Monday, January 30, 2023 Jan 30, 2023
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Who says that intellectual life in America is confined to Berkeley and Greenwich Village? Dallas has a burgeoning universe of poets, prophets, philosophers, gurus, savants, and other assorted thinkers to teach us that learning never stops.

What happens, in time of economic stagnation, to the imagination of a city that look a winged horse as its symbol? What happens to the driving will that created an instant skyline of such remorseless vertical energy? Something good, we think. No, we haven’t lost our senses. We’re just-well, the old Chinese optimist put it best: “A fire has burned my roof; now nothing blocks the moon” We say that the imagination and will and energy are still here, but dwelling in other forms besides skyscrapers and million-acre deals. A city that once was synonymous with proud, aggressive acquisition is now beginning to wonder about the things that can’t be bought in the malls. We’re realizing that we’ve always had a small coterie of intellectuals, to use a much-maligned and often-misunderstood word, who fanned the sparks of mental life in Dallas while most of us were building bonfires to celebrate material gain and economic power. And their numbers are growing. When the real estate index fell through the shining granite floors into the depths of the three-story basement, inquiring minds began to wonder if there were new frontiers not charted by the Dow Jones average. And while in the past they might have been scorned or humored, Dallas intellectuals today are finding larger audiences than ever before. They’re saying, with Socrates, that the unex-amined life is not worth living. In our quest for tough, playful minds asking the eternal questions, we heard the Word; it is not only okay to have brains in Dallas, 1989, it’s downright thrilling to think. About anything whatsoever, in big conferences, in small groups, alone, in board rooms, in the company of Nobel prize winners or reflective athletes. We found ourselves drawn to three high-energy generators of intellectual activity: the human development program at The University of Texas at Dallas; the Isthmus Institute, where thinkers forge new links between science and religion; and The Dallas Institute of Humanities & Culture, which continues, among other valuable activities, its yearly “What Makes a City?” seminars. We talked to Dallas intellectuals ranging from UTD humanist Frederick Turner and architect James Pratt to Texas Rangers pitching coach Tom House. The list of must-talk-to individuals and organizations grew. Finally we had to stop talking and start writing. Here’s what we learned.


VITA Grew up in small black community in Cheyenne; holds degrees from the University of Wyoming; works as title specialist for downtown title insurance firm; his passion is “every aspect of black culture, from Muddy Waters to Malcolm X.”

on black intellectuals “People of color have learned that proving themselves masters of the ideas of Western thought has still not made them accepted as intellectual equals”

on the Third eye “We exist to promote African culture, ancient and modern. The role of the African-American intellectual is to define and interpret that culture.”

on American culture “WASP culture appropriates the elements it chooses from other cultures without giving credit for the sources. Look at the great impact of African music through jazz and blues. The sound of America is black.”

On “Universal” Culture Thinkers like Allan Bloom (The Closing of the American Mind) are “’fighting a rear guard action to preserve the status quo, which emphasizes Anglo-Saxon culture. Their assumption is that people of color haven’t created works that are universal. But the art of all people contains elements that are universal.”

Recently read Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks by Donald Bogle. “He looks at the images of African-American people in American film, from Birth of a Nation to the present. As the title indicates, there are certain enduring stereotypes.”

Key Question “How do we understand the nature of racism and find a structured, analytical way of dealing with it effectively?”

WILLIAM MAY professor of ethics, smu

VITA Holds degrees from Princeton and Yale Divinity School; concentrates on the ethics of the professions because he believes that lawyers, doctors, etc., are the ruling elites in our country. Author of The Physician’s Covenant, 1983.

on academia “The nature of the academy is conservative; most of its members write up to their betters and down to those below them, unlike Renaissance thinkers who would address their fellows as equals.”

on intellectual life In Dallas “The intellectual impulse cannot flower so long as it is harnessed to one particular agenda or another. Men and women in Dallas have been in the traces, moving toward specific goals.”

ON DISCIPLINE “Discipline is essential to all thought. The tribulation, the amount of work and suffering one undergoes is the price one pays to open up a new region or truth.”

RECENTLY READ After Virtue by Alasdaire Macintyre. “Philosophy claims to be universal and ’traditionless,’ as opposed to religious thought, which appears provincial and limited. He shows that philosophy does have a tradition and does not appeal to reason alone,”

KEY QUESTION “How does one’s own private suffering, thirst, and quest connect with that of the community at large?”


VITA Holds degrees from SMU and the University of Dallas; stresses that the institute “focuses on the application of ideas to everyday life.”

ON THE CITY’S CURRENT PROBLEMS “Our economic problems are the result of incredible hubris, and racial strife has followed the same path. We did not find the leadership in Dallas, black or white, to lead the way. Now we are paying.”

ON THE INSTITUTE “We can never tell who will be coming to a specific program. Three-fourths of the people who came to our ’Beyond Medicine’ series I’d never seen in my life. We had doctors, lawyers, midwives, accountants, black people, Asian people. More people came to our classes last year than ever before.”

ON “INTELLECTUALS” She’s leery of the word’s isolated, ivory-tower connotations. “Of course we are here to think. But we encourage people to also think with their hearts because if we do not, a great emptiness, a great ugliness can form.”

RECENTLY READ The Earth Spirit by John Michell, an English architect who argues that all of us who inhabit the earth are integrally related, and that any change affects every part.

KEY QUESTION ’How can we honor and celebrate life, help make the invisible visible, and make a good city-one that is whole and alive?”


VITA Holds degrees from Princeton, Harvard, and the Saybrook Institute; founding member of Isthmus Institute; author of War’s End: The Revolution of Consciousness in the European Community, due out next month.

ON THE FUTURE OF INTELLECTUALS Believes the age of specialization is drawing to a close. “Intellectual people, more and more, are learning they can bypass the boundaries of their particular field, step outside their particular disciplines, and gain from it.”

EGGHEAD JOKE “How many psychiatrists does it take to screw in a light bulb? Just one, but it takes a very long time and the light bulb must truly want to change.”

RECENTLY READ Coming To Our Senses by Morris Berman. “What is truly relevant in our lives are things we feel, not the ideologies we believe.”

KEY QUESTION “How do people transcend their narrow beliefs and transcend the barriers between themselves in order to enlarge themselves?”


VITA Holds degrees from UT-Austin and Harvard; working on history of La Reunion, a European Utopian community that existed along the banks of the Trinity from 1855 to 1857.

ON THE LIFE OF THE MIND IN DALLAS, CIRCA 1940 “We joined Town and Gown and watched Martha Graham wiggle her toe and thought, ’so that’s it.’ SMU and Temple Emanu-El were our centers and the Jewish presence was our saving grace in those days.”

RECENTLY READ City: Rediscovering Its Center by William Whyte, an analysis of urban life in terms of street life and urban places.

KEY QUESTION “How can we construct urbanization for the 21st century in terms of the physical, social, intellectual, political, and moral dimensions?”


VITA Holds degrees from “Yale. Yale, and Yale”; highly popular professor of art history at UT-Austin from 1976 to 1980; former curator, The Art Institute of Chicago.

ON ART“Works of art are the most powerful documents we have. They actually exist and survive, and they need viewers interpreting and saying what they mean to us.”

ON REALITY “My goal is to take the museum from being an incredibly distrustful set of cliques to a place where smart people feel comfortable working with each other. I*m interested in developing a broadly based audience that comes to the museum habitually and for no reason.”

ON THE INTELLECTUAL CLIMATE IN DALLAS “It’s much more interesting than I thought when I came here. But most of the city is blissfully unaware of it.”

RECENTLY READ Byzantium by Michael Ennis: “It’s got the most beautifully written sex and violence of any book I’ve ever read.”

KEY QUESTION “Where were we before we were?”


VITA Native of Scotland; came to Dallas four years ago from Kenyon College in Gambier. Ohio; a rare scholar who bridges and integrates the humanities and sciences; brown belt in karate; boasts that he is a “very married” man.

ON THE LIFE OF THE MIND IN DALLAS “Dallas still hasn’t got the message that the West is in decline. There’s a basic optimism here. The laws are the laws of human desire, not even guided by money because until recently there’s been so much of it.”

ON NEW AGE THINKING “The horrifying thing about New Age or New Wave notions or cosmic this and that is the idea that one can attain insight or satori or anything else without discipline.”

RECENTLY READ Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick. “He looks at systems that don’t operate according to external rules or conditions, but which transform themselves: a hurricane, for example, or the shape of a tree or a coral reef.”

KEY QUESTION “What is beauty? That’s the most difficult philosophical question ever asked. We’ve been trying to answer it for thousands of years.”


VITA Grew up poor on a “sharecropper farm in the middle of nowhere”; holds degrees from UT-Austin and UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas; president and longtime member of the Isthmus Institute. Author of Recovering the Soul, due out next month.

ON HIS PEERS Felt “the unforgiving scrutiny of science” when his books on the role of the mind in holistic health became best sellers. “The conservatism of the scientific community can be absolutely stifling.”ON THE LIFE OF THE MIND IN DALLAS “We have a definite hunger for ideas here. We’re still asking how to explore intellectual issues. That in itself is attractive.”

RECENTLY READ Coming To Our Senses by Morris Berman.

KEY QUESTION “Is the human consciousness primarily a function of the brain, or can it be independent of the body?”


VITA Holds degress from TCU and Vanderbilt; retired chair of the English Department of the University of Dallas, Recently celebrated fifty years of marriage to Dr. Donald Cowan, president emeritus of UD and noted physicist.

ON HER MARRIAGE “Our lives have been a quest for understanding the role of imagination. What changes culture is poetry and science. Philosophy merely examines what already is.”

ON INTELLECTUAL LIFE “You have to believe that contemplation – not education, and not scholarship, but contemplation-can change the world.”

ON MODERN CULTURE “We can’t simply denounce TV and rock music the way Allan Bloom does. We have to look at it and ask what does it all mean?’”

ON THE MEANING OF MTV “I think it means that the Greek god Dionysus has come again. In tragedy he comes to destroy,and in comedy he comes to heal and to restore.”

on the classics “We don’t study the classics to be scholars or so that we can say we’ve read The Iliad. We study them because they’ve proven to be infallible.”

recently read Mama Day by Gloria Naylor. an examination of a community that still practices black magic on an island off South Carolina. Currently rereading Goethe’s Faust.

Key question “it’s not just what is human, but what is the cosmos?”

TOM H0USE PITCHING COACH, TEXAS RANGERS VITA Holds MBA in marketing. Ph.D. in psychology, and two other degrees; compiled 29-21 record, 97 saves, 3.20 ERA in majors, 1970-79; taught at San Diego State University. Author of The Jock’s Itch: The Fast Track World of Pro Baseball, 1988.On HAVing more deGrees than most starting lineups “I did it for my own self-worth. When you’re in a baseball environment you’re challenged by things other than baseball. Sparks fly when you put two unrelated fields together.”

what he tells players “The body is not dumb if you let it be smart.”

on the life of the mind in Dallas Declares it far above what he calls “the West Coast mentality that approaches life like a box of glazed donuts.”

On the Difficulty of discussing Camus in the dugout “You have to communicate in a mode that will be received by the person you’re dealing with. Baseball players expect short words, the liberal use of ’f—’. and lots of physical action.”

recently read Psychoneuroimmunology, edited by Robert Ader. “With any performance aberration, the problem is either psychological, neurological, immunological, or some combination of the above. We must address these facets together, not separately.”

key question “How can we avoid multiplying assumptions beyond what is needed to explain something?”

DR. GEOFFERY STANFORD director emeritus, dallas naturecenter VITA Medical degree from University Hospital, London; held joint appointments at Houston’s School of Public Health and Rice University’s School of Architecture; formed Greenhills Environmental Center, now called Dallas Nature Center. Currently studying native plants, which are “vanishing at an astonishing rate.”

On dallas’s Regard for the Environment “Oh dear, it’s difficult to be diplomatic, but I see very little sensitivity at all.”

on short-sighted thinking “It’s very difficult to plan for three to four generations ahead, when people are starving and our current needs are so great.”

recently read John Gimple’s The Medieval Machine, the storyof the industrial revolution of the Middle Ages.

key question “What the heck are we going to do about overpopulation?”

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