“The nature and quality of all living things are known to country boys better than philosophers,” so said William Cobbett, a pamphleteer during the Napoleonic era; it was a sentiment echoed by his contemporary, Jefferson. If this be so, then modern British people must be uncommonly ignorant as regards wisdom—for only 1.5% of the population works in agriculture; and, I am sure, modern industrial agriculture occults “the nature and quality of all living things”. Cobbett added: “If the cultivators of the land be not, generally speaking, the most virtuous and most happy of mankind, there must be something at work in the community to counteract the operations of nature.” Ergo, modern Britain must be unhappy and without virtue.
When Cobbett spoke about “philosophers” he had in mind men like Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus—men that we would today call “experts”. Indeed, you could say that what he referred to was the conflict between wisdom and intellect; in a mechanical techno-scientific sense we know more than we ever did—the average Oxfordshire teenager knows more today than Cobbett’s “country boys” ever did; yet they are not so wise. Wisdom is not knowledge, it is more like art—more like the poetry and rhythm of nature; it has no solution, only a mystery.
A Catholic priest once said to me that the problem today is that people cannot see the stars. Indeed, Cobbett’s “country wisdom” would be inherently linked to the stars: the country folk watch the Great Bear wheel about; they watch the leaves change to know when to plant; they precess around the fields as one body, led by the village priest, on a saint’s day. These activities were integral to the crops and life itself. Today, even the tiny agricultural workforce relates to the fields as to a factory floor: the tractors are guided by GPS, by artificial stars—and farmers do not watch the birds and the trees to decide when to sow and when to reap, they watch spreadsheets and weather forecasts.
This is what Heidegger meant when he said we live in an “enframed” world; even the most primal activity, agriculture, has become a techno-scientific procedure determined by a particular mathematisation—a particular way to see the world, extractively. Yet the constellations were once the gods that wheeled above us, and Noah’s flood was in the sky—a celestial age washed away by the Earth’s rotation. Today, we only think there might be an ark buried in some mountain—we seek geological evidence of a flood because we cannot think otherwise; indeed, Heidegger would say we do not think at all.
So? I went on holiday to Tenerife and I have a BMW. So? What is the use of all this bollocks? What does it get me? There is no use; except, consider the Taliban: they are still “country boys” with country wisdom—and they beat the greatest empire the world has ever known. Why? Because, as Cobbett would say, they live virtuously—cultivating poppies perhaps. The Taliban know about loyalty, blood, and kin—they know how to see. The forces arrayed against them were not so virtuous: sodomites; women; transsexuals; Mexican opportunists serving for citizenship; and white American soldiers paying OnlyFans whores they will never meet to show their boobs. Yes, the technology is superior—yet, as Jefferson would have predicted, men tied to their land and families will prevail. This is why wisdom ultimately defeats the intellect; the intellect can only get you things, whereas wisdom is eternal.
In the film 300, the Spartans face down a decadent sexually ambiguous multi-racial tyranny—Persia. In the film’s imagination, Persia represented Iran—then next in line for attack by America’s ascendant neoconservatives. The Spartans were meant to be hardy virtuous Americans. The film was topsy-turvy: it was the Taliban who proved to be the 300, hardy and virtuous men, who faced down the larger and better equipped “big gay empire”; America and her allies constitute Persia—or Babylon, perhaps.