Thursday, July 7, 2011

Intellectual Liberation

Andrew Breitbart, in his Righteous Indignation, describes his intellectual liberation in these words:

I was taking ownership of my own education. Words cannot describe the emancipation I felt to discard those confusing works and philosophers that my gut instinct had told me to reject. Nihilism, after all, is never a comforting companion. I had known it was garbage, but I felt that I couldn't tell a Harvard PhD. that I thought it was garbage. Surely my professors had known something I didn't. Now I was realizing that just wasn't true.

I think his phrase "taking ownership of my own education" is apt. Only when this happens can true education begin. Up until that point, one is at best going through the motions. Taking ownership of education happens when we begin to understand the effects of ignorance, and dread them. We begin to see that ignorance is the worst possible affliction; for in our ignorance, we are not even aware that we are afflicted. Of course, the fact that we begin to understand the nature of our ignorance means that we are already on the road of true education, the only road, the one clearly marked once and for all time by Socrates. Socrates must be the foundation of education because the Socratic experience must be replicated in every soul that hopes to be truly educated.

Another interesting aspect of Breitbart's experience is his deference to the established educational authorities. Surely Harvard PhD's can't be shoveling manure? It is a part of wisdom to be deferential to educational authorities; for if we are ignorant, how shall we know where to learn the truth or even how to recognize it should we encounter it? It takes a wise man to distinguish the wise from the foolish, and since we are by hypothesis without education (prior to going to school), we defer to those reputed to be wise. The diabolical state of our educational system is such that the educational authorities use this very faith to abort true education in its infancy. They use their authority to teach that true education is not really possible (there is no truth) or, what amounts to the same thing, that the wise man is the one who understands that there is no "truth" out there for him to know. The soul awakening to its intellectual possibilities is strangled in its infancy by the very people who should be feeding it.

Fortunately, true education is always a possibility; it only awaits "the occasion" in Kierkegaard's terms. The occasion may be someone who simply does not accept the so-called educational/cultural/political authorities on their terms. He sees that the Emperor has no clothes and says so. Hearing this, we see that our own deference to such authorities is no more than a prejudice; a prejudice worthy in the general case when educational authorities deserve it, but unwarranted in the specific case when they don't, as is the case now. And deference is downright vicious when the authorities use it to maintain the populace in ignorance and slavery, as is also the case now. Breitbart's "occasion" happened when he began to listen to AM talk radio and encountered speakers who had limited academic credentials but simply spoke the obvious truth that the authorities spent their time avoiding.

For me, education didn't really begin until I read Kierkegaard's Concluding Unscientific Postscript. It was then that I began to see my true condition of ignorance, and the fact that I was in unconscious thrall to the "authority" of experts in all things. With Breitbart, I agree that "words cannot describe the emancipation I felt..."

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