my own!). What things have academics not only disagreed with, but effectively refused to consider over the past decade? A tentative list:
- The possibility that personal "identity" is illusory and unimportant
- The ennobling potential of devout spirituality
- The prospect of an eternal universe (i.e., no Big Bang)
- Conservative economics
- "Essences," Truth (sg.), and authoritarianism
- That "Progress" is a myth (note: postmodern theorists love to claim that they believe progress is a myth, but I've seen almost none of them [in academia] behave accordingly -- that is, renounce the notions of better Justice and intellectual superiority that seem to come naturally with history -- that is, most graduate students think they are more knowing than Plato because they've read Derrida, who came "after" Plato in historical terms)
- That astrology is the product of ancient wisdom rather than superstition
- That the mind is not entirely physiological -- i.e., that Prozac is/has been a con
- That sexuality is a not genetic matter
- That man-made global warming is an overall positive
Of course, this is a list composed mostly of my own observations, and probably is the result of my own biases and prejudices. Feel free to call me out: what do I refuse to consider? What about you? Have you remained chaste so long that you've forgotten how to give yourself over, making chastity itself a hollow act of dead piety? Are the words of the prophets really written on the subway walls and tenement halls, and not in Philological Quarterly? Have you scoffed at our time's Copernicus?
For good measure, here's a YouTube video of Harvard Professor Richard Tarnas speaking as the keynote at a conference on astrology (yes, astrology, not astronomy):