Education ruined my life. You’re next.

There’s some evidence that people are pre-disposed to feel content (at least eventually) with the unfortunate things that have happened to them, especially when these seem beyond their power to change1. Maybe ignorance is bliss after all.

 

Bliss or not, the opposite is certainly true. As the sage Lady Bracknell put it, “Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone.”2 Indeed, when education supplants the tender vegetation of ignorance, it leaves deep furrows suitable only for weeds of curiosity, skepticism, humility, and disappointment. You can’t undo education. When you see the light, you can’t unsee it. It ruins your life, permanently.

 

In the garden of an educated mind3, the sweet fruit of complacency is increasingly sparse. The gulls no longer confidently cry “Sure, sure, sure”4. Instead, dissonant woodpeckers dig relentlessly into the ramifications of each fresh idea, searching for its weak points. Plots of thought that once grew wild and free are bulldozed, leveled, and divided into well-defined parcels like so much manifest destiny.

 

Like viruses, invasive rational materials not only destroy a garden’s natural beauty, they refocus its resources toward propagation. Suddenly, thoughts that normally took years to develop spring up in a matter of days. What’s more, the spawn of an enlightened thought can thrive nearly anywhere. Personally, I find them cropping up in Sunday school, where rhetorical analysis crowds out well-intentioned but vague generalizations that used to offer inspiration. And radio tunes that were once catchy are now overshadowed by clumps of critical theory; they’ve withered into rows of clichéd chord progressions laden with misogynistic half-rhymes. I could have sworn that the grass on the other side of the fence was greener, too, but now it just seems needlessly wasteful.5

 

Therein lies the true desolation of a garden ravaged by education—its owner becomes ungrounded. Uprooted and encumbered with fast-growing horizons, the educated are doomed to wander and critically evaluate gardens that don’t even belong to them. Discontent to be unhappy with their own lot in life, they seek dissatisfaction with the problems of others as well.

 

And then it all goes to seed. Like mad, kernels of truth begin to prevail in contexts and climates where they are neither invited nor permitted. In this condition, only the most carefully isolated gardens avoid infestation6. As careful thinking and clear communication become increasingly pervasive, the remaining wild spaces of the world inevitably succumb to the disruption, until each one has surrendered to the battlecry of enlightenment’s master purpose: “Il faut cultiver notre jardin.”7

*     *     *

Why must we cultivate our garden? It’s a uniquely human question—we’re the only gardeners on Earth who can answer the mandate (one of the oldest in the Judeo-Christian tradition)8. It’s a big deal. It gets hard, but we can help things grow.

Try it out, then try again. It’s better than never trying, says Candide.

And I agree.

 


References

1. Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest. (1898)

 

 

 

4. Gulls are the most gullible of birds, by definition.

 

5. Texas A&M University, Lawns Don’t Waste Water, People Do. Also, it’s very unlikely that grass viewed at a distance seems greener, due to atmospheric perspective.

 

 

7. Voltaire, Candide (1759). In English: “We must cultivate our garden.” It’s the final line uttered by the much-afflicted protagonist Candide, who determines that, though this world is full of suffering and certainly not the best one we can conceive of, we must nevertheless “cultivate our garden.”

He doesn’t really say why.

8. Genesis 3:23 (KVJ):
“Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.”