Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/351

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
337
THE ADVANTAGES OF IGNORANCE.

THE ADVANTAGES OF IGNORANCE.
By Professor F. W. CLARKE.

THE occasional blissfulness of ignorance has long been the subject of one of our most popular proverbs. Coupled with a positive statement as to the folly of wisdom, it passes from mouth to mouth with the authority of an oracle. But the support given to the dogma is usually of a passive kind. The doctrine is stated, but not defended; while on the other hand our journals teem with arguments in favor of education, upon the importance of schools, and about the best methods of electing school trustees. The fact that the latter represent in their own persons the advantages of ignorance—that educated men can rarely attain to such superior positions—is never urged with anything like proper vigor. Education in one's self imbues one with prejudices concerning the education of others; and such prejudices, with their attendant partialities, ought to be rigidly excluded from the management of public institutions. Accordingly, in actual practice, uneducated men are placed as supervisors above thousands of cultivated teachers; and thus, in spite of the schools, the superiority of ignorance is clearly demonstrated.

In every walk of life, in all professions, a similar superiority is daily manifest. At the polls, the trained and intelligent statesman is defeated by the loud-mouthed stump-speaker, who knows nothing of jurisprudence, less of political economy, and only enough of finance to be able to draw and spend his salary with commendable regularity. The broadly educated, highly cultivated theologian is surpassed in popular esteem by the swaggering revivalist, who tears up human feelings by the roots as a child pulls up sprouting beans for growing the wrong way. In medicine, the quack has five times the patronage of the well-informed physician, and makes a fat living where the latter would only starve. Sick people are fond of liberal treatment, and like to be thought worse off than they really are. You have a slight cold, and a good doctor charges five dollars for curing you. But the brilliant empiric calls it congestion of the lungs, diphtheria, or pneumonia, visits you twice as often, and charges three times as much, and you feel that you have got a great deal more for your money. Your own ignorance chimes in with his, and both are better satisfied. Your stomach-ache is magnified into gastric fever; your boil becomes an incipient cancer; a slight chill indicates approaching typhoid. The quack flatters your self-love, exalts your own importance in exaggerating that of your disease, comforts you with a good, sympathetic scare, and depletes your veins and your pockets with admirable equanimity.

The old saying that "fools rush in where angels fear to tread"