Saturday, June 20, 2009

Vain Intellectuals and Wise Workers

All professions have a tendency toward self-importance. So it should be no surprise that historians have a distinct bias towards eras in which their own forerunners (ancient chroniclers and historians) were existent and employed. Thus, societies without chroniclers are termed “dark ages”. Of course these ages are dark, as in “obscure”, since we necessarily know little about them. But too often, this “darkness” is also given a decidedly judgmental connotation. To many historians, an absence of their own kind must signal social despair and economic desolation. However great the recent dividends of literacy, however, for most of history, literacy has actually been largely a tool for elite domination. It was the literate classes who lorded it over the non-literate classes, using the written language as a class barrier and a tool for greater efficiency in their criminal statecraft.

Another bias of historians is one which they share with all “academics”: one favoring the non-practical studies over the practical. Thus, mankind only really achieved “glory” in the world of thought when they began to contemplate the stars as did the ancient Babylonians or tried to discover laws of nature as did the ancient Greeks. Never mind that the Babylonian priest monitoring constellations did so fed by grain forcefully extracted from a hard-laboring serf. And never mind that the fruits of the astronomer’s labor never resulted in any actual increased prosperity for ancient man. The careful thinking and experimentation of the working man who improved his tools and techniques, thereby increasing his prosperity, is the realm of “science” which did, by far, the most good for mankind; i.e. the woman who figured out a better way of stiching a grain pouch, or the man who judged, based on profit-loss calculations, what was the best price for his wares.

According to these biases, the oppressive regimes of Chinese emperors are glorified because glorious philosophers staffed their mandarinates. The economic stagnation of the Roman Empire is seen as a glorious time of order when the literate classes held their rightful place at the top of the heap. And the amazing industrial revolution of the medieval era which resulted in a tremendous increase in the standard of living, is falsely seen as a dark time of superstition and squalor, since the only deep thinkers of the age (priests and monks) were humiliatingly cloistered.

The cogitations of the learned classes throughout history have been largely vain or pernicious. It is the hard-thinking of the common man trying to improve things for himself and his family (which, in aggregate ends up improving things for everybody) that should be honored.

No comments: