Thoughts on economics and liberty

The importance of burning all books

Great thinkers are extremely rare. And somehow they seem to come in clusters – as in Florence during the Renaissance, or during the 1770s in the USA. A short window of opportunity seems to open up when a society is undergoing some form of upheaval. Free thought seems to burst through mouldy cracks and crevices, and a new, radical transformation is initiated. The entire society wakes up for a moment, charged with some of the vigour provided by its great thinkers. 

But soon, societies act to shut down freedom of thought, and everyone goes to sleep, reverting to the bad old ways. Even societies with so-called well-educated people soon become lazy and complacent. I believe that the vast majority of people, including the most highly qualified and even most Nobel laureates, are merely sheep and copycats (in this bigger scheme of things), living off the sparks generated by great thinkers. The ideas of such second rank thinkers are not big enough to shake up and reform entire societies. They offer us no new direction.

Instances of great thinking in history

Consider the reforms in 2500 BC that revolutionised India. A number of things happened then: the ancient Vedic regime was questioned; alternative world-views were offered, new directions were started upon. We note that this vigour lasted for a few hundred years, but political pressures soon set in, and innovation was lost. The next great thinker was Raja Rammohun Roy. But there was no clustering of other great thinkers in India at that time. We did have innovators like Gandhi, but no truly great thinker. India therefore languishes in the wilderness even today. 

Britain between the 1650s and 1850s was a glorious period for political philosophy and science with Hobbes, Locke, Smith, and Mill (I'll leave out the scientists but you know whom I'm referring to). Everything was turned upside down and the entire world was changed. But soon after, this brilliance decayed and copycats arose, particularly sub-standard thinkers like Green and Laski who tried to "mix-and-match" different ideas. Today's British political thought is shoddy and piecemeal. No one in England knows what they stand for. 

The same holds for USA. Its glorious period was around the 1760s to 1860s, when original thought led to great innovation in all fields. But by the 1900s, it too became a copycat nation with little new to offer. New thought in USA came from outside – through people like Ayn Rand, Hayek and von Mises. But the US did not listen to them. It is therefore on an inevitable decline, having destroyed many of the freedoms its founders stood for. And on things like its gun laws, utter confusion prevails, for these laws are based not on a fundamental view, but on blind adherence to an accident of history. 

Australia never had any great thinker. Only copycats. Confused leftists have influenced Australia through its copycat academic portals (you'd be hard pressed to find even a single book by von Mises in the university libraries of Australia). Accordingly, Australia has arrived at absurd views – such as a revulsion to nuclear power (even as they supply uranium to many countries), and unthinking opposition to capital punishment. In my last 10 years here (and in the one year earlier when I was a student here) I've not come across a single Australian (living or dead) whom I could classify as a great thinker.

Our education systems are creating robots

Our socialisation including our formal education is designed to create robots out of us with a cookie-cutter approach that churns out replicas. Invariably, leftist fuzzy ideas which are easy to teach are use to produce university graduates across the world. In India, things are much worse, since people are taught first and foremost to blindly respect their elders, and then asked to blindly worship everything their elders did. 

Either way, no one anywhere in the world is taught to THROW OUT THEIR BOOKS and think everything AFRESH.

The only teacher I know who showed us this path was Andre Gide who said: "You must make a bonfire in your heart, Nathaniel, of all your books." (Fruits of the Earth, Penguin, 1970, p.26). That is the single most important lesson in the world.

Read, read thousands of books. Learn, learn everything you can. Then throw everything away (figuratively!).

The key point is to NOT TAKE ANYTHING IN SOCIETY FOR GRANTED. Nothing we see today is at its final stage of evolution. We must challenge it. Ask questions. Demand better.

A society that does not teach such fundamental thinking is destined to be overtaken and even crushed by those that do. For India therefore I have only one key message: THROW AWAY ALL THE BOOKS, SCRIPTURES, VEDAS, NON-VEDAS, THIS, THAT, EVERYTHING. THEN START AFRESH.

Then, and only then can our concepts become clear.

Then, and only then can a new world take shape and take us to greatness unimagined. 

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6 thoughts on “The importance of burning all books
  1. Surya

    Reading is thinking with some one else’s head instead of one’s own. To think with one’s own head is always to aim at developing a coherent whole — a system, even though it be not a strictly complete one; and nothing hinders this so much as too strong a current of others’ thoughts, such as comes of continual reading. These thoughts, springing every one of them from different minds, belonging to different systems, and tinged with different colors, never of themselves flow together into an intellectual whole; they never form a unity of knowledge, or insight, or conviction; but, rather, fill the head with a Babylonian confusion of tongues. The mind that is over-loaded with alien thought is thus deprived of all clear insight, and is well-nigh disorganized. This is a state of things observable in many men of learning; and it makes them inferior in sound sense, correct judgment and practical tact, to many illiterate persons, who, after obtaining a little knowledge from without, by means of experience, intercourse with others, and a small amount of reading, have always subordinated it to, and embodied it with, their own thought.
    The really scientific thinker does the same thing as these illiterate persons, but on a larger scale. Although he has need of much knowledge, and so must read a great deal, his mind is nevertheless strong enough to master it all, to assimilate and incorporate it with the system of his thoughts, and so to make it fit in with the organic unity of his insight, which, though vast, is always growing. And in the process, his own thought, like the bass in an organ, always dominates everything and is never drowned by other tones, as happens with minds which are full of mere antiquarian lore; where shreds of music, as it were, in every key, mingle confusedly, and no fundamental note is heard at all.

    The above extract is from Arthur Shopenhauer's magnificient essay – "On thinking for oneself". It is available for online reading at http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/schopenhauer/arthur/lit/chapter5.html
    Henry hazlitt has also written a short but very powerful book on the subject of learning to think. The self-taught man he was, he speaks from personal experience. The book Thinking as a a Science is available for download at http://mises.org/books/thinking.pdf

     
  2. Surya

    Reading is thinking with some one else’s head instead of one’s own. To think with one’s own head is always to aim at developing a coherent whole — a system, even though it be not a strictly complete one; and nothing hinders this so much as too strong a current of others’ thoughts, such as comes of continual reading. These thoughts, springing every one of them from different minds, belonging to different systems, and tinged with different colors, never of themselves flow together into an intellectual whole; they never form a unity of knowledge, or insight, or conviction; but, rather, fill the head with a Babylonian confusion of tongues. The mind that is over-loaded with alien thought is thus deprived of all clear insight, and is well-nigh disorganized. This is a state of things observable in many men of learning; and it makes them inferior in sound sense, correct judgment and practical tact, to many illiterate persons, who, after obtaining a little knowledge from without, by means of experience, intercourse with others, and a small amount of reading, have always subordinated it to, and embodied it with, their own thought.
    The really scientific thinker does the same thing as these illiterate persons, but on a larger scale. Although he has need of much knowledge, and so must read a great deal, his mind is nevertheless strong enough to master it all, to assimilate and incorporate it with the system of his thoughts, and so to make it fit in with the organic unity of his insight, which, though vast, is always growing. And in the process, his own thought, like the bass in an organ, always dominates everything and is never drowned by other tones, as happens with minds which are full of mere antiquarian lore; where shreds of music, as it were, in every key, mingle confusedly, and no fundamental note is heard at all.

    The above extract is from Arthur Shopenhauer's magnificient essay – "On thinking for oneself". It is available for online reading at http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/schopenhauer/arthur/lit/chapter5.html
    Henry hazlitt has also written a short but very powerful book on the subject of learning to think. The self-taught man he was, he speaks from personal experience. The book Thinking as a a Science is available for download at http://mises.org/books/thinking.pdf

     

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