Apr 202008

There was a time they hanged conmen and tricksters. Now the world honours them as intellectuals. It couldn’t have happened without education

I am lazy, plain lazy and I love it. And no, this is not the same thing as Russell’s praise for idleness, the deep philosophy pegged on four hours of work for everyone so there was enough leisure available to all to create something or just dance and prank around.

My laziness is more in the nature of, to quote Russell again, the twelfth beggar in Naples who wouldn’t even budge to pick up a lira (who would have picked up a lira anyway when it existed?) and got one for proving to be genuinely lazy.

The thing is, I couldn’t afford to be lazy if I weren’t educated. If there is one argument that I can mount in favour of education and be sincere in the process of doing so, it is this: if you want to be lazy and earn enough, get an education. Let me explain.

As Russell correctly pointed out, there was a time when some people enjoyed leisure because others would work for them. That situation, while still largely true in these parts, is increasingly valid only for a shrinking minority of the fortunate ones. For others, to be able to laze around like I do, education is the key.

Education in and of itself means nothing. For instance, it is not likely to save mankind from itself and mankind has only one enemy: itself; neither is it likely to improve things whether in politics or any other sphere of life (a trade secret, I am letting it out).

Of course there have been advances in technology and medical science but in most cases they take away from one hand what they give from the other…i.e., some of the machines that provide us conveniences also kill us, it doesn’t matter whether that happens slowly or quickly.

If truth be told, when I look at history, I can’t find one instance of a major screw-up caused by an illiterate. The war in Iraq was not started by the illiterate in America; neither can the food crisis be laid at their door. If anything, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb has so trenchantly pointed out, when you have more science (and the scientific method), you have more Black Swans. Suddenly the quest for biofuel…leave out the debate over how much more or not environment-friendly it is…has seen corn diverted from feeding people to the production of ethanol.

These examples should be obvious. If Adam and Eve did indeed eat the Forbidden Fruit, they set in motion a process that would dupe mankind into thinking that it is progressing even as it multiplies the unintended consequences of its progression.

There then. If anyone tells you that education is important because it allows us to help mankind and address its problems…social, political, economic et cetera…the correct response would be to laugh in that person’s face and move on.

Sceptics can look at Iraq as a case study of what happens when theories of democratic promotion…commendable in themselves and on paper…are tested on the ground. No bunch of illiterates could have brought such misery on another people.

This brings me to my original assertion, namely that education can only be recommended on the basis of the degree of laziness it allows the educated. My own example is instructive.

I can do a bit of thinking or so I think, or would like to. Fortunately for me the world, since it is fast going downhill, now pays some people to be lazy so they can think. It is assumed that what I say or write is of some use and there is even a market for it. The new paradigm is that if you are doing something which is marketable, you can earn well and overtime may even become rich.

(Note: sometimes the smart ones with entrepreneurial spirit can even generate a market for a product. For example, if you can create social conditions that would deprive women of their natural blush, you could be sure to manufacture and sell blush-on; there are many other examples but I shall leave it at this.)

The days of hunting are over. My ability to earn is now directly proportional to how comfortable I am in order to do the thinking. My Jeeves brings me the morning cup of tea; I sip it and go through the morning papers bleary-eyed. I go to the loo and my mind begins to work. I come out, laze around, sipping more tea and thinking some more. The Blackberry keeps beeping; information from around the world gives me ideas and so on.

Please note that this thinking is dangerous for mankind; it is only good for the market and for me. But since charity begins at home and this combination of comfort and laziness brings me a fat cheque, I am quite happy. I even play my part, going to various fora and seminars and this and that looking suitably serious and speak with authority even though I know that I am contributing to the ultimate destruction of mankind by the mere process of thinking and disseminating those thoughts.

Did I mention that I have a market because of what I think and write because some people get affected by it? Well, if not, then I have just done so.

Why am I saying this? Is this mea culpa? Not really. Why must I be comfortable and lazy and keep thinking when I know that this is dangerous; that while I mayn’t be able to rescue mankind from its educated follies by being an illiterate, at least I won’t be party to this act of perfidy?

Simple. I have been educated and therefore I have to play my perfidious part in this comedy of knowledge; it allows me to be comfortable, lazy, respectable and, with some more education and laziness, perhaps even rich. Plus, if I didn’t do it someone else would!

There was a time they hanged conmen and tricksters. Now the world honours them as intellectuals. It couldn’t have happened without education.

Ejaz Haider is Consulting Editor of The Friday Times and Op-Ed Editor of Daily Times. He can be reached at sapper@dailytimes.com.pk

Courtesy: Daily Times, 20/4/2008

 Posted by at 8:23 am

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