Essay - Jason Kintzel

Jason Kintzel of Arete '91 was a combination of IQ and emotional trauma. Our future Arete web site chief engineer was a full dose participant in the history, archaeology and fun, the laughter and appreciation of incredible beauty that we experienced, when he wasn't in a phone booth as a love starved pup trying to reach his girlfriend back home. Or replacing "foreign" food on his plate with a special flight to a bakery up the street for bread. His wonderful sense of humor delights me to this day. And his on-going contribution to the Arete web site is unsurpassed.

Jason tells of his academic education in this way ---- "University of California, Davis, B.S. Civil Engineering, while taking one class every quarter that was NOT engineering - such as history, mythology, German, etc. Summer internships in Munich (construction) and near St. Gallen, Switzerland (quality control). University of Colorado, Boulder, M.S. Civil Engineering."

Professional life? "One year of forensic engineering and thirteen of structural engineering consulting, designing everything from home additions to new medical centers, from 3,000 feet below ground to stone veneer anchor systems on high rises."

Jason is married, lives in Colorado with his wife, daughter and triplets, loves to hike in the Rocky Mountains as well as address serious ideas about our complicated world.

Thank you so much, Jason.

Bill Taylor

Arête for the Future

Driving home from work on the Diagonal Highway between Boulder and Longmont there is invariably some fool driving 10 mph below the speed limit in the fast lane, uncertain which button does what on their cell phone and too oblivious or inconsiderate of the line of cars behind them to actually drive like a normal person. Unfortunately, my observation is that this person is normal, if you consider normal to be what the majority of people do. When my sister once justified her driving by saying that everyone else did the same thing, and I asked her why her not being the only idiot on the road should make things any better, she had no reply. I, of course, do stupid things too – which is only indirectly related to the next sentence.

Not too long ago my wife and I were blessed with the birth of our daughter - Samantha. Every parent knows that she is observing and emulating everything we do – good and bad. Try though I might, it’s impossible to actually think about everything I do as I do it, requiring me to fly on autopilot most of the time, behaving in the ways I have learned throughout my life to date. Millions of people the world over undoubtedly are in the same situation, including a fair number of wackos. So here’s the essence of my question - If I teach my daughter to function and think basically the same way that I do, how am I any better than the fundamentalist extremists who teach their kids the same things that they learned when they were growing up? Perhaps because my world view is inclusive rather than exclusive, because I don’t teach hatred and murder as valid means of self expression, or because I value rather than fear diversity of thought and opinion??? That’s great, but I’m sure “they” have plenty of justification for their opinions of the world too.

My thoughts here turn to the Twilight Zone and Nietzsche. One of my favorite episodes has an advanced alien race return to Earth eons after having accelerated our evolution. After meeting with them, the leaders of all nations settle their disputes and there is finally Peace On Earth. The aliens have a good laugh – they wanted warring species – and destroy the Earth immediately. New perspectives can change the world (or at least our perception of it) in an instant. Some people overemphasize how much 9/11 changed America’s outlook on the world, and many people underemphasize that we’re not the only big kid on the block anymore. Both offer perspectives of the world that I have to teach my daughter how to assimilate and value appropriately. Which brings me to Nietzsche, who would question whether even the Twilight Zone twist on outcomes actually changes anything in the course of action which one ought to pursue in life – i.e. to what extent good and evil are independent of time and place. Other than simple things such as the pure joy expressed by one of Samantha’s giggles, there are few things in life which can be defined as purely good or purely evil. In my understanding of the world, attempts to make the world fit such a rigid mold (“I don’t do nuance”) are doomed to failure, even with the resources of the most powerful nation on Earth behind you.

Most of us do not have tremendous resources at our disposal, other than some mental resources, should we choose to use them. Those of us who participated in Arete were particularly fortunate in having our horizons expanded and our perceptions challenged at an early age. This is the central challenge ahead of my wife and I - how can we provide Samantha a firm foundation and remove the blinders from her eyes, without simultaneously knocking her feet out from under her? OK – she’s only a year old, but next time I blink she’ll be 16 and beyond my control.

“…one must learn to see, one must learn to think, one must learn to speak and write” – Nietzsche, of course, though these elements were central to the ancient Greek schools and our Arete experiences as well. Implicit in learning these basic, yet often overlooked, skills is the development of self discipline, motivation, and the character required to fully engage with mentors and competitors. If I can demonstrate these tenets for Samantha sufficiently that this is what she emulates and internalizes, I will consider myself a successful parent, having prepared her for life’s challenges and opportunities to the extent that any one person (even a parent) can influence another.

In my own life, having traveled with Arete I was confident that I could, and was anxious to, explore new areas on my own, and I did – learning to speak German & obtaining internships in Munich and Switzerland, in addition to earning engineering degrees. Provided with the opportunity to take a month-long vacation with Emily & Samantha in 2007, we chose to go to Europe and reconnect with the friends I’d made years ago. They all welcomed us into their homes, and also asked us hard questions about American politics. While I found it challenging to explain (not necessarily defend) many of our government’s actions, in German, in a way that they would understand, it is for exactly this type of interaction that I have maintained these connections and planted the seeds for future exchanges. I look forward to going back again, when Samantha is old enough to communicate on her own, so that her perspectives and perceptions of the world can be expanded and challenged. I hope that when she’s old enough, there is an Arete program or a Thinking Beyond Borders or something which similarly supports and challenges her, so that she too can learn to question herself and the world around her and come up with her own perspectives. And I hope that when she finds that doorway to the broader world, we as parents have adequately prepared her for it. I don’t know yet exactly what that means, or how I will introduce her to Nietzsche, Serling, Kundera, Socrates & many more – but I am thinking about it, as frequently as I can make room for it in the midst of life with a toddler (and now triplets too).

Does having been exposed to more of the world than most Americans (through Arete and my other choices since), gained perspective & wisdom in my travels and conversations, and now actively attempting to raise my daughter according to the best things I’ve learned, make me better than that oblivious idiot driver going s-l-o-w in the fast lane? Perhaps not, but I still wish they would get out of my way.

Jason Kintzel
January 2008