U2 lead singer Bono once joked, “We started a rock band to avoid college.” No joke. It gave Bono an advantage that few who go to college enjoy.
Bono’s new book Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story was published in December. He’s since been crisscrossing the globe doing interviews, including one in the New York Times. You might find it interesting. I did. Bono’s learned a few things you don’t learn in college.
The first (I’m quoting Bono) “is the off-ramp out of extreme poverty is, ugh, commerce, it’s entrepreneurial capitalism.” You don’t learn this in most American colleges and universities. Capitalism is decidedly uncool. Bono admits to once feeling this way. “I ended up as an activist in a very different place from where I started. I thought that if we just redistributed resources, then we could solve every problem. I now know that’s not true.”
Bono learned this while spending time in countries all over Africa. “They’re like, Eh, we wouldn’t mind a little more globalization actually.” Thomas Pikkety knows why. Capitalism and globalization have created “much more equal societies in terms of political equality, economic equality, social equality, as compared with 100 years ago, 200 years ago.”
You won’t learn this in most American universities, nor will you learn how the medieval church invented capitalism. Yes, we need to tame capitalism according to Bono but coupled with globalization the two have “brought more people out of poverty than any other-ism. If somebody comes to me with a better idea, I’ll sign up. I didn’t grow up to like the idea that we’ve made heroes out of businesspeople, but if you’re bringing jobs to a community and treating people well, then you are a hero. That’s where I’ve ended up.”
That’s where columnist David Brooks has ended up. Last year he confessed to being wrong about capitalism. He made a paradigm shift. Bono’s learned about shifts. In Surrender he writes: “Hard to fix a problem that’s paying everyone’s bills.” That’s Thomas Kuhn’s point in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Societies shift paradigms (underlying assumptions) when a better one come along. But it takes a generation or two as the old paradigm pays everyone’s salaries, from professors to practitioners to pastors.
Bono began shifting paradigms at an earlier age than Brooks. But don’t forget that Brooks went to the University of Chicago, a liberal arts school. Most American colleges and universities are not liberal arts schools. They’re STEM—science, technology, engineering, mathematics. STEM is important, but severed from the arts it amounts to what Philip Rieff called “the higher illiteracy.” This lessens the likelihood of graduates shifting paradigms.
Rieff knew why. A professor at the University of Pennsylvania, he claimed a “radically skeptical knowledge industry [college] has been built upon the ruins of sacred truth.” It’s “the exact equivalent of invincible ignorance.” The result is the higher illiteracy, invincible ignorance that makes it less likely college graduates will ever make any paradigm shifts.
Paradigms shifts ought to be of interest to Christians as Kuhn got the idea from studying Christian conversion. In older Christian traditions, salvation is a series of conversions—we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. Difficult to come into the fulness of salvation if you attended the typical American college or university (or even seminary).
Bono’s salvation has been a series of conversions. His education reminds me to Mark Twain’s quip: Education consists mainly of what we have unlearned. Shifting paradigms involves unlearning, which is why, in avoiding the higher illiteracy, Bono has kept learning.
Next week I’ll tell you how Bono has come to enjoy the higher literacy.
 From the French economist Thomas Pikkety’s interview in The Times Magazine (April 2022).
 Philip Rieff, My Life Among the Deathworks (University of Virginia Press, 2006), xxiii.
 Rieff, Deathworks, 56.