Yet at my devotion I love to use the civility of my knee, my hat, and hand, with all those outward and sensible motions, which may express, or promote my invisible devotion. — Sir T. Browne
I here would like to give a mere post in defense of work. And I mean to defend just one type of work, that of education, for this is the type of work I do and love. But telling a soul that you read for your job on average about five hours a day generates an interesting response. Usually, people look as if you just told them you have three heads. This is nothing to the expression you receive when you tell people that you enjoy your work, that you actually ended Christmas break two weeks early so that you could get back to work, which I certainly did. But then we have not gone far enough. For not only do I read for at least five hours a day to excel in my profession, not only do I enjoy reading for hours on end, not only did I end Christmas break early, but I did so out of my own free will, because I wanted to.
When modernity runs towards a thing, the best thing to do is to run in the opposite direction. Thus, when more so-called developed countries tend toward shorter work weeks, one ought to institute longer work weeks. Thus, when these same countries plunge themselves over the anti-intellectual cliff of entertainment, one ought to indulge in less entertainment and develop their mind. Thus, when modernity is content and complacent with mere information, one ought to seek how to be a good thinker. Thus, when modernity tells me that the truly happy life is the one of ignorance and football, I will gladly disagree. For modernity is nearly always wrong, and if we hold this premise, it is best we do the opposite of wrong.
Samuel Johnson believed a poor education could be supplemented by reading for five hours a day for five years. Now, what can he mean by this but that by reading five hours a day we become much smaller? For all an education is is realizing how small one truly is. It ought to follow, though it often does not, that the more educated a man is, the smaller he becomes. The educated man has this advantage over the uneducated in that each time he picks up a book he realizes how little he actually knows. And when the book is finished, depending on its quality, he will feel even smaller. His tiny house will become a castle, his wife a queen, his small garden an orchard.
The uneducated man has one advantage in that he is often more likely to be small than his educated neighbor. It is far superior to live as if you are small without knowing exactly why than to know the specifics of your proportion and continue in pride. But the uneducated man can only become small by way of feeling. He may look up at the stars each night and realize that he is quite small and feel it in his bones. He too feels as if his plot of land is a zoo, teeming with scores of mammoth-like creatures, though he merely feels this. For he cannot know that he is small as does the educated person. And it is best to use our knowledge to shape our actions for the better. The educated person meets individuals like Johnson or the Apostle Paul and feels very, very small. He reads Ecclesiastes and then attempts The City of God, and he feels smaller; he has not even made it out of the 5th century.
In this, I argue that a strict schedule of education should be sought by most individuals. For if used correctly, a man can quickly move from the center of the world to outside of it completely. We make a lot of much-a-do about children being “the center of their own universe” as if each child should see himself as the best and the brightest. We do not realize that the last place anyone would want to be is the center of the world. Better to be outside of it completely. Better to see the world as a universe than a mere globe, to see each tree as God’s skyscrapers and elephants as his holy Trumpeters. It is best that the last thing we think about is ourselves. The soul finds more pleasure and excitement, wonder even, if a scarecrow is actually scary than if he is nothing but cotton and hay.
Modernity naturally has this all backwards as it does most everything else. Whereas the educated person should be the most humble, we cannot help but recognize that the intellectuals are often the ones sniffing the skies while the “average Joes” possess the ability to see outside themselves. It is true that “Average Joe” has always retained the ability to be humble; it has not always been true that the educated were such snobs. In fact, there was a time in which education was a means for worship, for wonder, for joy.
But today, an education — and I speak of one in the humanities for example — is not a means to see how big the universe is but to see how pointless and problematic the universe is. A man used to study Greek and wonder at the fact that people actually spoke that gibberish; now a man studies Greek and complains that the rain forests are being destroyed and that he’s nothing but dust anyway. We have not yet done away with the insatiable need for purpose or direction; we have certainly done away with any sense of meaning behind that purpose and direction, so that a man can plunge headlong into fighting for a cause he has no rational reason for believing let alone caring for. It should matter, of course, that a task is pointless or that there are problems. It may be that studying Greek seems pointless when considering life and death; it may also be true that, despite the inevitability of death, Greek is still a language. One man lets the problem of mortality decide the meaning of his daily task, the other sees how his daily task gives his mortality meaning.
It is the very sense of lost wonder and fatalism that drives me to work. If we are left merely to ourselves, we will naturally tend toward the hellish vice of pride. We will live for ourselves because it is the self that is to be lauded above all else. “I am not the emperor of my house or my neighborhood; I am the emperor of the world, all must bow to me.” An education does not solve this problem; it destroys it. If used correctly, an education can defeat pride in ways nothing else can outside of the Grace of our Lord. After my five hours or so of reading is done each day, there is a sense of pride that is felt for sure, but then I reflect on tomorrow. For tomorrow I will go back and read something new. I will not merely learn something new; I will learn something I have never even dreamed existed before. It is not enough to obtain facts and statistics; one should enter into life each morning longing to discover a new planet or finish another quest.
So tomorrow I will head off to work knowing full well that I will discover how little I know now.