How Many Scholars Does It Take to Make an Omelet?

How Many Scholars Does It Take to Make an Omelet?
Image by H.C. via Flickr Creative Commons
David Roy
David Roy

If it is true that one must crack some eggs to make an omelet, and I suppose it is, then the times we live in must be the egg industry’s biggest boom to date. When I look around, all I can see are layers and layers of broken shells crunching under our feet when we try to walk somewhere and piling up into mounds so high that we can’t see the horizon.

But I don’t see many people trying to make omelets. Mostly, I see people taking fresh eggs and throwing them at each other with venomous gusto. “This egg’s got your name on it!” Then: Whiz, splat! “So’s your mamma!” Incoming: Pow, pow, pow!

Fox News’ Variety Shows Led by Skilled Egg Throwers
Rumor has it, by the way, that Fox News is a majority stockholder in the egg industry’s biggest companies. Whether or not this story is true, it is an indisputable fact that nearly all of their variety shows are staffed by people highly skilled in hurling eggs on a daily basis. (I do think some of them cheat and hard-boil their eggs for greater punch.)

Unfortunately for the rest of us (the 70–80 percent who don’t live to throw eggs or watch people who do), we have few chefs in our fair nation who are skilled at making a great and gigantic omelet out of all these eggs.

Okay, okay, I confess I have whipped the egg/omelet metaphor until it is foaming over the outside of the bowl. I’m stopping, right now. Really.

A Time of Incredible Fragmentation and Loss of Meaning
Here is what I mean by all of this: We live in a time of incredible fragmentation. The old centers of meaning, where an array of common values held sway, seem to have disappeared or died out.

For example, we have not been a predominantly agrarian society for more than a century. Today, we are far less an industrialized society than 50–60 years ago. The former mainline Christian denominations have been declining for decades. Our printed media are seriously diminished, the old three-network dominance of TV has toppled and Walter Cronkite is dead.

Given the huge financial collapse we are still experiencing, with the concomitant mass slaughter of homeownership, the so-called middle-class dream is dying a painful death.

No Anesthetic for the Middle Class (co-opted by the wealthy)
All the morphine (capital) that might ease the pain of this death has been set aside for those who run the risk of suffering even a tiny twinge of shame for causing this death, as well as the shame (and possible prosecution) for reaping huge rewards on both sides of the debacle by sucking the life force out of the vast majority of former middle-class families who played by the rules written by these very same dream-killers.

Around the world, money seems to be what ties us together; therefore it is a major common denominator. Because of that, it is easy for the importance of money and its associated values to reign over all else since today there is no consensus about any larger context with more inclusive values that would temper the demands that money alone stirs in the hearts of its caretakers.

What are these values? Remember Uncle Scrooge McDuck? He had it all, wanted to keep it for himself and always wanted more. Of course, in reality, it is often far grimmer and more sinister (e.g., the movie Wall Street).

Commonality and Unity Lost and the Internet Doesn’t Help

Because of this, and more, we are losing any sense of commonality and unity as a nation.

Our newest tool doesn’t help: The Internet often isolates us and pushes us further apart. It inflates the illusion of enhanced connection (“virtual”). It also seems to increase the tendency to draw primarily from like-minded sources.

The tolerance for diversity seems to be waning, and the appreciation of the richness that differences give us is largely dead.

We Are Falling into Chaos and Pointless Struggles
As the sources of common meaning disappear, we as a nation appear to be falling into unreasoned and unreasoning chaos where more and more we see groups struggling and fighting with each other in highly disrespectful ways, full of hatred and seeking annihilation of the supposed opposition.

What can save us from ruin? Are we simply destined to leave a silent record for future anthropologists and archeologists to compile (future humans or, as Jon Stewart predicts, extraterrestrial aliens)?

A Master Omelet Maker to the Rescue
To return to the original metaphor, we need a master omelet maker with the knowledge and skills to guide others to do
the same.

I know of several, but one, in particular, stands above the rest because of his ability to understand enough of the whole picture to grasp the entire range of existing fragments and to suggest how they can be organized, put together into a dynamic whole.

David Ray Griffin
His name is David Ray Griffin, professor emeritus at the Claremont School of Theology (CST) and Claremont Graduate School.

I’ve known Griffin for close to 40 years as he was on the faculty at CST when I was there. Griffin was at one time a student of theologian John B. Cobb, Jr. Later, he and John established the Center for Process Studies. (See for more information.)

Griffin is one of our nation’s top scholars yet, regrettably, he is not nearly as widely read as he deserves. Griffin and the China Connection Except, interestingly, in China. The Middle Kingdom is seeking profound solutions for the major issues facing its own people while simultaneously working hard to be a peer without equal in the world community of nations.

In China, Griffin has been designated as one of the most important authors to read for university students. And there are a lot of students in China. The topic that has drawn the most interest there is Griffin’s extensive series of books on “post-modern constructivism.”

Post-Modern Constructivism? Mind Lock!
Whoa, you say, mind lock! “Post-modern constructivism?” What’s that and why does that matter to the Chinese or anyone else?

Well, here is what it is and why it is important: Remember those countless pieces of eggshell cluttering up the landscape? That’s what has happened as a result of modernity (the name given to what has been the dominant worldview in the historical flow of ideas at least since the Enlightenment).

Modernity: Fragmentation Is Its Nature
Modernity has been good at analyzing the world into smaller and smaller fragments to the point they do not seem to cohere.

In fact, features that might yield coherence are intentionally excluded (e.g., values from science; the heart, mind and soul from the body, and so on).

The “Shame” of Being Different, Non-Mainstream
Those who try for a reintroduction of what has been excluded are most often either ignored or subject to one of the most powerful methods humans possess for social control: shame, disdain, ridicule.

Alas, this has been the fate of much of the work by many of the scholars who have pursued the use of the metaphysics of one Alfred North Whitehead in reinterpreting their field of study.

I am talking about their overall influence in the Western academic world today. Certainly, there are important exceptions, but to date, there is no pervasive influence on a large scale despite the efforts of Griffin, Cobb, Marjorie Suchocki and others in the field.

Zhihe Wang to the Rescue
And yet, there is China. The China Connection to process thought is significantly the result of one Zhihe Wang, who was the editor of the Chinese journal that kept Chinese scholars up to date on ideas emerging in the Western world. As such, he developed long-term ties to professors at many universities in China.

When he encountered Griffin’s series of books on postmodern constructivism (published by SUNY Press), he found a set of powerful ideas that set the stage for bringing together major facets of Chinese thought, both ancient and contemporary, such as Confucianism and science.

The Constructivist Approach
In the constructivist approach, in contrast with postmodern deconstructivism, one can bring all the important features
together in new ways instead of excluding them. In China, this has meant that the reverence for the ancient traditions could be brought together with the power of contemporary science instead of having to decide between the two.

Zhihe brought his family to the United States so that he could study under Griffin. Zhihe says he is a philosopher-activist—someone who wants to use ideas to effect change.

This is an unfinished experiment at this point as far as China is concerned, but at present, thanks in significant part to Zhihe’s drive and extensive academic connections, there are today more than a dozen universities with centers devoted to various aspects of process thought (process philosophy, education, psychology, the environment and so on).

The Phenomenal Scholarship of Griffin
Griffin’s body of scholarship is phenomenal. He has written and edited close to 40 books, all of them original and groundbreaking works, heavy on research and full of powerful new and clearly explained ideas.

When Griffin tackles a topic, he covers it thoroughly. In this, he is unwaveringly consistent. (If there were a contest for documentation, he would seldom be beaten.) He carefully lays out a summary of all relevant positions on the topic at hand and then argues logically and unemotionally for or against the other views before summarizing his conclusions.

In addition to his own works, he also edited a series of 31 volumes in the SUNY (State University of New York) series on Constructive Postmodern Thought from 1987–2004. (Eight of the 31 are either written or edited directly by him.)

An Incredible Range of Topics

Griffin’s writings have covered an amazing range of subjects, from more traditional topics in theology and religion to constructing a clear way to integrate the scientific world view and the sacred view of the world (dispensing with the so-called supernatural, among other things), providing for the “re-enchantment” of science, overcoming the mind-body duality, reexamining the research on parapsychology and more.

The Intellectual Groundwork Has Been Done for the World We Need
Everything that Griffin has done, particularly the extensive contributions to constructive postmodernism, lays the groundwork for shared values of the most profound kind, values that can guide us in the direction of living with far greater harmony with fellow human beings around the world as well as with the rest of the natural world.

The tragedy to date is that his writings, and the extensive scholarship of so many others who are in general agreement with his views, have had so little impact on those who run our universities, who teach those who lead this and other nations in the West.

If the seeds being sown in China take root and multiply, the status of Griffin’s ideas, and those of the many associated intellectual leaders, may rise. If so, the kinds of things that U.S. progressives strive for may come to pass.


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    The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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