Experience and old books

Social media is false media. It has to remain false media because it is monitored, patrolled, and mined. People who do not have a social media profile are suspect: those who say what they truly think are shunned, banned, and removed.

False media ia about the image. It is about manipulating the conversations so that people do not think, but instead parrot the talking points of the day.

There are two corrections to this. The first is phenomenology.

In The West, we go further and further into the false knowledge of false selves: this is our public world; and (with mass media, social media, propaganda) our public world is more and more pervasive.

We inhabit a vast superstructure of deliberately-manufactured and elaborately-sustained falseness, irrelevance, uselessness: a fake world.

But if this fake world is not continuously sustained, imposed, fuelled, repaired; then it will collapse within the mind – and an individual will be confronted by its opposite: which is intuitive knowing.

So, awakening may come to a person when he or she is confronted by the fake knowledge of their fake selves. The two go together: the self and the knowledge. Both the self and our knowledge need to be recognised as fake simultaneously.

The superficiality and evil of our times are a consequence of the fact that we are superficial people who are merely processing reality (not thinking and knowing reality); we are not thinking, but instead using processing-routines drilled-into-us by the pervasive world of mass and social media, institutions and propaganda and advertising.

Our mental processing is merely-habitual, and incoherent rather than valid. It is evil because false in knowledge – we accept false information and draw false conclusions.

The second is scholarship.

There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said.

The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.

Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet.

There is a reason I post old poets. I need to post more from old books. At the other site.