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A liberal arts education

Advocating for a moral agenda.


College has three purposes (according to David Brooks):

1) the commercial

Crafting a resumé. Behavioral interviews. Networking. Etc. The building of tools to start a career.

2) the cognitive

Oxidative phosphorylation. Supply and demand. Foucault. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Etc. The learning of stuff.

3) the moral

Open to interpretation, but I’ll define as such: The crafting of a self.

The first two are self-explanatory and easily quantifiable. But a moral education? Not so much. Standards for determining a solid morality are ambiguous and subjective. Crafting a self would, to most, sound like a trivial pursuit. An act of self-indulgence.

I took a class (conveniently titled “Trivial Pursuits”) where we read a book on the history of walking (don’t judge yet).

In Wanderlust, Rebecca Solnit says we live our lives navigating a series of interiors. We walk from one place to another, but aren’t very intentional about the way we go about doing this.

Put this in the context of Duke. On Wednesdays we move from WU to Perkins to Soc Sci 111 to Perkins to WU to Shoots. Thursdays are the same (replace “Soc Sci 111” with “Gross Hall” and “Shoots” with “Devine’s”).

Law School lunch is an excursion and a half. You’re studying in The Edge? Que alternativa!

The idea is not that you entangle yourself in a spiral of existential questions every time you enter a room.

Nor that you spend every day venturing so far from the familiar that you get lost.

It’s recognizing when you’re doing things on autopilot. This extends beyond navigating physical spaces. It transcends to the ways in which we use our time more generally.

I sit at my desk with a pamphlet that advertises Duke for future applicants. On the front, it says:

“Wander deliberately.”

Duke and other elite institutions are places that provide opportunities for wandering. Students venture halfway across the world to teach English in China and do human rights research in South Africa. But I also feel like we spend a lot of time waiting to wander. And that “waiting” involves filling our time with things that keep us busy but don’t always fulfill us. We navigate our time the same way we navigate interiors. Always on the move but not always intentional. The more I think about wandering deliberately, the more I feel like I live in a world where I’m nudged to do the opposite.


When your worth is your wealth, things that cannot be quantified aren’t valued. Think about trying to quantify wandering.

What did you do today?

I wandered for two hours.

But why do you have to quantify it? Some things are worth doing simply because they make you more curious. They push you beyond the confines of familiar interiors. I’m not suggesting we spend five hours of our day circling the Gardens till we’ve reached our wandering quota. Hence the “deliberately” succeeding the “wander”.

But I think we begin “crafting a self” and developing a moral purpose when we step outside the confines of familiar interiors and actively make ourselves uncomfortable. Again, these interiors aren’t just physical spaces. They are expectations we set for ourselves when we let the commercial dominate. A lot of what we do is policed by an invisible hand that pushes us towards the commercial. How is what I am doing going to help me eventually sell myself?

I’ll steal from Brooks again. In focusing too much on the commercial, we see the self as a as a vessel of human capital, not something to be cultivated through reflection and conversation.

The idea is not to completely neglect the commercial or the cognitive. We need to learn stuff. We need to build tools. But behind all of that is a self we spend little time cultivating because we’e too busy accumulating the stuff and the tools.

So how do we craft this self?

Don’t look at me. I’m the one taking a class named after a board game.

Originally published at medium.com

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