I often chuckle when I hear this old adage. The argument goes that people are happier in their own little worlds, happier with the illusions and lead their lives without any sort of change because they wouldn’t know how to change it in the first place. For example, the happy wife or husband who is ignorant of their spouse’s affair, the orphan who believes his foster parents are really his biological parents, or the consumer who isn’t aware of how much fat is in a fast food meal. Apparently, knowledge brings with it the notion of an unwanted burden, the discomfort of having to do something to change one’s way of life based on one or more components of one’s illusory life that have suddenly been shattered or have disappeared in smoke. In short, one is doomed to the reality.
We hear this sort of talk echoed in the writings of Marx (religion as the opiate of the masses), Sartre (Nietzsche, God is dead, the burden of existence), and Hume (the skeptic: How can we know anything for sure?). And certainly, they are compelling in their own right.
Here I break with tradition, or rather I return to classical tradition, in order to make the claim that these modern authors, in supporting such claims, de-humanize the human spirit, that is they deprive our nature of its vitality and meaning as rational beings. Knowledge is liberation, it is the creative breath in our being. I raise my greatest defence by citing Plato’s cave – we must envy that prisoner who escapes the shadows and comes into the light. Yes, he is prey to the elements, the animals, and the unknown, fearful and alone, but he is there nonetheless, in the full light of the sun. He is a creative self, introducing himself as a new force in the real world, as a painter of his tabula raza. The spouse who discovers the affair is miserable, yes, but only for a time, for then he or she is no longer bound to them. The child who discovers his real parents are dead is sad, yes, but he learns to appreciate the ones he has and who have loved him in their place. The philosopher who knows that he or she knows nothing can despair, yes, but then his or her path is opens up in the search for truth. There is no need to be blind when our eyes only need to be accustomed to the light of that bright sun.