The Three Roads
The book I’m supposed to be plotting resembles a vast desert sprinkled with various artifacts — a couple of characters here, some dialogue over there, an enchanted swan in the distance — with nothing but echoing emptiness between. The part of my mind that’s supposed to be dedicated to writing seems to be skittering merrily around, pulling up bits of old stories and chattering about current events. Hence this irrelevant and probably unimportant meditation on Thomas the Rhymer, the Wise and Foolish Virgins, and what I am reliably assured is a college loan crisis.
My favorite bit of Thomas the Rhymer is where the Queen of Elfland points out the three roads to him:
“O see ye not yon narrow road,
So thick beset with thorns and briers?
That is the path of righteousness,
Though after it but few enquires.
“And see ye not that braid braid road,
That lies across that lily leven?
That is the path of wickedness,
Though some call it the road to heaven.
“And see ye not that bonny road,
That winds about the fernie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland,
Where thou and I this night maun gae.”
I’m not happy with the notion that many recent college graduates are struggling with a debt burden that may preclude their ever achieving financial security or buying a house. Who could be? And it’s all very well to say, “They shouldn’t have made the stupid decision to go hundreds of thousand dollars into debt just so they could get a degree in international ecological puppet theater studies.” Eighteen-year-olds make bad decisions, and this crop of kids had a lot of helpers leading them down the braid, braid road; government, banks, and college administrators, for a start. Perhaps those of us who were always, from the beginning, committed to the bonnie road to fair Elfland should not be too critical.
But I’m equally uncomfortable with the idea of wiping out those debts by fiat. Doesn’t that effectively mean that the losses will be made good by people who had nothing to do with the original bad bargain? People who decided to settle for a college they could afford, or decided they didn’t need to go to college at the current prices? People who majored in a subject that would lead to a decent job after graduation even if being an accountant hadn’t been a lifelong dream, and pursued their interest in astrological divination studies only as a spare-time hobby? Or the overwhelming majority of taxpayers for whom the question never even came up?
It’s as if Jesus had commanded the wise virgins to fork over half their supplies of oil to light the lamps of the foolish virgins.
So… what is appropriate to do? Is there any way to help the kids who made dumb decisions without penalizing those who were more responsible?