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Jewish World Review August 20, 1999 /8 Elul, 5759

Cal Thomas

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Back to what kind of school? --
THE STUDENTS -- new ones and survivors of last April's shooting -- have returned to Colorado's Columbine High School. Numerous security precautions designed to keep out bad influences and weapons failed to prevent the drawing of swastikas on some bathroom walls.

Will tighter security make up for looseness in other areas?

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) wants to establish a bipartisan congressional committee to investigate the causes for our cultural decline. It's a good idea. Brownback can save some time by viewing a new video series created by attorney and Rutherford Institute President John Whitehead (yes, Paula Jones' lawyer) titled "Grasping for the Wind.''

The seven-part series looks at the historic, intellectual, artistic and social forces that have contributed to Western humanity's cultural crisis. It is a sweeping work thatcovers such events as the two world wars, Vietnam and the Great Depression and traces how underlying philosophical concepts in art, music, science and world events have helped shape the present world view, which is now being taught to yet another generation.

This is no polemic. It is a serious, highly informative work that is even entertaining. It asks humanity's ancient questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I headed? The series asserts that modern man can no longer answer these questions, and the result is a chaotic world in which young people search for meaning in alcohol, drugs, promiscuity and violence.

New orthodoxies that have failed replaced old orthodoxies that mostly worked. Yet those responsible for the new orthodoxies do not want to relinquish their power, and so they persist in the failed ways, even as children kill and are killed. Attending school can now be more dangerous than crossing the street used to be.

If life has no objective meaning, the series suggests, then it means only what someone says it means at the moment, and that can change as quickly as wind direction. With no anchor in their lives, many young people see schooling itself as irrelevant, especially since the process is frequently barred from offering significant guidance. The First Amendment, you know.

"Grasping for the Wind'' traces humanity's search for meaning over the last 200 years and is shot on location where the artists painted, philosophers thought and wrote and politicians schemed to dominate the planet by evil means. Familiar and not-so-familiar philosophers, writers, painters and musicians are shown to have contributed far more than their art to the cultural decay. The series ought to be mandatory viewing in homes and schools for it awakens and provokes thought in our image-obsessed age. More than most anything else I've seen recently, this series answers the old questions and presents profound new ones that must be answered in order to reverse what metal detectors, surveillance cameras and guards in the halls cannot reverse.

The nihilism that has dominated much of Western thought and culture for the last two centuries is the cause behind the school shootings and other social tragedies. "Grasping for the Wind'' exposes many of them.

It will be disappointing if the decline continues and we stubbornly cling to ideas that have not worked and cannot. No new laws, no studies, no commissions, not even congressional panels, can reverse the slide. In order to chart a new course, we have to know how we got to where we are. "Grasping for the Wind'' is a mirror reflecting the past and, for those who will take it, a road map out of the pit.

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