“Of Pedantry” by Michel de Montaigne

Even Montaigne's (the inventor of the essay) Essays came back with with scribbled notes from his fucking professor. "Nice set up but your evidence needs improvement."
“Your stitch up of us pedants is duly noted. Not enough quotations from Ancient Greece. 12/20.”

“Of Pedantry”

I was always annoyed, when watching Italian farces, to see the pedant (teacher, tutor) to be the complete idiot of the play. Perhaps it was because they just weren’t able to explain themselves to the rest of the characters but it seems that a lot of people are annoyed with pedantry. Even the Romans learned to wretch at the words “Greek” and “scholar”. But it must be that those from a clerk mindset aren’t the right ones to be masters of learning.

It finally occurred to me why this is so. It seems that if you jam your head full of knowledge but don’t do the same with understanding and reason, then your head is really just full of facts and nothing more. You don’t become any wiser. Just like you can drown a plant with too much water, too many facts can really cause damage to your mind. Also, you become more fixated on the acquisition of knowledge rather than on understanding it. But you usually see men who have done very well for themselves knowing a lot.

Philosophers are also seen as pretty out there by other people. Do you think they’d ever been sitting on a court bench? I’m sure that they’d want to. They don’t really see high officials, princes and kings with any sort of reverence because they were descended from King So-and-So 20 generations back. That’s just a coincidence and doesn’t seem matter a bit to justice. But that image of philosophers given to us by Plato isn’t really what we’re seeing today of these pedants. Those men were able to make themselves higher through learning. What we see today is the sort of person who learns in order to rub our faces in the fact that they’re so high and we’re so small.

The philosophers were not men just of talk but of action. Archimedes was able to use his skills in Geometry to help his countrymen of Syracuse in devising all sorts of military equipment based on his knowledge. Some others saw how corrupt and inept government officials are and avoided politics altogether. They stuck to Philosophy until the government got its head out of its own ass. They’d rather stay away from idiots and corrupt politicians and theorize on whatever than to stoop so low as to fraternize with those who either aren’t worthy of the company or might corrupt them. Some would rather make a mint in business than to do politics. Some would call those men wise but not prudent but it might also be that they don’t want to deal with all the shit involved in politics.

So it seems that all that money spent on education gives us just pure knowledge and nothing with respect to judgment and reason. We should focus more on who has learned better rather than who has learned more.

It’s like the pedants are just feeding us like birds feed their young. They are just stuffing our mouths with whatever they picked up from somewhere else. We collect this stuff just to collect it. We don’t actually do anything with it. Even I do the same thing dropping quotes from this guy or that guy. It’s as if to say, “oh, look at how much I’ve learned.” Never mind if what I’m quoting has anything to do with what I’m saying or if it’s even true. It’s really just to try to impress everyone with pretty words or how many books you’ve read.

We use other people’s words to say things but what is it that we have to say? We are really just parroting others’ words. That reminds me of some fella in Rome who would always have some scientist around him to have on hand when he was with friends. When he wanted a quote from Seneca or Homer, he’d have the guy give him the quote. The guy thought this was his own knowledge because he employed people who knew him. I know a guy I was talking to who, whenever we were talking about something,  would whip out a book to find out what I was talking about.

We take other people’s knowledge and opinions of our own without bothering to learn how to make our own. What’s the point of all this learning if we don’t actually use it for anything other than show? If I want to make someone feel better, I can use someone else’s words. It’s unoriginal and stupid. You can learn through other men’s words but you can’t become wise through other men’s wisdom. That’s got to be done by yourself.

Some of these guys go away to school and spend their time being so precise in what they learn not in how they learn. They are away for 14, 15 years and come back no wiser than they were before. The only difference is that the fact that they learned Latin and Greek has made them look smarter to everyone around them.

These pedants try to play themselves as the heroes of humanity but really what do they do for us? Not only do they not make us better, they actually make us worse. At least with a carpenter or a mason, they give us something practical. But these guys make us worse off and we have to pay them! A lot of these guys have got absolutely no common sense. You’ll see more humble but skilled men talk about things with common sense and humility. They stick to what they know but our pedants will never stop letting us know how much they know about everything. They’ll wow us with fancy words but behind them there is nothing.

I’ve known a bunch of people who will spout of a ton of gobbledygook  about this and that all day but never really answer anything asked of them. On the other hand, I’ve got a friend who falls under the same category with such a great into any topic you present him and can give you amazing answers in spite of pedantic education. So, not all of these characters are shysters.  But the point of that is that education must better us, not just load us with facts, etc. Some parliaments only accept members with a good educational background but make no inquiry into their judgments. Education is very important but judgment’s more important.

In some cases, it’s best that someone who would become a pendant never actually go through his education. Learning shouldn’t be tied someone’s soul but to his work. Then his work will be applied to his soul. If he learns to use it properly in his work, then he will be a master of it. If he doesn’t, he will be its victim.

The business of knowledge is not to give sight to men but to direct the eyes. Knowledge is not enough to make a man’s mind reasonable and pure. It’s similar to a poorly shoed cobbler and a run-down physician. Some of the people who profess a knowledge don’t actually follow the advice they’re handing out. In some cases, trying to push philosophy on people does them more harm than good because their minds aren’t conditioned for it. Persians would take their children and hand them over straight away to be raised in how to live properly and not to their mothers or nurses. Once they were taught right from wrong, they were taught to ride and to hunt. At 14, they were given religious and moral instruction to make sure they lived good lives. In Sparta, the youngsters were required to make judgments based on sound reasoning before they were turned out to be fully-fledged  citizens.

At the time, people were sent out all over Greece to learn about rhetoric, painting and music. But they were sent to Sparta to learn how to govern and run an army. Socrates never had any use for the Spartans because they never focused on grammar, art, etc.

It seems at this point that Turkey is the biggest empire. They put military above learning. Rome was very big until it focused so much on learning and pedantry. The learning only persists when the learning knows its smaller place and doesn’t usurp the vigor of military and warlike state.

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