Press on the image to enlarge
To know that knowledge bears the seeking,
Beyond the cave begin the climb,
Evading hints of shadows past,
To search for Forms transcending time.
Perhaps we hope to tread the Mean,
But in which end an end itself?
The happiness of friendship, love,
Or God’s command above all else?
For fear of fearsome consequence
Do heed the providential Lord,
And yet forgiveness can be found
Through faith alone; renounce the sword.
But even as we pace this road
As olden kingdoms form and fall,
There rise divergent modes of power,
Rule absolute and rule by all.
A princely mind weds fox and lion,
The pinnacle of fear’s intent,
The fortress guarding every view,
The might of cruelty well-spent.
And yet some say that can be formed
Contractual obligations stout,
Upholding common will of all
And keeping natural freedoms out.
Those seeking truths empirical,
Direct their gaze to trace the skies,
Ideas ballooning bold and new,
Though exploration has its price.
To reconcile the ravaging
Of distant lands and customs old,
Give sly excuse; this world is New
And ripe for trade, and rife with gold.
The blood of revolution calls
And claims to hallow liberty,
While with selective hands extend
And even while democracy
Brings leveling of old estates,
The industries produce new means
Of reifying class constraints.
For as the sun sets in the west,
No categorical resolve
Can be exhibited until
The white man’s rights are rights of all.
So plod we still toward the light
With guidance all along the way,
Foundations for to illustrate
A future that outshines today.
One of the most transformative classes for me over the course of my years at Columbia was Contemporary Civilization. The often opposing theories of philosophy and politics in CC's curriculum put incredible pressure on my comfort analyzing viewpoints that conflicted at times with my own beliefs. It was arguably one of the most difficult classes I've taken here. But, I felt coming out of the experience that it equipped me with not only formal frameworks to consider the contemporary sociopolitical landscape, but also, more importantly, a willingness to challenge my own point of view.
This pairing of poem and pen-and-ink drawing is meant to reflect the progression of thought across the CC syllabus. The poem is structured in rhymed quatrains, each alluding to one or more of the works we read in CC. The journey begins with Plato, then crosses to Aristotle, the Bible, and various political theorists (Machiavelli, Hobbes, Rousseau, Locke). I also gesture towards the Scientific Revolution, the "New World" explorers, the French Revolution, Marx, and Kant--offering a critical stance on some of these philosophies at the point of their contact with various social issues.
I believe that studying CC is an opening of the mind. The purpose of such an exercise should be, in my opinion, to synthesize the vast collection of thought that we read in order to continue improving upon our civilizations today. And so, I've depicted the course as a winding path, upon which one accumulates knowledge with each step. The destination is somewhere far beyond the thinkers on the syllabus because it is ours to find.
About Jane Yu
Jane Yu is a senior (Class of 2017) in Columbia College, double-majoring in Economics and English. After taking CC as a sophomore, Jane spent a year abroad at Oxford through the Oxbridge Scholars program studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. She is particularly interested in the power of literature and other narrative forms in shaping human behavior and the progress of civilization.