language

  1. To be an Athenian is to hold knowledge and, especially, the quest for knowledge in high esteem. To contemplate, to reason, to experiment, to question - these are, to an Athenian, the most exalted activities a person can perform. To a Visigoth, the quest for knowledge is useless unless it can help you to earn money or to gain power over other people. To be an Athenian is to cherish language because you believe it to be humankind’s most precious gift. In their use of language, Athenians strive for grace, precision, and variety. And they admire those who can achieve such skill. To a Visigoth, one word is as good as another, one sentence indistinguishable from another. A Visigoth’s language aspires to nothing higher than the cliché. To be an Athenian is to understand that the thread which holds civilized society together is thin and vulnerable; therefore, Athenians place great value on tradition, social restraint, and continuity. To an Athenian, bad manners are acts of violence against social order. The modern Visigoth cares little about any of this. The Visigoths think of themselves as the center of the universe. Tradition exists for the own convenience, good manners are an affectation and a burden, and history is merely what is in yesterday’s newspaper. To be an Athenian is to take a interest in public affairs and the improvement of public behavior. Indeed, the ancient Athenians had a word for people who did not. The word was idiotes, from which we get our word “idiot”. A modern Visigoth is interested only in his own affairs and has no sense of the meaning of community. And, finally, to be an Athenian is to esteem the discipline, skill, and taste that are required to produce enduring art. Therefor, in approaching a work of art, Athenians prepare their imagination through learning and experience. To a Visigoth, there is no measure of artistic excellence except popularity. What catches the fancy of the multitude is good. no other standard is respected or even acknowledged by the Visigoth.
    Neil Postman