21. Incomplete Education

Piotr Struve says that ‘the flood of semi-education in language and literature always marks a rapid introduction to culture and, in general, a rapid and disordered assimilation of language and culture by new and hitherto alien elements’. Struve adds that this process is ‘generally healthy and normal, but in its rapidity it has led to the spread of semi-education in the country’. Today, semi-education is not just a side effect of the rapid accession to culture of the masses, who had hitherto been alien to it, but a dominant force, in whose realm there is no room for real, deep culture.

We have spoken of semi-education before, [1] but the question is worth revisiting.

Let us define more precisely the subject of our conversation. Semi-education is the consequence of a purely technical approach to enlightenment, which confines itself to giving the mind a series of facts and evaluations without nurturing its capacity for judgement. Politically, it is a child of the revolution (although its foundations were laid under the old order). Its inevitable feature is the break with all tradition, the loss of a sense of the living past. In language, semi-education manifests itself, as Struve says, in ‘spoilage and contamination’ (calling them, of course, ‘development’ and ‘enrichment’).  In the field of worldview, semi-education is inextricably linked to ‘leftist’ beliefs and flat materialism (the latter is commonly called ‘scientific worldview’). As far as cultural creativity is concerned, in the performance of those who have received an incomplete education, it turns into mechanical labour, more connected with ‘ideas’ than with deep penetration into the subject and the creation of meanings. Semi-educated people simply do not recognise any ‘meanings’; this follows directly from their supposedly ‘scientific’ worldview. Finally, the mindset we are considering is always groundless, alien to national roots, ready to borrow without limit, without assimilating the borrowed.

Let us talk about these features in more detail.

1. Idea and schema

The spread of semi-education is a side effect of the education put ‘on a production line’. Such education, as Struve said in the above-mentioned article, worked with ‘human material’ that ‘came out of a cultural milieu that stood far below the school that accepted it. These crowds took all culture in general, and verbal in particular, from school. From home they did not bring anything’. It was required in a short time to transfer to these people… what exactly? The ability to think, intellectual ground, wisdom? Teachers did not have either time or ability to do this, so mass education chose a simple but short way. Pupils of the nation-wide school could be given either knowledge or understanding, and knowledge was chosen.

But how so? Isn’t knowledge the main point of education? No. Otherwise Homer would not have substituted a university for the Greeks. Enlightenment (that’s the best word for what we’re talking about) transmits to the next generations something much more than the sum of knowledge.

Our age willingly confuses knowledge and understanding. One can know a great deal while understanding very little. The power of understanding is not in the possession of facts. ‘Facts’ are the raw material from which the mind develops understanding. The value is not in the facts, but in their evaluation, and when we speak of ‘evaluation’ we do not mean moral evaluation. ‘Knowledge is the weighing and evaluation of facts’, says the Enlightenment. ‘Knowledge is facts’, objects the Semi-Enlightenment.

Understanding (or, what is the same thing, real knowledge) of things is not clothed in words. ‘Thinking’ means ‘making connections’; and it is only at the last minute, already at the tip of the pen, to express this silent knowledge in words. Thinking requires immersing oneself in the subject and reproducing its inner connections in one’s mind. The next, lower stage of mental labour, the Idea, is much less demanding, and is nothing but the name of the object combined with the feeling attached to that name. To have ‘ideas’ is not at all the same as to have thoughts. The former is achieved, forgive me that word, by uncomplicated drill, whereas the latter is achieved by inner labour. There is no dispute, ‘ideas’ have a place in the thinking mind, they are necessary, the question is the quantitative ratio of ‘ideas’ and thoughts in the mental habitat.

The totality of ‘ideas’ forms a ‘schema’. Schema is the basis of the scientific approach to things; its heart and essence. A ready-made network of ideas, arranged in a schema, saves the efforts of generations of labourers. However, its power is limited. Schemas have their price.

People far removed from science think that scientists are engaged in ‘knowing the world’. In fact, scientists are engaged in creating fruitful simplifications or schemas, the application of which makes it easier for man to affect nature, that is, makes him stronger. There are sciences that do not seek power over the world, but even in them the power of schemas is limitless. Schema facilitates mental labour, it is an obedient and convenient tool: how can it be avoided? In other words, science is the way of fruitful simplification of thought.

In primitive thinking there are as many events as there are explanations; behind every phenomenon there is a special spirit. For thought in the world, as it develops, there are fewer and fewer special, unique causes, and more and more homogeneous phenomena. The summit of this development is — as some think — scientific thinking, for which the whole variety of things is explained by a few simple causes.  Science, at its core, is the will to simplify.  The will to complexity, which makes man build mental and religious edifices again and again, after all the destruction, is extra-scientific.

It is not to say that the search for the least number of causes is bad in itself. But there are areas in which it clearly fails, leading to frankly unsuitable, purely technical explanations. These are the realms of the human — mind and spirit. Here, as has long been said, ‘the most bizarre explanation is accepted in order that the world may not have a mysterious appearance’. When applied to the task of education, ‘ideas’ and ‘schemas’, on the one hand, help the teacher and the pupil; on the other hand, they ruin them.

Teaching that has been put ‘on the production line’ becomes the teaching of schemas. Under these conditions, understanding is out of the question; the teacher has neither the time nor (as a rule) the ability for it. Secondary and higher schools in conditions of universal education teach not to think, but to choose the ‘right’ schema. This practice, which is disastrous for the development of the mind, is joined in Russia by a long, almost century-long, absence of books giving an idea of other points of view than the ‘only true’ one. ‘Enlightenment for the masses’, thus set up, becomes a machine for the production of mediocrity, a means of purposeful formation of average abilities.

What is even sadder is that semi-education successfully reproduces itself. In place of the rich and spacious cultural world of earlier times, it puts a narrow world of the ‘specialist’. By reducing enlightenment to the education of this ‘specialist’, it stifles the individual’s attention to depth, the taste for inner life; and without this taste for complexity, technical questions are the only thing that can still excite the individual.

Under the ‘normal’ order, the individual, before all external affairs and achievements, has internal foundations on which everything else is built. Where once there were these foundations, there is now an emptiness — an inner life as something to be managed by a doctor, or something that must be drowned out by alcohol, or career worries, or obscured by ‘hobbies’. A man becomes unnecessary to himself, and measures his value either by his income, or by his position (so in Soviet times), or by the number of pleasures he receives. The ‘education’ he has acquired only confirms the idea that all this internal stuff is insignificant or unnecessary, because it is not generally useful. It does not fit into a ‘schema’, it does not serve any ‘idea’, and the only measure with which one can approach the inner life of the individual — religious — does not exist for the majority of minds that have passed through the semi-educational machine.

2. Speechlessness

The trait of the new age that first catches the eye is its lack of language, its striking incomprehension of the meaning of words and its inability (perhaps unwillingness, too) to combine them correctly. Words are used at random, as Gogol’s Petrushka put letters together: what if something turns out? In all cases, foreign words are preferred to Russian words, and the harsher and discordant these borrowings sound, the higher (according to one’s own perception) the rank of the speaker. The obsession with ridiculous words (‘information’, ‘situation’, ‘leader, “region..’. one can go on endlessly) says a lot about the obsessed themselves. They want to become at least one step above their true position. Unintelligible words (foreign words in this environment are charming precisely because of their incomprehensibility, vagueness of meaning) elevate them.

Thought and the means of its expression are interconnected. The writer thinks at the tip of the pen. Certain forms of writing give a certain construction (if not content) to thought. Style casts a shadow on thinking, even more: give a person a complex, rich (preferably excessively rich) means of expressing thoughts, and he will have rich, complex thoughts. It would be more correct to say: and he will have an opportunity to develop these thoughts in himself. Culture loves power reserves in relation to means of expression. The mind is lazy; under any conditions it uses only a part of the available possibilities. By simplifying the means of expression, we condemn the mind to even greater simplicity. [2]

As said by prn. Sergei Volkonsky:

‘A thought that is not clearly expressed is itself not clear. And it is not because it is unclear that it is expressed with the wrong words, but it is expressed with the wrong words, because the brain itself is unclear: it does not know the real words, it has mixed words, it has covered a concept with the wrong word, it has merged two concepts into a single one. This, it seems to me, is the real ground on which the question of education for correctness and purity of language should be put. We are touching here on one of the most important and interesting issues in education — the reverse action of effect on cause. The brain is the cause of speech, and speech is a consequence of brain activity, and incorrect speech (a consequence) distorts thinking (its cause). We can also define this phenomenon as an inverse effect of form on content. Let us extend it further and say: the influence of the outer man (form) on the inner man (content). All this is an aspect of education, which we Russians have always neglected. We have always said that content is more important than form, and therefore any education of form was considered an unnecessary luxury, aristocracy, and even considered harmful’.

True in the old Russia, this observation is much truer in the new one. All the more so now that the simplification of speech down to literally childish fundamentals finds a rational basis.
‘The patterns of speech produced by science’, say some, ‘contribute to the mutual understanding of scientists from different countries’. But even more than that, they favour pattern thinking, since we think knowingly no more complexly than we expound. The word is truly inseparable from the mind.

So, in times of ‘mass enlightenment’ the expressive power of language is declining; the clarity of thought, and thought itself, is disappearing; speech is darkened by a multitude of foreign-language borrowings, the meaning of which is unclear to the speaker, and the darkness of speech, which is dotted with these borrowings, is taken for depth. The speaker is convinced that his speech is as sharp and expressive as ever. This feeling of superiority, in the absence of any reason for it, is extremely characteristic of the new age…

Speechlessness leads, if not to soullessness (animation is irrevocable), then to an animal underdevelopment of mental and spiritual life. He who has not been taught to speak has not been taught to think. The only ‘enlightenment’ worthy of the name begins with the formation of the mind by means of the word, i. e., addresses itself primarily to the human. One cannot ‘educate’ technicians and mathematicians; one must first educate thinkers. Here is the gap between the Old World and modernity. The task of forming a whole human being is left unnecessary: ‘we need a technical specialist, there is no need for a human being’.

The unfortunate overfilling of the school course with physics, chemistry and biology contributes no more to the development of personality than gymnastics (another speciality of modern schools). There are sciences that form personality, and there are special sciences that are necessary for personality in the measure of the peculiarities of the chosen labour. Biology and chemistry do not form personality. They are forgotten immediately after the expiration of the need, and the skill of constant, painstaking, internal-sequential labour (given, for example, by the study of languages) they do not create. First of all, the mind needs the experience of establishing connections, and then — the facts. This experience is given by so-called ‘humanitarian’ knowledge.

Can we say that the children of the ‘new order’ have no soul life? Unrecognised, undiscovered — of course, there is. But an experience for the expression of which we have no words passes unnoticed. Now, in the ‘new world’, there are words only for the simplest soul movements. Even — forgive me the unexpected example — lust (a rich, subtle, and yet almost universally accessible experience) is expressed in the flattest terms.

3. The power of the ‘left-wing’

As stated above, the one who has received a simplistic education is convinced that there can be only one correct opinion about all matters. Typically, this formula is reduced to an even simpler one: ‘there can be only one opinion about all matters’ — because throughout the course of the sciences he has been surrounded by books and teachers who have confirmed only one point of view. Add to this the censorship oppression of ‘victorious Socialism’ and the forced unanimity of seventy years. One gets used to unanimity, it is easier to live with it. Having become an adult, yesterday’s schoolboy continues to believe in the ‘one truth about one subject’. From this conviction to the ‘left-wing’ worldview is a short walk away, because the ‘left-wing’ is (like its biblical prototype) the belief in a one truth.

Of course, for all the similarities between the ‘leftist’ worldview and the Christian worldview, it should be noted that in one respect the ‘leftist’ worldview is the Christian one, turned inside out, namely, in its relation to the inner and the outer. For Christianity, everything is inside and nothing outside. For the ‘leftist’ view, everything is outside and nothing inside. The half-educated man, a child of the leftist ‘new order’, believes first and foremost that he has no soul…

So, a semi-enlightened person is always a ‘leftist’. This connection deserves research. Why are ‘superficial opinions, randomly applied to everything’ (Pushkin about Radishchev) associated with only one of the possible worldviews? I think there is nothing strange here.

The conservative worldview boils down, in a nutshell, to love and respect for the past. The semi-enlightened has nothing to preserve, respect, or remember. The history of mankind, taught to him as a transition (which happened just yesterday) from ‘darkness’ to ‘light’, has discouraged him from any curiosity about the past. ‘Technology’ and ‘facts’ are the axis around which his interests revolve. He is all about today. Semi-enlightenment cuts off all continuity.

By the way: speaking of the ‘leftist’ worldview, we should pay attention to the following peculiarity of it. The man of left-wing views, firstly, possesses a religion, but, secondly, it is a religion exclusively materialistic, of a ‘negative’ or ‘external’ order. It does not believe in anything internal or secret, but only in what is on the surface and what can be achieved by purely technical means: republic, Socialism, equality… In essence, it believes in technology. To be a leftist is to have no such religion, which is not quite here and not quite now. (Leaving aside the German National Socialists, who, if we are to believe idle rumours, had at least superstitions, that is, the rudiments of religion.)

People of this stratum are invariably loyal to the ‘new order’ (leftist in its origins), and for several reasons at once. Initially, this loyalty was instilled in their fathers and grandfathers by means of extra-cultural coercion, i. e. violence, but when the violence (and then lies unsupported by real active violence) stopped, the semi-educated stratum in Russia remained loyal to the coup that gave birth to it. Everything ‘left-wing’, simplistic is good for it, everything ‘right-wing’, remembering the continuity, based on a fruitful and complex past, scares it away. Half-jokingly, half-seriously, one could say: to scare a half-enlightened person, show him the Russian letter yat (ѣ). Our attitude to traditional spelling is an unmistakable way to distinguish a man of culture from a man of technology. However, this was the case in Russia under the Old Order as well. What has changed since then is the quantitative ratio of the cultural and semi-cultural parts of society.

4. Mechanical labour

It would be surprising if ‘enlightenment for the masses’ led to the emergence of a rich literature or to the development of human sciences. There was rich soil for both in historical Russia, but after this soil had been cultivated by mechanically understood ‘enlightenment’, only ‘exact’ if not directly applied sciences began to bear fruit, preoccupied, as stated above, with the growth of external material power. Worse still: in the minds of the masses, bombs and aeroplanes, dams and skyscrapers became the image of science, although looking at them one should speak of technology.

As for those branches of mental labour whose successes are not expressed by ‘dams and aeroplanes’, the man of the new epoch has not shown his advantages in them. In life, these people are servants of a mechanical factory of facts (or fictions, if we are talking about journalists or writers). They can at best be praised for their ‘professionalism’ (a favourite word of the graceless epoch), but there is no question of any inner development, perfection, manifested in their work. Real creativity (whether we call it literature, or philosophy, or art, or poetry) is always about the inner development of the creator. Where there is no development, ‘pain and transition’, there is no creativity in its true sense. A mechanical factory does not need internal development, its fruits are the same year after year. The notion of growth, augmentation, forward and upward movement has been removed from semi-culture, as compared to culture.

In the days of ‘democratic’ temptations, culture has a new adversary: success. Internal discipline, the ordeal by silence as the basis of creativity — these words now sound outright madness. But the most powerful words are the untold ones. Creativity is made up of delayed and suppressed responses. Ultimately, ‘education of a personality capable of creating’ means education of long soul movements in a person (putting in the concept of soul the inseparable life of mind and feeling). Long soul movements are at a disadvantage these days. They are not only not brought up — their opposite is brought up, the readiness to ‘declare disagreement’, to shout as soon as possible. Shouting does not nurture the soul and does not enrich it.

5. The native and the foreign

Breaking with tradition, including the tradition of developed and complex literary speech, leads the new educated stratum to a boundless readiness to borrow. The borrowed, as is usually the case with those who have lost ground under their feet, always seems better, brighter and more appropriate than their native. However, hastily borrowed things are swallowed but not assimilated. If the epoch of deep content is always the epoch of a deeply personal, inherent style, the borrowed fragments of alien values do not create style, much less content. A century after the end of the ‘old world’ we are experiencing a styleless (and contentless) epoch, which perceives its freedom from content as an achievement…

In reality — not in the distorted and narrow world of the ‘new culture’ — we have no choice but to join one of the traditions. There is no culture without a past. There is no fruitful inner life without a past. More than that: the possession of some past is a sign of culture. This applies to religion as well as to politics. We can either accept one line of inheritance or another, but it is not in our power to remain completely without the past if we want a future. Without joining that which is greater than we are, older than we are, and will continue after us, we cannot apply the fullness of our powers to any cause.

One more thing. In the cultural, i. e., surviving modernity sense, ‘to be’ means ‘to be national’. Whoever is not national, not original, not nourished first of all by his native soil — he does not survive his moment, he means nothing, he is erased from the history of mental development. It is not that other people’s thoughts have no value. They do, but only for others. In the realm of thought, nourishing and viable is only that which is assimilated by the soil on which the thinker stands. To borrow does not mean to assimilate. And at the same time much that is borrowed and well assimilated becomes native, but this takes time. ‘Assimilated’ borrowing that has entered the native soil is always borrowing of old, passed through many minds, purified and enriched by local influences.

As for the ‘openness’ which was so commonly worshipped until recently, it is not as favourable as it seems. The most successful worlds are not ‘open’ but semi-closed worlds, where the periphery slowly interacts with its surroundings and the core develops in a distinctive way; where the volume of borrowings is far from the volume of distinctively produced values. The values of ‘openness’ are the values of poor digestion: everything is swallowed but not assimilated. In the words of Walter Burkert, what is important in borrowing is not the fact of transfer from one culture to another, but ‘selection and adaptation, processing and adjustment’ of the borrowed for the needs of the receiving party. Fruitful borrowings are those that have been deeply internalised and closely intertwined with local perceptions.

…Such were the consequences of the introduction of ‘education for all’. Of course, the inferiority of the new order is easier to show than the ways out of it. And it remains to be seen whether this way out is possible.  Culture is based on attention to the individual and on the individual’s attention to himself, that is, on the human, that is, on the inner, that is, on the religious. Culture is extremely far from everything technical, from the ability to produce things and from the ability to use things. It does not have means, but ends. The world order opposite to culture has means, but has no ends. We should have no illusions about it. No matter how much noise it makes, the vanity it creates means nothing to man and humanity, it will pass without a trace. Everything that is extra-human, extra-cultural will be erased from history, because it is about nothing, it has no content.

In order for an epoch with style and content to begin again, it is necessary to educate at least one generation to have a taste for complexity, to acquaint it with the pleasure of overcoming simplicity, with creative joy. The gods, having given man their nature, drive him either into creative labour or into the game of passions — because only in creativity or in passions can one get rid of the excess of strength that burns from within. The soul is waiting for labour, and it is necessary to accustom her to this labour. Nowadays it looks like an incredible dream. But it is the only way out of inferior education — to thought.

[1] Essay ‘Semi-enlightenment’.

[2] The Russian mind needs a desovietisation of form and content. Both here and there it is necessary to move towards richness and complexity — away from flatness and squalor. The moulding of a new literary language is possible only on the basis of classical Russian speech, including its spelling — strict and elegant, educating the mind and hand of the writer. The ugliness of the Soviet and post-Soviet written word is not in the least connected with the fact that the writer (for the first time in Russian history, if we do not count fence inscriptions) found himself in a wasteland, without the ennobling influence of an internally coherent, complex, rich in means of expression orthography. Written language is a work of art, an architecture of its own kind, and ‘public accessibility’, taken as a goal, ruins it in the same way as the Soviet era ruined architecture, leaving only the barn repeated in various sizes of all kinds of buildings.

Timofey Sherudilo.
From the book Twilight Time.

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