Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org &
Knatz.com / Personal / Writing / Letters /
I’ve written a lot of letters over the years and have learned that many got passed around, shared. I’d been hunt-and-peck typing since grammar school, only teaching myself touch typing after college (as still another procrastination: one which has proved to be a great time saver, one without which there would be no Knatz.com, no Knatz stories, no Macroinformation. Unfortunately, I sent my missives without having made carbons. Further-unfortunately, when I did make a carbon, I seldom dated things (prior to getting digital, with time and date stamp macros): on 1980 July 24 it would have been quite clear to me that it was late July, 1980. I expected the recipient to receive the letter by August and to know: this would have been written late July 1980. I thought the body of the letter was myself documenting myself enough. That’s fine in mayfly time, but makes later dating problematical. Little did I think in the ’40s-’80′s that I’d be researching myself in the ’90s and 2000s.
Anyway, some of the letters were dated and I select from those few not lost over time to share materials I find still relevant. The subject of the following, ignorant (or malicious) misuse of the word Humanism, is if anything more relevant today than two decades ago.
to Carl Sagan: 1980 July 24
I am just reading you for the first time and find myself delighted, stimulated, informed, entertained … Eagerly looking forward to the NET series this autumn. [the release time for Sagan's Cosmos]
Love the story about the South African orchid beetle on p. 71 of The Dragons of Eden.
Impressed from the outset by your encyclopedic range and your unusual balance, your handling of myth, e.g. … [I would soon learn that I could have added his poetry.] But must comment on the limits you attribute to the word “humanism” [pp. 81-82]. At the start of the Renaissance, it simply meant the study of Greek. Not that that was any simple thing. In Rabelais’ day it was still a capital offense. The Church (rightly) feared it as revolutionary. When we hear Pope’s The proper study of mankind is man, it sounds like a truism, but three, four centuries before, the proper study of mankind had been God and the word of God. And he, God, wrote in Latin! and the Church had priests to read it for you. Start studying Greek and you may discover that the authority of the Bible isn’t as simple as you had been led to believe. The Church knew it, but didn’t want anyone else to know it. Start reading anything, including the Bible, and authority is in big trouble.
Anyway, suddenly there were all sorts of new monasteries, only they weren’t divine: they were secular, and they were called universities. Reading Greek you got the feeling that is was OK to like the things the Greeks, Arabs, Egyptians, etc. had liked. Arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music formed the big four or quadrivium. Less important but still big with the Humanists were the other three of the seven liberal arts: the trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric.
To associate humane learning with humane qualities — with morality or with things good for the soul like poetry — is tempting and common; but historically and etymologically wrong. Humanism just means us; not HIM!
I can remember even such a man as Moses Hadas justifying the liberal arts to a bunch of Columbia alumni as though they didn’t include, indeed, weren’t (historically) led by, the quadrivium.
What we’re largely illiterate about these days, as Gregory Bateson points out (Mind and Nature) is theology! Funny turn of things.
Have now gotten to your Garden of Eden chapter. What I said above doubles. Now I’m trying to remember what GBS wrote about it before Methusela.
Looking forward to reading much more, thanks,
Dr. Carl wrote back “… I take your point on the evolution of our view of “humanism” and I entirely agree with your conclusion that free inquiry poses problems to all authorities. I hope you like Cosmos. …”
Little did I know in my first blush of discovering Sagan how much of the “poetry” I would soon discover may have come from this or that contributing girl friend. But then work palmed under one name is routinely the work of a factory (Titian, Rubens …
André Dumas …) and a life under a male appellation may mask much distaff contribution. Neither did I know what an intellectual bully and dishonest rhetorician Dr. Carl could be: witness his sabotage of Dr. Immanuel Velikovsky’s work. Big Science is liable to all the same temptations that made the Church a Whore of Babylon.