Eliot’s Wisdom

As mentioned in an earlier blog, I am re-reading Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, in which I have found much to reflect upon. In point of fact, I found this brief epigraph to Chapter 21 especially noteworthy and decided to pass it along by way of giving those who are unfamiliar with this remarkable woman’s insightful novels a taste of what they are missing. It deals with the power of ignorance and, like so much of what Eliot has to say, is a very timely comment indeed.

“It is a common sentence that Knowledge is power; but who hath duly considered or set forth the power of Ignorance? Knowledge slowly builds up what Ignorance in an hour pulls down. Knowledge, through patient and frugal centuries, enlarges discovery and makes a record of it; Ignorance, wanting its day’s dinner, lights a fire with the record and gives it a flavor to its own roast with the burnt souls of many generations. Knowledge, instructing the sense, refining and multiplying needs, transforms itself into skill and makes life various with a new six days’ work; comes Ignorance drunk on the seventh, with a firkin of oil and a match and an easy ‘Let there not be’ — and the many-colored creation is shrivelled up in blackness. Of a truth, Knowledge is power, but it is a power reined by scruple, having a conscience of what must be and what may be; whereas Ignorance is a blind giant who, let him but wax unbound, would make it a sport to seize the pillars that hold up the long-wrought fabric of human good and turn all the places of joy dark as a buried Babylon. And looking at life parcel-wise, in the growth of a single lot, who having a practiced vision may not see that ignorance of the true bond between events, and a false conceit of means whereby sequences may be compelled — like that falsity of eyesight which overlooks the gradation of distance, seeing that which is far off as if it were within a step or a grasp — precipitates the mistaken soul on destruction.”

We talk so much about the failure of the schools and read best-sellers like Idiot America by Charles Pierce and The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein that make abundantly clear how lively the “blind giant” is among us. And yet we fail to acknowledge what Eliot points out in this passage: the “pillars that hold up the fabric of human good” (not to mention the planet itself) are seriously threatened while we watch the latest TV show or catch up with our friends on their Facebook page. We may not know quite what to do about the current state of things, but the first step in any attempt to put the blind giant to rest is to pay attention and not pretend that if we ignore them, problems will go away by themselves.


10 thoughts on “Eliot’s Wisdom

  1. your closure is so very true; when i go back to the ‘states for a visit, i experience touches of reverse culture shock. words fail me when i witness people scheduling their day around a sitcom on television, and what happened on last week’s episode is the most-popular topic of conversation – or when someone boasts that they’ve never read an entire book in his/her life. i ponder, are they boasting about the latter or maybe their confession marks a step into a new direction, a renaissance.

    a renaissance – how can we kick off a renaissance and help people awaken what’s lying dormant inside of them?

    thanks for the food for thought! i’ll be travelling today an will ponder your words.

  2. In my opinion, we’ve come to honor ignorance, take pride in our lack of knowledge, boast of not knowing what we don’t know. I continually recall the 2008 elections, and the attacks on Obama by Palin, accusing him of being an “elitist” because he had an education, and was a lawyer. She, and the subsequent TeaParty became leaders of the “ignorance is good” movement, taking pride in their stupidity. Z paints a picture, above, of what its like to walk our streets, to overhear others, to be part of empty conversations about last night’s TV, or the latest sports scandal.

    Thanks for sharing Eliot.

    • Presumably it started in the 1950s when Adlai Stevenson was called an
      egghead” and this was followed by the SDS and other radical groups telling everyone to distrust anyone over 30. The anti-intellectual ethos now permeates this culture.

  3. Well said, Hugh, by both you and Eliot. We’ve been getting hit with a double-prong of ignorance, both the deliberate anti-science/anti-intellectual form that often flares in short-term, politically motivated ways; and the longer-term, apathetic form that leads to the erosion of so much that “knowledge has built up.”

  4. Of course, keeping your people ignorant is a way of controlling them. This is a key reason extremists don’t want people reading so they can tell you what to believe. It is terribly ironic that some of the greatest mathematical thoughts came from the Middle East and now there are countries that have high illiteracy rates.

    And, now it takes effort and analysis to discern between misinformation, disinformation and facts. So, when pols equate something they don’t like with Apartheid or Nazism, some people take that BS hook, line and sinker.

    Happy New Year, Professor.

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