Created in 2015 for Frank Santoro’s Correspondence Course, with May FlowersShannon Wright took the principles that Frank teaches and implemented them in a gorgeous fashion, really setting the bar a full notch higher.
Unfortunately, today many of our schools are failing to teach our history, including our founding principles and values and instead teach revisionist and politically correct history. As a result, they are really missing out on the basics of what it means to be an American.
With the pushing through of Common Core, history is becoming more and more twisted, and our children will have no idea of the real truth.
A few months ago, at the Bushcraft School, I put down the book I was reading, and while I wasn’t looking a goat ate the cover. Ever since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about the fragility of knowledge.
Our society is, in a major sense, built out of knowledge. There’s a sense in which our society is located in books. Books contain the blueprints for building all the material technologies that shape the world as we know it: buildings, cards, roads, computers, and so on. Books also contain the mathematical and engineering principles that allow those technologies to be designed in the first place.
And at a more abstract level, books contain the ideas that keep society running. Our society is built on explicit philosophical principles, and books teach people these things. And on a deeper level, our society is built on certain mindsets, certain fundamental values, assumptions, and ways of perceiving the world. All of this, again, is at least partially transmitted by books.
The material world forms a feedback loop with the knowledge that sustains it. Without knowledge, we couldn’t build buildings and roads and cars and infrastructure. And what I’ve come to realize is, without buildings and roads and infrastructure, we couldn’t maintain knowledge. Books are fragile. Left in the wrong place, a goat can eat them. Left in a damp environment, they grow mold. Books need a climate-controlled environment to survive. A dirt-floored post-apocalyptic hovel might not be enough.
And digital information is, if anything, worse. CDs can get scratched; hard drives can get destroyed. Data storage relies on having multiple backups and copies of things. And even if you manage to maintain the data, you need equipment for reading it. Which is already a problem in this age of rapid technological development. In a post-apocalyptic scenario, how would we maintain the technological devices needed to preserve our culture’s knowledge?
Looking at society as it exists today, I have a new appreciation for academia and these other disciplines devoted to discovering and preserving knowledge. What seems, at the outset, to be a pointless and masturbatory activity (who needs a PhD in English literature?) starts to seem essential and profound. We have so much knowledge, and it’s impossible to know which pieces are essential for keeping society running. So let’s hire people to discover and transmit the things that have been learned and studied and written throughout the ages. It’s not a useless waste of time to devote one’s life to knowledge, instead of to e.g. building things with one’s hands. The latter flows from the former; it is knowledge that allows all our technologies to exist.
I guess this is the mindset I was raised with, by parents who loved science and saw knowledge as essential. Knowledge was what lifted us up and allowed society to progress.
And I guess I became skeptical because… perhaps there’s a point at which too much knowledge is bad for us. When we’ve gotten to a point where our knowledge lets us build atomic bombs, or create human-level AIs, then maybe it’s time to question our childlike beliefs that all knowledge is good, and more is always better.
But that doesn’t mean we need to dismiss knowledge altogether, or to claim it’s inherently dangerous or unimportant. Everything we have, everything we know, is built on the knowledge that our society has developed.
And it’s all so fragile. It would all be so easy to lose. In the face of material disaster, there would be no way to preserve all the knowledge we’ve cultivated over the centuries. It could all so easily be lost, and then we would have no way to rebuild our world.
I guess I just have a newfound reverence for books as vehicles for knowledge, and for the people who devote their lives to cultivating these things.