IGNORANCE AND WANT
(image from Richards Williams' Academy Award winning animated short, "A Christmas Carol" from 1971)
In Charles Dicken's "A Christmas Carol", the Ghost of Christmas Present commands Scrooge to look well at the two hideous creatures skulking at the spirit's feet. Scrooge tries not to look at the forms of the two ghastly children, but the spirit insists. He says:
"This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."
Dickens was intensely interested in the plight of the poor of his day, and most especially the miserable lives of children growing up in grinding poverty. He knew well that a nation that tolerated either ignorance or structured itself in such a way that "want" would find no opportunity to break it's chains, would inevitably be consumed by them.
His solution was not government reform, much as our modern sensibilities might advocate, but rather that each one of us become our brother's keeper, and that we must as individuals do our part to end human suffering.
Are we far beyond all this in present day America? I'm not so sure. Just as we seemed to have cornered the market on wealth, prestige, knowledge and wisdom, things began to fall apart.
For one thing, today's young men who grow up in weak family structures, sometimes in decaying neighborhoods, sometimes in better ones, are the ones who join gangs. They are overwhelmingly drawn to the sense of identity and community that a gang offers - in other words, the gang becomes a family to them. And now we have to contend with the frightening reality that many in American prisons are now being radicalized into becoming Jihadists for much the same reason - the group is the family, the hierarchical, authoritative organization within which the individual is taught to structure his own life, and by which the he is promised hope for something better than the nothingness of now.
I believe today we are, as a people, in decline. The worst ignorance is willful ignorance. I believe we have made ourselves ignorant of our past, our heritage, and of right and wrong. We have become too lazy to care about all those things. These also get in the way of us taking our pleasure where we will. This sloth of spirit and slackening of right living now surely is leading to actual physical want. The bible warns us in Proverbs 24,
"I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding;
And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, [and] nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down.
Then I saw, [and] considered [it] well: I looked upon [it, and] received instruction.
[Yet] a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep:
So shall thy poverty come [as] one that travelleth (as a robber); and thy want as an armed man. "
We need to, and soon, heed this admonishment from Scripture:
Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.
Let's find those old paths before it gets too dark, for the lights are surely going out in the West.