Spring 2001, Volume 37, No. 2

Contents

FEATURE
Lives of a Saint

SPECIAL SECTION
Altruism 101
Reach Out!
Venture Catalysts
Sagehens in Paradise

DEPARTMENTS
-Pomona Forum-
Altruism 101
-News Print-
Professor's Philosophy of Life Unshaken

-Pomona Today-
Professor of the Year
Inside the Power Crunch
Rite of Passage
Top Five
Frats with a Difference
Bridge Over the Pacific

-New Knowledge-
The Secrets of the Hydra
-Sports Report-
Dynamic Duos
-Bookshelf-
Getting On
Threshholding
George Moore

-Campaign Update-
American Dreams

ALUMNI VOICES
-Parlor Talk-
Traditions
-Family Tree-
Allen-Lee-Kingman-McDonald
-Alumni Profile-
Casey Trupin '95
-Alumni Puzzler-
Inside-Out
-Back Cover-
Pilgrims' Progress



 


Strange things are happening. The world population is surging, but the world economy is surging even faster, overall. Educational institutions are expanding to meet the challenge, but what students increasingly acquire from them is merely isolated skills, which are less and less useful in a computerized, and so simplified, workplace. The formerly Communist world tries to recover from complete disaster, while much of the rest seems to be trying to "recover" from politics altogether, for Western democracy has somehow led to extreme disillusionment. Established religions are losing members, while spirituality of various other, less traditional sorts flourishes. Enlightenment reason finds itself under postmodern attack. And so on.
   The question is whether all these trends, and many others, are separate from each other or whether they are all symptoms of some still larger historical change. Few thinkers are equipped to face this question--those with the knowledge often lack the courage. Pomona College philosopher Stephen Erickson has both, and in this book argues that all these changes, and many more, are signs of an epochal historical shift on a scale with the birth of modernity itself some three hundred years ago.
   The most important harbingers of this shift, however, are not sociopolitical trends like the ones I have mentioned (though Erickson discusses them and many others), but people. His belief is that an increasing, but still relatively small, number of people find themselves profoundly out of step with their cultural surroundings, and that from these people will come the new age of his book: the age of thresholding.
   To see how subtle this argument is, note how hard it is even to formulate the thought that an important historical shift could take place through individuals. Doing so would require us to abandon both communitarian models, on which individuals are the objects of historical change rather than its instigators, and individualisic ones on which individuals are independent of all circumstances and thus of history itself.
   Even to formulate the idea of such an historical change requires us, in short, to view individuals as the necessary vehicles of meanings that are other and greater than they. And this is nothing less than the recovery of a sacral dimension--one which has been occluded by three hundred years of viewing human beings as essentially economic and attempting to secure for them their proper spheres of control and agency.
   If intelligent response to the basic parameters of life is philosophy, then Erickson's threshholder is thus someone who lives in the service of a sacrally responsive philosophy. Philosophy is therefore becoming central to our species in a way not seen since, perhaps, ancient Athens. Beyond that, Erickson believes, not much can be said about the age of threshholding; we are too early in the shift for its place of arrival to be described.
   Erickson's book, then, is less a description of a historical transition, or even an argument that one is beginning, than an attempt to draw the reader into it,. to teach her to think in a "threshholding" way. As such, its prose is compelling but enigmatic, at least at first. A difficult book, but an important one for any reflective human being. --John McCumber '67 is professor of German and chair of the German Department at Northwestern University.