Why do we do it? For no purpose but to acquire knowledge. And why do we acquire knowledge? Because we are Homo sapiens. That’s what we do. Or, as Francis Bacon said of knowledge, it ‘is not onely the excellentest thing in man, but the very excellencie of man’. Aye, and woman too, sether. The queen he served could reflect upon the nature of things for three hours at a time, in Latin.
Aye, bacon, sether Albert, we can smell the butties of it on the June breeze, even if it is beyond our depleted purses, and we must still make do with MadamMeMe’sMeatyBits, now dispensed in noisome slurry by ill-paid and angry semi-slaves coerced by the plump pink plutocrats into drudging for less than a working wage, so even this miserable condition of labour has to be subsidised by tax, so that the tax-free corporations can become even more hideously deformed by cancerous wealth.
But it is not of dead pig that I speak. It is of that prophet of the Enlightenment, of the way we who are at the leading edge of evoculture think and feel, Francis Bacon, who lived more than four hundred years ago. He would have understood evoculture. To hear him quoted is to get glimpses of our present seen from nearly half a millennium ago. We could, maybe we will, take his sayings and of each one ask, and how does evoculture account for this?
I leave you with some of them, sethren. They are taken from a review, in the London Review of Books Volume 35 Number 3, by Keith Thomas, of The Oxford Francis Bacon Vol. I: Early Writings 1584-96, edited by Alan Stewart with Harriet Knight.
Keith Thomas’s first quote for sure deals with something we will need to explain by cultural evolution. Sethren, for the short months of summer, adieu.
Bacon had a keen understanding of the bonds that held political societies together… : ‘Relligion and Conscience restinge in the devine ordinaunce whereby princes raigne; Feare of the settled power of the present estate; Love in Recognition of benefittes enioyed, with apprehencion of the manyfolde evills of Innovacion; and Custome of obedience fortefying all the rest’.
‘The monumentes of witt survive the monumentes of power.’
…acquire knowldege, ‘which is not onely the excellentest thinge in man, but the very excellencie of man’.
The scholastics were men of ‘ great wittes, farre above myne own’, but they had produced nothing. ‘All the learneinge that hath byne thiese many hundered years’ had not resulted in a single invention or brought to light ‘one effecte of nature before unknowne’, but the crucial inventions of printing, gunpowder and the mariner’s compass were ‘stumbled vpon and lighted on by chance’. The ‘Souerraignetie of man’ still lay ‘hidd in knowldege’.
In Graies Inne Revells Bacon projects the in-the-world apparatus of the Enlightenment and the Encycopaedia to enable a systematic exploration of ‘what soeuer is hidden and secret in the world’. This apparatus would include ‘a most perfect and generall librarie’; ‘a most spacious and wonderfull gardin'; ‘a goodlie huge Cabinett’ of ‘whatsoeuer the hand through exquisit arte and engine hath made rare in forme or motion’; and a ‘still-house’ or laboratory, ‘furnished with mills, furnaces, instruments and vessels’; all this for ‘the knowledge of Causes, and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of Human Empire, to the effecting of all things possible’.
‘A contentious retayneinge of custom is a turbulent thing aswell as innovation.’
And again, much later, ‘a Froward Retention of Custome is as turbulent a Thing as an Innovation.’
And of all of us, sethren:
‘He doth like the ape that the higher he clymbes the more he shews his ars.’