A specially outfitted ship ventures into deep ocean waters in search of oil, increasingly difficult to find. Lines of authority aboard the ship become tangled. Ambition outstrips ability. The unpredictable forces of nature rear up, and death and destruction follow in their wake. “Some fell flat on their faces,” an eyewitness reported of the stricken crew. “Through the breach, they heard the waters pour.”
“Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.” — “Moby-Dick”
The words could well have been spoken by a survivor of the doomed oil rig Deepwater Horizon, which exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April, killing 11 men and leading to the largest oil spill in United States history. But they come instead, of course, from that wordy, wayward Manhattanite we know as Ishmael, whose own doomed vessel, the whaler Pequod, sailed only through the pages of “Moby-Dick.”
“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” –George Santayana. OK, Moby Dick was not history. It was historically accurate for 1851, the year it was written. And proof enough that 160 years later, we are still chasing oil that we can’t live without. Another reminder that a classical education was not the failure we thought in the 1960s–when we shifted to teaching to the test, to training for a profession or a trade. A classical education taught students how to think, not what to think. A classical education taught philosophy and encouraged discussion so ideas could be tested. In all the furor over how to solve the Deepwater Horizon spill, I think the best answer is to bring back a classical education.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer and artist who had a classical education and has never regretted one day of it.