Published Humanitas, Volume XXII, Nos. 1 and 2, 2009

“An Education” 2009. Director Lone Scherfig. Scriptwriter Nick Hornby. Producers Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey.

Christianity and the classical heritage taught men and women to strive for a better life but to have modest hopes. The reason why we cannot look forward to a vastly improved worldly existence is that human beings—we ourselves in particular—are flawed creatures. We have to learn to deal with the consequences. We must not forget that this, not some imaginary utopian alternative, is the life we have to live. We should accept it and make the most of it.

But for over two centuries Western culture has generated the sentiment that the life in which we find ourselves is nothing compared to what might be. A longing for human existence to turn into something quite different and glorious has produced a tendency to disparage the possibilities of ordinary life. Instead of giving our actual lives our best effort, we moan because dreamt-of possibilities are out of reach. Novels, paintings, compositions, movies, and popular songs have depicted the depredation and pain of a narrow-minded, cramped, routinized, boring, oppressive society, and the thrill of a hoped-for liberation. The desire for sexual excitement and freedom has been pervasive. The imagination has tended to wander from tasks and opportunities actually at hand to visions of the human condition transformed. Political ideologues have catered to and encouraged the daydreamer in Western man, offering a magnificent future in which present limitations have been overcome and human beings can realize their fondest hopes. A wonderful fulfillment would be possible, if only . . .

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