We began a process in our school some 40 or more years ago, a process by which we wanted to make it possible, at least for us in the school, including myself and my wife, to hold onto the things we liked, in particular our thoughts and ideas. And in the early years of the school we would hold on to our thoughts by writing them down on index cards.
Would I be correct to say that we divide up the past centuries into the thoughts and pictures coming from these centuries, the ideas that came to people then and which they must have written down? The ideas of motion from the scientists of the 17th. c. , the enlightenment ideas from the 18th. c., the ideas of liberty and equality and brotherhood coming from the French Revolution and the 19th c., and then from the 20th c, when everything one could possibly think was out there on the table if not written down on our cards. And now?? Now in the 21st c, aren’t we confused about what is happening and where we’re going? What are we writing, if anything, on our note cards?
The ideas when they do survive their beginnings at best become part of a much bigger whole, such as we see now by the evidence of man’s hidden treasures, if not hidden probably not seen by many, by enough, what I would call the ideas of history and science, of art and music and the humanities, … And if now we can experience some of these treasures in the so-called great books, get closer to them in our great universities, it’s probably because some of them did begin on something like a note card, because someone jotted down his thought or idea. If you proceed to read the great books and delve into the humanities, you will be reading or otherwise meeting one or more of the best of those ideas, treasures of thought that men did not want to lose.
Now I’m starting to wonder is this how we make progress? I’m talking about progress in our thinking, but it could be no less true of progress than in our doing, as in our agriculture, our industries, our technologies, the whole nine yards of what makes up the modern economy. (It is no longer hunting and gathering, although it was that at one time and for a much longer time than our time.)
We are progressing, although making progress may still be for some in question, but not for most of us, at least in terms of our knowledge of and our ability to shape and alter the natural environment, the whole earth, to our own ends. But this process is, as we now recognize, putting us at risk, by us I mean Homo sapiens. While going after our own ends we are extinguishing other forms of life, while exploiting the riches of the earth we are leaving the earth impoverished. And we do this without seeming to know whether or not we are thereby dooming ourselves…..
Now I look up over these paragraphs, to the picture at the top of this page. That’s what I was going to write about. —A fence that uniformed men are arming with razor wire. —Why? What’s going on in the picture? Is there an idea there? Perhaps the idea or combination of ideas meaning that we have to keep people out, in this case out of the little town we see over the top of the fence, or keep the people of the town shut in, keep them from coming to where we are.
Division by fences. Whose idea was that? This wasn’t something that was supported by the greatest ideas of the past centuries. Not by the early scientists certainly, not by the enlightenment thinkers, not even by the leaders of our modern economies, who depend on having people, all kinds of people, to purchase and use their productions….. All of these people probably swear by open borders, open to the passage of people and goods.
In that story of open societies, there’s much more of our history than in the accounts of closed societies, of peoples who have somehow put a wall between themselves and the world, between themselves and others. Now perhaps the last wall remaining to us from earlier times, the Great Wall of china, should not be remembered as a separation to keep peoples apart, to keep the northern invaders away, but should be spoken of as a powerful attraction, attracting people on both sides of the wall to come together….