By Chris MeadHello from Walter Mead’s younger brother Chris. On my last birthday I found a large crate at my house, courtesy of Walter. Now I’m stuck with a large four-legged creature for a good portion of the rest of my life. (Walter is afraid I will send him a monkey in revenge for Riley, the Black Lab now sleeping near this computer.)Walter’s had the best of me before. We had a heated intellectual argument when I was 13 and Walter was 14 or 15. Who was the better artist? Bob Dylan, said Walter. Gary Lewis and the Playboys, said I.But sometimes I win. Once, when I was about 18 months old and Walter’s only rival for our parents’ affection, he enticed me toward him. “Here, Chris,” said my three-year-old brother sweetly. Between us were a dozen or so thumbtacks he had carefully set up for me. Fortunately, Mom happened by, swooped down, and saved me.Walter grew up to be much nicer than he was on that particular day. He became an intellectual with a large helping of common sense. In fact, something he said to me around a decade ago still resonates with me. It sheds light, for me, on Roger Berkowitz’s eloquent plea on Via Meadia for better teaching, and less micro-specialization, at universities and colleges. Walter was at a gathering of people who were discussing the economy. There were perhaps two dozen people on the stage. Each was asked to talk for just a couple of minutes on the economic situation.Everyone had intelligent things to say, Walter said. But only a couple of them made jokes. These, not by coincidence, were the famous ones. These were the specialists who had somehow found a way to appeal to and connect with the public.It may be too much for us to expect every economist to be funny, or every professor to have a bestselling book. Sometimes we rely on others to distill the findings of people who are uncovering specialized information. To me, one of the best of these is Steven Pinker, whose The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined is a remarkable synthesis of hundreds of historical and behavioral studies, ultimately making a convincing case that people are nicer than they used to be, and getting nicer by the decade.Pinker’s thesis is counterintuitive. With the help of the news media in particular, we tend to think our society is going to the dogs. Pinker says that somehow we are going in the opposite direction, becoming kinder and gentler, less violent, less criminal, less discriminatory.My favorite book of Walter’s, Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World, has a similar command over myriad items of information. It shows how contending factions in American history managed to shape a successful foreign policy in a raucous, democratic way, without many “geniuses” on the order of Metternich or Talleyrand or Bismarck.Neither Steven Pinker nor Walter Mead would be able to make their interesting cases without a large number of scholars toiling away on campuses to dig up information for the ultimate benefit of others. Many of these scholars have been in the humanities or the social sciences. More power to them.That said, if a scholar can communicate well only to a handful of other scholars, and not very well to students or to the public, then that academic had better be learning something important. This may be difficult to judge, but if tax dollars are involved, a measure of scrutiny is absolutely fine with me.Ultimately, we need more people who can relate one specialty to others, who can connect their streams of data points to some river of meaning, who can swim a ripple or two ahead of Google. We need people who can think and who can express clearly what they think. We need…better people.Fortunately, Steven Pinker says, we are actually becoming better people. We are getting smarter. We are showing more empathy. And we’re nicer.I’ve been looking at some of these things myself. In the coming ten days, I’ll be writing about local business organizations and their involvement with their communities and economies in a way that I hope will illuminate a street light or two along Via Meadia.As for empathy: Walter, I forgive you for the thumbtacks and the dog. What kind of monkey would you like?