Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but more important, it finds homes for us everywhere.
People read the papers not in the hopes of learning something new, but in the expectation of being told what they already know. This is a form of living death. Its apotheosis is the daily poll in USA Today, which informs us what percentage of a small number of unscientifically selected people called a toll number to vote on questions that cannot possibly be responded to with a yes or no.
Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. Wouldn't you say, she asked, that killings like this are influenced by violent movies? No, I said, I wouldn't say that. But what about 'Basketball Diaries'? She asked. Doesn't that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun? The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office, and it's unlikely the Columbine killers saw it. The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. Events like this, I said, if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; These two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn't have messed with me. I'll go out in a blaze of glory.
I am a humanist because I think humanity can, with constant moral guidance, create reasonably decent societies. I think that young people who want to understand the world can profit from the works of Plato and Socrates, the behaviour of the three Thomases, Aquinas, More and Jefferson - the austere analyses of Immanuel Kant and the political leadership of Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.
The thing about being at home versus being out in the world working is, it's a whole different vibe. When I'm home with my kids and partner, I will cook - even though she's a very good cook. She's learned over the years. We started with basics, you know, how to saute onions, how to saute mushrooms.