Back in the 60's, there were a lot of "radical students" out there. You'd see them almost every night on the news: long-haired college kids who were quite angry at the establishment. They shouted and protested a lot and got violent or destructive sometimes.
Most of those radical students have grown up and are comfortably established within the very establishment that they once hated so much. I wasn't really one of those students, although I sympathized with some of their views (and still do). Today, I'm no longer a "student" in the sense of being enrolled in a formal institution of higher learning. So why do I call myself an "eternal student", maybe even a "radical student", when I'm mostly a short-haired, increasingly grey-haired, responsible middle-class citizen stuck in a bureaucratic career?
Well, the bottom line is that I like learning about things. In effect, I never got out of college. Elementary school and high school were a drag for me; I didn't like being forced to learn things. But college was a place where it was voluntary; no one was forcing me to go to college. So I learned to like the act of learning.
To me, the world has become one big college campus. Joseph Campbell said to follow your bliss, and my bliss has turned out to be the act of learning. Learning to me is not just the accumulation of facts and experiences; it's a matter of finding new concepts, questioning old concepts, and expanding how much and how deeply I understand things. What kind of things? All sorts of things: science, philosophy, law, psychology, religion, politics, the arts, economics, individual people, etc.
Thus, I now call myself an eternal student of and for life. You might think that I'm also a teacher, but I'm not. I've tried teaching, but I just don't do that very well. To me, learning is where the fun is. You might also wonder if I'm one of those born geniuses, those high-IQ types who only needed to attend 3 lectures and skim the textbook in college to get an A. Wrong again; I'm not Mensa material at all. I had to work for every A that I got, and I didn't always get As. But I did work hard in college because it was a personal thing.
As to being a "radical student": back in the 1960s a "radical" was thought of as someone who throws firebombs or buckets of blood at bureaucratic functionings, e.g. police stations or the draft board. Radicals were unkept, misguided, over-educated people who were not far from terrorists, perched on the same ladder of fanaticism and violence. But words get corrupted. I use the word "radical" in its more original sense, i.e. "of or pertaining to roots or origins; existing inherently in a thing or person". Just as light beams RADIate from the sun, the sun is a RADIcal source of light. In the same sense, studying and learning is the radical source of fun and joy in my life.
Studying and thinking and learning are my world view, my metaphysics. They are my passion, what I really feel deep inside of me (yea, I know, maybe it's just Aspergers). Most people seem to be in favor of learning, but use it mostly as a means to gain some other end, i.e. money and power. And those are means to having the kinds of experiences that you want to have. By contrast, I see it the other way around. Money and power and experiences are nice, but they are mainly valuable for the learning that might be gained from them. Without a paradigm of understanding, human experiences are just another form of tourism in my book.
You're probably thinking that it's nice that I like to learn, but other than getting my jollies, what good does it do for the community, for the human race? Good point. There is a side to me that wants to help the world. When I was in grammar school and high school, I wanted to live a life that would be fun for me. But during my junior and senior years in college (engineering school), I got a deep feeling about the "meta-principles" behind what I was being taught, i.e. reason, rationality and logic, i.e. critical thinking. I felt deep in my bones that this was what could save the world. And that I had a sacred duty to help spread it throughout the world. Yea, it was a religious feeling. And I'd like to think that I have done a few things in my time to help fulfill that mandate, even if it hasn't been nearly enough.
And what about religion? Do I go to church regularly? (No, but if I ever find a community of people like me, I will start going again). Do I believe in God? I wish that I could say "yes, definitely". I WANT there to be a loving God behind it all. I want there to be a kinder and gentler (and more intelligent) life after death. And I believe in the duty to help make this world kinder, gentler and more intelligent. I pray every day. And I do what I can to promote kindness and gentility.
But yes, sometimes I get that scary feeling (similar to looking over a high, steep cliff) that maybe there isn't a God. The best I can say is that this world seems like a place that should have a God behind it. And sometimes I can almost see or hear that God in the truly beautiful and meaningful things that happen during the course of a lifetime. But looking at all the evil and pain and suffering, all the hopeless lives, all the coldness of death, I wonder how a loving God could let things get this bad. What is the point of so much suffering, so many broken souls, so much death? There well may be a reason -- just because I can't figure out special relativity doesn't mean that Einstein was wrong, and just because I can't figure out why the world is the way it is doesn't mean that there isn't a "meta-Einstein" behind it.
Even though I'm a techie, I do believe in "love and emotion". But love gets unstable and destroys itself if not tempered by logic and rationality (just as logic and rationality become self-destructive without love). I honestly believe that the enrichment of the mind is ultimately the best road to human progress, to peace, harmony, and human fulfillment, to a love that can be spoken of without embarassment. When study and learning lead to wisdom, the path (hopefully) leads to God. I think that Hillel, the great first century Jerusalem rabbi who died close to the time when Jesus was born, said something like that.
There is a dark side to my passion for learning. In a metaphysical sense, it seems to endorse a mind-body dualism, an attitude that the things of the body are bad and that only the things of the mind are good. It seemingly disregards the arts and denigrates the emotions in favor of cold, harshly rational judgements. It ignores sports and the fun that millions get from pushing their bodies to the limit (or, more likely, watching the pros do it for them). I will be the first to admit that this has been a problem in my life.
But if learning becomes true wisdom, then the conflicts between the body and the mind may diminish, and the emotions can be accepted and embraced since they can no longer enslave you. Wisdom is the parent of both the arts and the academic world, and the stadium and gymnasium as well.
As to living life with one's nose in a book, I can think of worse places to keep one's nose.
I also consider myself to be a conservative. I seek to "conserve" those good things that humankind, in it's 10,000 or so years on earth has come up with. E.g., justice, democracy, kindness, respect, family relationships, and religion -- well, maybe not everything about religion, but there's still a lot of good in it. Whenever a government seeks to change things, I instinctively ask "is this really necessary? is this really going to make things better?"
But I'm not a "hide-bound" conservative. I consider myself to be a fairly liberal conservative. When there's a good answer to the question as to why things have to change, or why new things have to be started, then I'm all for them.
On this web site (and my corresponding blog), I'd like to share some of the things that I've discovered, and share my thoughts about being "radical" and yet being conservative.
So, here's a list. As Thomas Huxley said, "Try to learn something about everything and everything about something."
. . . if you'd like to talk about this: eternalstudent404 AT gmail DOT com
"Education in the critical faculty [of independent thinking] is the only education of which it can be truly said that it makes good citizens." William Graham Sumner