'Tis Folly to Be Wise


Column by Paul Hein.

Exclusive to STR

The old saw doesn’t say it’s blissful to be ignorant, or even that it’s folly to be wise, but rather, that IF ignorance is bliss, then wisdom becomes folly. That makes a lot more sense.

We saw this axiom in action in a recent presidential campaign. The only candidate whose opinions reflected wisdom was Ron Paul, and the establishment—the “right-thinkers” of the media--thought his candidacy folly, and those who might vote for him, fools. Ignorance was their bliss.

Similarly, we can turn on the television at almost any hour and find adults, all of whom, I am sure, completed grade school, or even high school or college, expounding at great length, and with great emphasis, upon nonsense. Of late, the media-mouths have blabbered on endlessly about the impending flu pandemic, despite scanty, if any, evidence that a pandemic is in the offing. Don’t these folks recall the bird-flu epidemic that was about to decimate us, or the near eradication of mankind due to AIDS, or Ebola, or the killer bees, or the cranberry scare, or the pollution of our tuna with mercury, or our apples with Alar? It’s amazing we survived!

And to the extent--obviously very great--that the opinion makers are ignorant (or pretend to be), those who try to educate them are obviously foolish. Ever since the AIDS hysteria appeared, some, with excellent credentials, have questioned the viral etiology of that syndrome, and gotten nothing but contempt and disdain for their efforts. Similarly, the few lonely voices speaking out against the fat/cholesterol theory of heart disease are, it would seem, regarded as so foolish as not to merit any consideration of their opinions, though well-founded on scientific research. Anyone foolish enough to doubt the “fact” of evolution will get a quick comeuppance. And need I mention global warming?

The most grievous examples of blissful ignorance, however, lie within the realm of politics. The idea that problems, or situations perceived as problems, are to be solved by some sort of government action, appears to be universally accepted. Only a fool would question it! Education, housing, transportation, foreign aid, medical care, etc. The blissfully ignorant cannot imagine government not involving itself in them. No one seems troubled by the clear and obvious violations of the Constitution by the very people who have sworn to uphold it. Is there anything in that document that authorizes Congress to give trillions to failing banks, insurance companies, or automobile manufacturers? Not in my copy of the Constitution, but the various commentators on the bailout regard it as natural as rain that the government should act in such a way.

It’s also blissfully assumed that the burden of this monstrous debt will be placed on the shoulders of individual Americans, with no one being so foolish as to ask how the debts incurred by some individuals (and the government is just individual men and women, isn’t it?) can be laid upon others, who were not parties to the deal. Of course, it’s assumed that the government has the right to tax, but should one point out that that “right” is one which the authorities gave themselves, he would be regarded as a fool indeed.

And, at any rate, even granted government’s self-given “right” to tax, can it tax willy-nilly? Mustn’t there be some public good to be achieved by the tax--such as the maintenance of the military (not necessarily military bases throughout the world!), or upkeep of federal lands and buildings, or the salaries of public “servants”? Is throwing billions at favored institutions that have, by their own incompetence, and with the urging of government, made foolish loans, a public good? Is a “public good” whatever the rulers say it is?

I’ve read that Garet Garrett lived in a cave. At the time I read it, I thought that a silly thing to do. Now I’m not so sure. The world is full of humbugs and fools, and those with ambition can work their way into positions of power--and have. Those who know the truth--and it is not hard to discover the truth--find themselves in a dreamland, where lies and absurdities are truth, and any expression of actual truth occasions laughter, or condemnation, while those who adhere to ignorance grow ever more attached to their opinions when it is shown that those opinions are nonsense. If you are “wise,” you cannot flip a switch and turn off what you know: that’s the rub. You cannot become blissful by feigning ignorance.

When you suspect that your best friends, were they to know what you really thought of their beliefs, would consider it their moral and patriotic duty to beat you to death, it’s time to start looking for a cave. Plato notwithstanding, it’s the people outside the cave who, in blissful ignorance, mistake shadows for reality.

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Paul Hein's picture
Columns on STR: 150


Samarami's picture
    "...it’s the people outside the cave who, in blissful ignorance, mistake shadows for reality..."

Your essay, Paul, prompted me to pull out my copy of "The Driver" (Garrett), and his vivid description of the Easter parade:

    "...past the blacksmith shop, past the sandstone quarry, past the little house where the woman was who waved her apron with one hand and wiped her eyes with the other, out upon the Easting Highway toward Washington, with the Easter chimes behind them.

    And for what purpose? Merely this: to demand from Congress a law by which unlimited prosperity and human happiness might be established on earth..."

Your essay aptly portrays how eerie it is to creep outside the cave and try to
be a part of the unwashed masses long enough to procure sustenance -- then return to the sanity of the cave.

The enormity of the truth is incredible.

Good work, Paul. Sam

Paul's picture

I guess I missed the cranberry scare. A good thing, because I eat a lot of cranberries.

Mencken had the appropriate remedy for this problem:
"Here (in America) the daily panorama of human existence, of private and communal folly, the unending procession of governmental extortions and chicaneries, of commercial brigandages and throat slittings, of theological buffoneeries, of aesthetic ribaldries, of legal swindles and harlotries, of miscellaneous rogueries, villanies, imbecilities, grotesqueries, and extravagances is so inordinately gross and preposterous, so perfectly brought up to the highest conceivable amperage, so steadily enriched with an almost fabulous daring and originality, that only a person born with a petrified diaphram can fail to laugh himself to sleep every night and wake up with all the eager, unflagging expectation of a Sunday-School superintendent touring the Paris peep-shows."

Things will go on as they have been going, until they make a head-on collision with reality. In the meantime, get some entertainment out of it.