The transcendent intellectual virtue is wisdom. King Solomon’s court is said to have marveled at his wisdom when he ordered the baby cut in half, knowing that would identify the mother; even if he was wrong, the only woman, of the two, fit to care for the child was the one who would act to save him. Wisdom is intellect reaching deep into the emotional lives of others, often predicting how they will feel or what their behavior will be, and acting accordingly. It must be grounded in universal respect for human worth and dignity. All the building blocks we have taken so far must be in place, then wisdom can thrive.
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divides by Politics and Religion (Pantheon Books, 2012): Haidt, who is left-of-center politically, argues that the right succeeds because it is better attuned to visceral human needs such as community.
It was my teacher's genius, her quick sympathy, her loving tact which made the first years of my education so beautiful. It was because she seized the right moment to impart knowledge that made it so pleasant and acceptable to me. She realized that a child's mind is like a shallow brook which ripples and dances merrily over the stony course of its education and reflects here a flower, there a bush, yonder a fleecy cloud; and she attempted to guide my mind on its way, knowing that like a brook it should be fed by mountain streams and hidden springs, until it broadened out into a deep river, capable of reflecting in its placid surface, billowy hills, the luminous shadows of trees and the blue heavens, as well as the sweet face of a little flower. Any teacher can take a child to the classroom, but not every teacher can make him learn. He will not work joyously unless he feels that liberty is his, whether he is busy or at rest; he must feel the flush of victory and the heart-sinking of disappointment before he takes with a will the tasks distasteful to him and resolves to dance his way bravely through a dull routine of textbooks. [Helen Keller, The Story of My Life (1904), Chapter VII.]
Other true narratives:
- Stephen Greenblatt, Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics (W.W. Norton & Company, 2018): “Shakespeare’s plays yield chilling insights into the 21st century’s turbulent political scene.” This book illustrates how all fiction arises from real minds.
- David Yaffe, Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2017): “. . . I was surprised to discover how many of her songs I remember, more or less in their entirety. What a tribute, it seems, that her evocative character sketches and laments for doomed love — melodically unpredictable, literary, convoluted and mostly lacking catchy pop refrains — should have remained so familiar, and that they should still strike us as so beautiful, smart and inventive.”
- Maya Angelou, Letter to My Daughter (Random House, 2008): “A slim volume packed with nourishing nuggets of wisdom”.
When wisdom was lacking:
- Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro, The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World (Simon & Schuster, 2017). “Henry Kissinger called the Kellogg-Briand Pact ‘as irresistible as it was meaningless,’ while George Kennan described it as ‘childish, just childish.’”
- Max Boot, The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the Tragedy of Vietnam (Liveright, 2018): “The more interesting and at first glance attractive argument is . . . that the answer in Vietnam was to deploy less military force, not more . . . They forgot that in a war of this kind it was not enough to be against Communism; one had to be for something.”
Karen Russell is an author with a remarkably distinctive literary voice. “Her work has a velocity and trajectory that is little less than dazzling, and a tough, enveloping, exhilataring voice that cannot be equaled . . .”
- Karen Russell, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves: Stories (Alfred A. Knopf, 2006).
- Karen Russell, Swamplandia! A Novel (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011): highlighting the author’s wisdom in telling the story.
- Karen Russell, Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Stories (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013): a collection of stories highlighting the author’s imagination, individuality and insight.
- Deepa Anappara, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line: A Novel (Random House, 2020): “We marvel at those threads, so vibrantly woven by Anappara, as Jai tracks down the missing children’s families and friends, only to discover that even those closest to them have little understanding of their true selves. This is the power of this novel, how it keeps us grounded — not in the flats of the hi-fi dwellers but in something closer to India’s heart, which she locates in the minds of children with bony shoulders and dirty feet.”
- James McBride, Deacon King Kong: A Novel (Riverhead Books, 2020): “McBride’s ability to inhabit his characters’ foibled, all-too-human interiority helps transform a fine book into a great one.”
Film and Stage
- The Silence of the Lambs: wisdom’s evil counterpart in Hannibal Lechter, whose understanding of people is genius, misdirected by sociopathic intent
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Paul Simon writes of life. Just when you think we’re “gliding down the highway”, he lands a decisive verbal blow to the solar plexus. You may not feel it at the time but sooner or later, if you’re paying attention, it will catch up with you. Simon earned an honored place in popular music history with his beautiful duets with Art Garfunkel but his was not the pretty voice. His performances are professional but his high-baritone voice is thin and unremarkable. His incorporation of world music into his own is forward-looking and excellent but not extraordinary. Simon’s place in music history, and as the first recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for popular song, comes from his unique combination of easy popular melodies with brilliant lyrics that jar the soul not with crass or vulgar language but with images in the key of life. Links to his full solo albums, more or less, and other live appearances, are below.
- “Paul Simon”
- “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon”
- “Live Rhymin’”
- “Still Crazy After All These Years”
- “One-Trick Pony”
- “Hearts and Bones”
- Graceland, the African concert
- “Concert in the Park”
- “The Rhythm of the Saints”v
- “You’re the One”
- “So Beautiful or So What”
- “Stranger to Stranger”
- “In the Blue Light”
- “The Concert in Hyde Park”
- Live in Montevideo, 1992
- BBC sessions, 2006
- Live in Nottingham, U.K., 2016
- Live in Charlotte, N.C., 2017
Other artists and albums:
- Gillis: The Alamo; Saga of a Prairie School; Portrait of a Frontier Town: these works tell stories of others with understanding and empathy.
- Aronis, William Blake Cycle