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Ideas

In A World Of Hunger And Greed, Knowledge For Its Own Sake Is More Vital Than Ever

Students are now paying customers and the world revolves around capital and commerce. But reading and education are our best forms of both pleasure and resistance. Reminders from assassinated Spanish poet Federico García Lorca.

In A World Of Hunger And Greed, Knowledge For Its Own Sake Is More Vital Than Ever

"The classics are not read to get a degree, but to learn to live."

Reinaldo Spitaletta

-Essay-

BOGOTÁ — In 1931, when inaugurating the public library of his hometown of Fuente Vaqueros in southern Spain, the poet Federico García Lorca gave a speech about hunger. He spoke of a hunger for learning and its baser variety, inside the belly, denouncing those who speak of economic demands without ever mentioning the cultural needs "for which peoples have cried out."

It was fitting that all should eat, he said, "but let all men know."

And yet in certain places, of course, they neither eat nor know — minds and bodies starved in equal measure.

The dictatorship of money

García Lorca — who would be assassinated near the start of the Spanish civil war in 1936 — told his townsfolk he felt more sorry for those unable to learn than the physically famished. If he were hungry and destitute on the street, he said, "I wouldn't ask for a piece of bread but a book."

Cited as Spain's most accessible poet, García Lorca was sought out, according to documents, and shot for being a "socialist, mason and homosexual." He said in 1936 that social revolutions must be carried out with books and knowledge, and declared the French Revolution to be the result of the books of thinkers like Rousseau and the 18th century Encyclopédie. Likewise, the social struggle of his time, he said, derived from one book, Karl Marx's Das Kapital.

Youngsters are being told to study courses that lead to work and money.

In our time of buoyant imperialism and neoliberalism, and untold miseries for millions worldwide, learning is as precious, and spurned, as in the 1930s. It's all about capital gains and currency curves today, and keeping the poor in their place — firmly on the sidelines. It's a matter of utility, and ignorance is far more useful here than books and philosophy. Ignorance makes people submissive and soft and malleable. Mincemeat. Even that dandy Oscar Wilde said it — art is entirely useless.

So, stop your Democritus and Aristotle, and your Kant and co., not to mention taking risks in life, for they will "yield" nothing. The dictatorship of money cannot allow anything so silly as literature at university to impede the march of profits.

Federico García Lorca at family's summer residence Huerta de San Vicente, in Granada, in 1932

Wikimedia

Contempt for education

The philosopher Nuccio Ordine observes on the uselessness of all "unprofitable" learning in his book L'utilità dell'inutile, which explains the dwindling budget for humanities at universities.

Youngsters are being told to study courses that lead to work and money. That precludes the arts, literature and philosophy that may prompt some big ideas and questions about the state of the world. Ordine recently told an online review, Ethic, that rankings were corrupting universities.

Contempt for learning and education is the norm now.

A chemistry professor at New York University was dismissed after students complained their examinations were too hard, and the university justified it, saying students must be treated well — as paying customers. That, Ordine said, was tantamount to students buying degrees.

Contempt for learning and education for its own sake is the norm now, in a world of banks and multinational businesses. What's the use of history, you'll hear time and again? The world's tormentors need a smooth ride on people's backs.

The reading public is a truculent lot, constantly reflecting on their rights and who's free or not. As Ordine states in his interview, Machiavelli already knew that an informed man was free and the ignorant one, inevitably a slave.

Ordine reminds those urging us not to waste an otherwise productive time reading Don Quixote or Les Misérables that the classics are not read to get a degree, but to learn to live. But that's enough daydreaming for today!

I wonder if anyone delights at the sight of a library these days, like García Lorca, assuming any new public libraries are still being opened.

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