The Fragility of Wonder
When I was a child, the world was magic.
Great beasts roamed the earth, wise and powerful, good and delightfully unsafe. Each landscape reached behind the stars -- theater to dynastic battles, harbor of solitude to the venerate wanderer. Those who walked about me spoke in riddles, their stories impossible and opaque, etched in the mysteries of the unknowable. I would ride out at dusk, staff whirling in hand, behind my back, then overhead, twirling, ever ready, a samurai draped in honor, prepared to wield my talents in the face of every terrible horde and monster.
When I was a child, I could fly.
And the wilderness was wild. Immense and treacherously beautiful, distinct and unaffected, infinitely larger than the other place we called home, and so, always and forever impervious to threat or alteration. A realm unto itself.
Every city was a storehouse of tales and intrigue. Their rhythms and edifices the contrails of some Colossus whose plan I was never told. A city was the Minotaur's Labyrinth, an endless maze of unexpectedness, of danger, and happy surprise.
Zarathustra must have guessed it was Education that birthed the death of God. No fantasy could withstand the text book's retelling of the march of boiling beaker and scalpel's edge, of microscope's gaze and equation's sum. Enlightenment killed magic. It had to. Man could never have Liberty while still trapped in the cave, watching the dance of magic's shadows.
There is no darker sin in this Age of Information than ignorance. To know is to live without mystery. There is no mystery or magic in the land of knowledge. There is only the known and the Google-able, the solved and the need-to-solve. But lifting into the cloud of unknowing is the requisite of wonder.
To know is to possess power, I was told. And to have power, for the modern colonialist, is to have power over and against.
But knowledge and power are the modern world's great self-deceiving lies. Both claim an absolutism, a totality that can never be theirs. Both attempt too much, over promising and under delivering. They are self-deceptions, a self-forgetting. They forget how little they still understand, how much goes on beyond their control. It is the Encyclopedist who believed he could write down all there is to be known, that the memorizing was the same as the knowing, and the knowing the same as the owning. They forget how different the knowing is from the thing itself. That to define life is not to give it being ex nihilo.
Liberalism's decimation of mythology gave rise to it's own myth: that absolute knowledge is absolutely possible and Education can make it yours, that a world without wonder is the world of our greatest wellbeing, and, most corrosively, that there is only one Reality for all to know and to which all must conform.
Without mystery, without wonder, there can be no God, but there can also be no humanity, no genuine relationships of mutually compassionate holding in which we look at one another and are amazed unto love. As we lost the emotional, moral, and cultural capacity to hold the ineffable, and I hope not to devolve too deeply into postmodern drivel here, but it seems we also lost the capacity to be held by community and place and all those webs of being that once gave the self-in-community-in-creation a sense clarity, identity, and meaning. The Myth of Knowing and the Cult of Education have, for the Modern Liberal, rattled, fractured, and perhaps even removed these fragile substructures.
I do not want to naively recapitulate harm as one who lives without history, the one who says there is no such thing as fact or causation. That is a view and a way of living on which oppression depends.
I want to live life awake. But I also yearn to dream dreams, fantastic and wild dreams, and to gaze at the world captivated by its magic.