Closing the Open Mind (1977)

an unzippered head

an unzippered head

IN FALL 1977, as a senior at the University of Chicago, I secluded myself in my dorm room. Two days later, I emerged with a poem written in closed couplet (AA, BB). Through its 78 lines, I hoped to expose what I regarded as the dangerous folly of the intellectual left and its holy trinity: cultural relativism (All ideas and practices deserve equal respect), intellectual relativism (Nothing is absolute), and intellectual agnosticism (We can't be certain of anything). One year later, I added a dozen lines; which dozen, I can't recall. The result is Closing the Open Mind, the 90-line poem presented below.

New Dorm, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (1958?)

Woodward Court, where I wrote Closing the Open Mind. photo by Eric Fisher (http://www.flickr.com/photos/24431382@N03/5507484977/)

A 25-year-old William F. Buckley poses with God and Man at Yale.

A 25-year-old William F. Buckley poses with God and Man at Yale.

Similar, book-length critiques have been penned by William F. Buckley (God and Man at Yale, 1951) and Allan Bloom (The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students, 1987).

Allan Bloom, author of The Closing of the American Mind

Allan Bloom, author of The Closing of the American Mind

Sir John Denham, 1614 or 1615 to 1669 (artist unknown)

Sir John Denham, 1614 or 1615 to 1669 (artist unknown)

In casting my thoughts as a poem in iambic pentameter, I was inspired by Sir John Denham's  354-line political poem, Cooper’s Hill” (1642). 

"Closing the Open Mind" helped earn me the heart of my second girlfriend, Alouette. But I had hoped it would shake up academia. In the years that followed, I tried without success to get the poem published in the University of Chicago Alumni Magazine and various conservative journals. With this page, I hope to finally introduce it to a broad audience.



Closing the Open Mind

THE COLLEGE was the last conservancy
For protégés of reasoned inquiry;
A sanctu’ry of Reason ’twas ordained
That Inquiry might flourish unconstrained,
And Intellect might plumb our moral gauge
With measures from a timeless moral age.

But measures skew—and judgment deviates—
When scales assay with wrongly measured weights;
And so, adjudging classic weights alloyed,
Reformists found them false, and deemed them void;
Old measures nulled, three new ones they’ve embraced,
More lawless than the measures they’ve replaced.

These golden calves they’ve crowned The Open Mind,
A Trin’ty come to liberate the blind;
Its soldiers loosed, the key retired to shelf,
It knows no rein or muzzle—save itself.

a statue of a golden calf standing on a stone pedestal

a statue of a golden calf standing on a stone pedestal

an equal sign being held aloft by a pair of outstretched male arms

an equal sign being held aloft by a pair of outstretched male arms

TH’ EQUALITARIAN CALF commands a sect
That grants no creed or custom more respect
Than others, since—their human stock the same—
Superior worth its members may not claim; 
“No government’s more moral than another,”
Though one be kind while th’other slays its brother;
It certifies—and no one dares refute—
The equal-sign the only absolute.

Egad! Is this what Hutchins had divined
While laboring to conserve the lib’ral mind?
A balanced mind, to weigh will not be loath;
Reprove not this nor that, and cheapen both.

pencils in shades of grey

pencils in shades of grey

ONE CALF begot a second of its kind
Whose democratic milk’s the more refined:
“Not black nor white can singly point the way: 
All Truth abides in boundless shades of gray.”
A dash of left, a pinch of right, and soon
A motley gaggle screaks a raucous tune;
Each chaste ideal is yoked to her opponent;
Their yin and yang, Truth’s cardinal component.

FROM HER was born the Relativist cow,
Whose vote’ries to a tuneless piper bow;
All absolutes—though just in means and ends—
Get winnowed through the web of It Depends;
The export of our freedoms, ’twill condemn:
“What’s meet for Us may poison be to Them.”

These tenderers of Truth have not been lax
For Ethics, too, has come beneath their ax;
Diminished to a casuist’s device,
Its simple-hearted practice is a vice.

THEIR MATH’MATICIANS don’t believe in God
Yet claim He coined the even and the odd
Whole numbers; then, with blueprint cast aside,
Withdrew and watched contrivance multiplied,
As Greece imagined algebra and pi,
And Newton pressed his order on His sky;
And just when you’ve their sanity dismissed,
They’ll challenge you to prove that you exist.

a conceptual drawing of a man worshipping a question mark

a conceptual drawing of a man worshipping a question mark

NO LONGER IS HE LOVED who’s resolute
In principles upright and absolute;
The Open Mind made question marks the rage; 
The period, exiled to a cast-off age;
For “This is good, that bad,” you’ve no excuse;
Declare “We know—”, you’ve laced and pulled your noose;
To postulate is verily to sin;
No logic can withstand the cattle’s din;
All creeds consistent, clear, or simply spelled
Are deemed simplistic, jeered, and quickly quelled.

WHEN FRESHMEN, lured aboard this ship of fools,
Outsoph-o-more the soph’mores at their rules,
Steer blindly toward a still more murky realm,
Though mutinous Scruples battle for the helm,
Their folly they’ll perceive—alas! Too late:
They’ve dragged the whole Republic to their fate;
The faithful, as they’re swallowed by the sea,
Will still salute the Mind that set them free.

sign that reads DANGER: OPEN MIND

sign that reads DANGER: OPEN MIND

How cruel! How closed! their Open did become:
It seized their senses whole, and freezed them numb;
Its fertile calves have borne them sterile fruit,
That, judging nothing “best,” struck Judgment mute.

WHEN BRASH agnostics stifle reasoned thought,
Not scholarship, but censorship, is wrought,
Whose Trojan cows are swift to blind their slaves
To their decline from scholars into knaves.

What bold solutions perished in their sloughs, 
Repressed by these stampeding, roughshod cows?
What untold teachings—subtle, sound, and good—
Were ’xtinguished by such Open Minds as would
Proceed—without examining their worth—
To suffocate and gag them at their birth?

a drawing showing gears pouring out of an open head

a drawing showing gears pouring out of an open head

LET PRUDENCE be our compass, lest Mistake
O’erwhelm us as we founder in her wake;
Let not the future scrawl upon our tomb:
“In opening their minds, they sealed their doom.”

©1978 Paul Franklin Stregevsky 

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