9. Semi-enlightenment

In the old days, enlightenment secluded a man and raised him to a certain height. Today, one can have all the seals and evidences of enlightenment and still be part of the crowd, albeit a learned crowd. What’s the matter? Has thought lost its power, or is the general level so high that it is impossible to rise above it? Anything is possible, of course. It is also possible that enlightenment has been replaced by something qualitatively different; something that can be called, following Pushkin, ‘semi-enlightenment’ or (not to offend anyone) ‘education’.

‘Education’ is given under the condition of service, of producing a certain amount of ‘mental work’ at a given time; and when has the mind ever laboured according to a schedule? Important thoughts are produced by a deep inner need, not by a desire for approval or a need for service. Culture is not a factory, mental labour is not production.

Whereas enlightenment is wholesome, cultivating the personality, education fills the mind with facts, but does not teach how to handle them. Education communicates useful knowledge; enlightenment teaches solitary, unprofitable thought, the experience of the inner meaning of a subject.  Worse still. Knowledge is accepted by the ‘educated’ religiously, whole and without doubt, as a new truth, not as something that can also be rejected if the intellectual conscience will not allow it.

Before, thought was the joy and privilege of a minority. Now thought, once a luxury commodity, is being manufactured on an industrial scale. We owe the scale of production to ready-made templates. More than that: ‘thought’ in its authorised, approved form today is entitled only to a few external forms, extremely impersonal. Any hint of personality is banished as a sign of ‘non-objectivity’. What is objective is that which has nothing to do with the mind and conscience of the writer — if possible, the analysis of quantitative dependencies, a kind of magic of numbers.

Continuing the comparison of education and enlightenment, we must say: enlightenment is not hasty in its judgements; education is in a hurry to declare disagreement. It has an opinion about everything without thinking about anything. For the most part, these “opinions” boil down to a rejection of anything that disturbs mental cosiness.

The educated slides over the surface of things, and this sliding is not a sign of stupidity. He is clever — in the sense in which animals are clever, i.e. he knows how to find the shortest path. In the realm of thought, this means pulling ready-made cards out of a drawer; using learnt opinions rather than developing them. Education likes to say, ‘everyone knows that..’. Behind the reference to ‘everybody’ there is mental laziness, unwillingness to check generalities with one’s own thought. And beyond laziness is the fear of being alone. We started the conversation with the fact that awakening of the mind elevates (or has elevated) it to some height. That’s true. Pushkin’s ‘live alone’ awaits not only the poet.

The labour of thought is always lonely; one cannot think with someone together. (Only the Bolsheviks came up with the ‘collective mind of the Communist Party’ — but that was collective thoughtlessness). The ability to be alone, that is, with oneself, is one of the most difficult. Living with oneself, mentally, means being able to challenge, direct, examine one’s own thoughts. This skill gives independence from “common opinions”, because the educated mind no longer sees them as ‘truths’.

More than that. Not only the mind should be accustomed to independence and possible loneliness. One of the aims of education in general is to introduce into the world a personality, which will never (if possible) be bored with the main, and sometimes the only interlocutor — our inner man. The conditions of success here are: an unlazy mind and an awakened feeling, and all this together with a readiness to be special, separate from others, not dissolved in any ‘mass’. ‘Enlightenment’ is only a special case of upbringing.

Speaking of which: should education ‘prepare for duty’ and other such things? No. Ideally, it should answer the simple question, ‘How to be human and what to do with oneself?’ With simple examples, without communicating deep truths about reasons and purposes (reasons and purposes, if desired, the individual will look for himself). Give only to the individual an idea of his gifts, possibilities, means, necessary efforts — at first in small things — together with a sense of his own worth. Without this, the personality will lose its way before it gets there, at best it will join some human multitude in order to ‘be like everyone else’. A complex personality cannot be brought up without instilling respect for oneself. Without readiness to appreciate oneself and one’s own, to protect one’s inner values from encroachment — nothing will happen. ‘We are not lords!’ — is the worst thing people can think of themselves.

Where there is no complex, independent, self-honouring personality — there is no complex, developed, expressive speech; without such speech there is no humanitarian knowledge, not to mention wisdom, which all grows out of the ability to express thoughts correctly.

Behind speech stands the soul. Enlightenment requires a developed personality. The personality needs independence and mental autonomy. The sign of a developed personality is a complex, expressively wise language. It is difficult to imagine a complex and branched mental life without language, so ‘to develop speech’ means at the same time ‘to develop personality’, and on the contrary, the mechanisation of speech, its reduction to repetitive monotonous turns speak of the simplification of the inner life, of the loss of independence of the mind. The way to fruitful complexity is through personal development and solitude. It is not only the poet, I repeat it again, who is told Pushkin’s ‘You are a king: live alone’.

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