March 15, 2012
I once saw a bumper sticker that read “Stupidity Should be Painful”. This was years ago and I still remember it. And agree with it too.
I don’t want to sound like an overeducated snob. But I believe that an electorate that turns solely to Fox News and Rush Limbaugh instead of reading and listening to a variety of news sources and books will be a dumb and irresponsible public. The fact that we live in times where access to information is at its best, there is no excuse to resort to the basest and lowest common denominator, one geared to generating ratings and advertising dollars rather than educating and enlightening it’s viewing and listening audience.
I’m now reading an interesting book by Stephen Greenblatt called The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. The book is about an Italian’s discovery, in Germany in the early 15th century, of an ancient Roman philosophical and epic poem by Lucretius called On The Nature of Things. Lucretius’ manuscript–De Rerum Natura—follows the writings of Epicurus, who told us to enjoy this life, that there was no afterlife, heaven, or eternal punishment in hell. The late Christopher Hitchens, in his book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, often refers to Lucretius and his mentor Epicurus. The latter is now more associated with good living and fine dining than what the original ancient texts were about.
Returning to Greenblatt’s book The Swerve, I was appalled by how early Christians in monasteries erased centuries of learning from the Greek and Mesopotamian cultures. Often this was for a lack of vellum and papyrus, the materials on which the codices or scrolls were written. And, in a more sinister fashion, writing over the older texts—the layering is called a palimpsest—was a way of erasing history and learning so as to obliterate knowledge and promote credence to the early biblical manuscripts early Christian fathers were writing.
Later in the book, Greenblatt talks about how the magnificent, well-organized and scrupulously maintained Great Library in Alexandria, Egypt—then the capital city—was burned and pillaged, not by looters but by illiterate Huns and Christians who believed that the great citadel of learning was the repository of pagan texts. Hypatia, the great female mathematician, astronomer, philosopher and last head librarian of the library in Alexandria met a gruesome death at the hands of a Christian mob who flayed her body with broken shards of pots and shells. Her crime: being an educated woman who had the nerve to have taught other men! Once again, superstition and ignorance ruled the day, and the ancient wisdom—that the earth was round, not flat, geometry, astronomy, algebra, history, poetry, and literature—bequeathed to humanity by the ancient world—was destroyed.
You don’t, however, have to go far back in history to see this kind of ignorance. We see evidence of religious intolerance and superstition every day. I heard it on the news this morning, from a Republican from the south who said she felt it her Christian duty to get rid of a Muslim president. This woman stated: “I really don’t think that a nation that falls on Muslim leadership, potentially, is going to be a nation that’s going to survive.”
Another southerner erroneously stated that Obama shouldn’t have been elected because his father was Kenyan. In fact the Constitution says that only one parent has to be born here. Before making such nonsensical comments, one should know the facts, in this case the U.S. Constitution. Obama’s mother, herself a wonderful and fascinating woman—she was the cover story in a recent New York Times Sunday Magazine — was born in America’s heartland: Wichita, Kansas.
People around the world risk their lives to get the right to vote and to fair elections. Just look at recent elections in Congo or Senegal.
Thomas Jefferson once wrote that “democracy is too important a matter to be left to the people”. When I hear such stupidity on the radio or read it in the newspaper, I’m inclined to agree.
It all takes me back again to what happened to the Great Library of Alexandria.
Tom Schnabel, M.A.
Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Host of music program KCRW 89.9 FM Sundays noon-2 p.m.
Blogs for KCRW (rhythm planet / KCRW)
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons