Is all social life schooling?

I’ve always read a lot of magazines.  Before we started this blog in June 2007, if I came up with an idea while reading one of them I would sometimes make a note of it in a word processing document.  More often I would just forget about it.  Now I post “Periodicals Notes” in which I make those ideas available here.

Among these old documents I recently found  some speculation triggered by this paragraph on page 23 of The Nation for 19 June 2006: “In his 1964 book Ma’alim fi al-Tariq (Milestones), [Sayyid] Qutb wrote that ‘if woman is freed from her basic responsibility of bringing up children’ and, whether on her own or by pressure from society, seeks to work in jobs such as ‘a hostess or a stewardess in a hotel or ship or air company,’ she will be ‘using her ability for material productivity rather than the training of human beings.’  This, he claimed, would make the entire civilization ‘backward.’”  What intrigued me about this précis was the idea that “the training of human beings” is the activity that separates healthy societies from backward ones.

Augustine of Hippo, in the City of God and the dialogue de Magistro, takes a similar view.  The City of God is a sort of cultural history of the Roman Empire, tracing how various religious ideas have influenced events from the legendary period of the seven kings of Rome up to Augustine’s own day.  Rather than simply dismissing the ideas he disagrees with, Augustine treats them as early stages in the process that would prepare the Mediterranean world for Christian doctrine.  This process of learning involved the whole of Greco-Roman society.  In the dialogue de Magistro, he asks what purposes speech serves, and concludes that every one of those purposes is a form, of teaching.  If all speech is teaching, then all social life must be educational.

Around the same time I read the issue of The Nation with that essay about Sayyid Qutb, I read the  Spring 2006 issue of Telos. That issue includes an article by Aryeh Botwinick called “A Monotheistic Ethics: Ben Zoma’s Mishnah” which finds such a view in the Babylonian Talmud, in Ben Zoma’s comments on the passage “Who is wise?  He who learns from everyone.”  I rather doubt that Sayyid Qutb read the Babylonian Talmud, or Augustine for that matter.  I suspect that Qutb, Augustine, and Ben Zoma came independently to the view that society is above all a place for teaching and learning.

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