Tuesday,11 December, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1397, (7 - 20 June 2018)
Tuesday,11 December, 2018
Issue 1397, (7 - 20 June 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Ignorance is bliss

Human knowledge and human power meet in one
Human knowledge and human power meet in one

The German philosopher Emmanuel Kant advocated: “Dare to know. Have the courage to use your own reason.”

Of course he was referring to another era, another age, the Age of Reason, of Enlightenment, when philosophers emphasised knowledge and reason as the best method of learning the truth.  How very long ago was that principle that formulated ideals of human dignity and advancement of knowledge.

We have stopped thinking, stopped reasoning, asking questions, seeking the truth. Dead and gone are the great thinkers who embraced knowledge and produced numerous tools, essays, inventions, scientific discoveries, laws, wars and revolutions.  Where are they now, Francis Bacon, Renee Descartes, Galileo, Kepler, those who inherited the depth of human understanding from their forefathers John Locke and Isaac Newton?

Their intellectual movement emphasised reason, knowledge, individualism and scepticism, which eventually made way for two revolutions. The American and French revolutions were inspired and fuelled by the thoughts of Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Diderot and others. Where are they now? Buried with them is the human love of knowledge.

We have replaced knowledge with information. This is the age of information — the digital revolution, characterised by the rapid shift from traditional to information technology.

Do we spend any time thinking, meditating, reasoning, learning, searching and digging for truths? What a waste, when information is so readily available in the palm of our hands, with new techniques, user devices and electronic advances. Why do we need dialogue, human interaction, research, beliefs, ideas, questions, fellowships and mental assistance? Who has the time for all that? We are perfectly happy to be ignorant, for ignorance is bliss and we embrace it with relish. We dub this the age of ignorance.

Left on the edge of darkness, rejecting the gifts of our fathers and forefathers, too busy to explore knowledge and truth, we worship at the altar of technology and enjoy the pleasures of ignorance!

“Thought would destroy their Paradise no more./ When Ignorance is bliss/ ‘tis folly to be wise.”

These words written by the English poet Thomas Gray, (1716-1771), have been misconstrued, misused and abused through the ages. This was his recollection of his youth and peers at Eton, in his “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College”, written in a playful sense of humour. It was certainly not his intent to ennoble ignorance nor defame wisdom. Yet, inadvertently, he has described our age the computer age.

We have embraced ignorance with gusto. It suits our lifestyle to perfection.  “‘Tis folly to be wise”. Rejecting the only true power, which is knowledge, we have based our society on taking care of our finances at work and rushing home to our reliable electronic world.

Drones and robots are on their way to make life even more fascinating. We are too dumb to realise that we have regressed beyond regression itself.

Does Donald Trump, who was so keen on meeting with Kim Jung-un, bother to know anything about Korean culture, philosophy, poetry, culture, food? He does know about his nuclear arsenal.

Do the countries of the EU know about each other’s songs, souls, beliefs? They know what they need to know, trade and commercial exchanges and how it will profit their economies.

How about the UN? Maybe we should forget that, for it is as clear as day that they know nothing about nothing. Happy with their useless chatter at their myriad receptions, they anticipate the financial security of multitudes of their idle personnel.  Ignorance is bliss.

 Do the Muslim terrorists know anything about the religion they fight, kill and die for?  They only know what misguided, ill-informed religious leaders taught them. 

How often, during this holy month of Ramadan, have they escalated their heinous activities and still pray and fast?

As they slaughter a fellow human, in the name of their religion, do they stop to wonder whether that religion condemns taking the life of another human? They are too dumb to learn that their religion advocates love and peace, giving and forgiving, charity and prayer. Yet during this holy month they cut the throat of a brother, watch his blood dripping, in the name of their religion; then they pray.

Our abysmally low quality of life is due to the lack of knowledge of the mind and soul. Technology hypnotises, and the gods of culture have fallen.

Yet knowledge was once revered by societies far less advanced than ours.

Imam Ali (599-661 AD), as recorded in the 10th century book Nahy Al-Balagha, wrote: “Knowledge is power and revered… it is a ruler and wealth its subject.”

Persian poet Al Fardaws, (940-1020 BC) said “Capable is he who is wise. One who has wisdom has power. Human knowledge and human power meet in one.”

In later years Sir Francis Bacon, in 1597, coined the Latin phrase Scientia potesta est, or knowledge is power.

If we consider the necessity of light in our lives, which we cannot live without, so should we consider knowledge, but as the Age of Enlightenment was an intellectual revolt against the Dark Ages, we too are in need of a revolt against our dark, ignorant, blind, isolationist digital age that stifles the growth of the mind.

We pray that during this holy month of Ramadan, all fasting Muslims have acquired the knowledge that it is not only abstinence from food and drink, but we should likewise abstain from all that is foul, deceitful, hurtful and offensive to our fellow human beings.


“Ignorance is not innocence, but sin.”

Robert Browning (1812-1889)

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