My, My, My. Aren’t We All So Bright Now

I vaguely recall reading in a book by some neoliberal court singer for the technocratic leaders of the New Feudal Order here in the United States (Pinker? Friedman? Gladwell?) the claim that a single issue of the Sunday New York Times contains more information than a person who lived in the pre-industrial era encountered in a lifetime.


My grandfather on my mother’s side had a third-grade, one-room-schoolhouse education. But he could make lye soap from water and wood ash and tallow. He could make hominy from water and lye and corn. He could dig a well and install a pump. He could, and did, build houses and barns and smokehouses with his own hands. He knew the common names and practical uses of thousands of wild plants. He knew the habits of creatures wild and domestic. He was on an intimate basis with insects, fish, fowl, and four-legged creatures of enormous variety. He could kindle a fire without matches and bake in a hole in the ground in the woods. He knew which mushrooms and berries were edible and which would kill you and which could be made into tea or a smoke or a poultice or a medicine for a headache. And he could take you right to them. He was a master mason. He could survive outdoors in conditions that would kill most people. He could clean and sew up and dress a wound. He could tell you precisely how, when, where, and why to plant a wide variety of crops and how to tend, harvest, cure, and preserve them. He could tan a hide and sew a garment. He could train a dog or a mule. He knew what woods were good for what purposes (this one for a bow; this one for the handle of a hammer) and how to harvest and cure and shape and join them. He could make a sweet-smelling chest out of cedar joined with precise dados. He could make a knife from scratch that was sharp and strong as any you might purchase from a fine culinary supply. He could make his own tools and keep them in pristine working order. He could sharpen. He could make, from scratch, sauerkraut and sausages and cheeses and liquor in delightful variety. He could bake a fine pie. He could use the sun or the stars to find his way. He could build a sundial and tell the time from it. He could explore the deepest caves without getting himself killed. He could take a walk in the woods, find a queen bee, and go back and establish a hive. He could build a boat or whirligig or a fully-furnished dollhouse. He could make fireworks. He could hybridize and graft. He could build a kiln, an oven, a barbecue, an irrigation system. He could tell you a thousand stories and recite or sing for you a thousand songs and rhymes. He could tell what a hog or a mule or a chicken was thinking and predict what she was going to do.

Try to get all that in an issue of the Times.

Be careful about buying the hype from neoliberals and technocrats, who typically overestimate what they know vis-à-vis everyone else.

For other essays (and cartoons!) by Bob Shepherd on philosophical subjects, go here:

About Bob Shepherd

interests: curriculum design, educational technology, learning, linguistics, hermeneutics, rhetoric, philosophy (Continental philosophy, Existentialism, metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology, ethics), classical and jazz guitar, poetry, the short story, archaeology and cultural anthropology, history of religion, prehistory, veganism, sustainability, Anglo-Saxon literature and language, systems for emergent quality control, heuristics for innovation
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