My readers of earlier days often found fault with my tendency to ponder certain questions at the expense of ”coming up with solutions” — which may not be my strong point. Nevertheless I have been thinking about a few quotes I read lately. I suppose what was true in the days of Byron, or E.P. Whipple may no longer apply.
First, Lord Byron:
“Words are things; and a small drop of ink, falling like dew upon a thought, produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.”
Then, E.P. Whipple,a New England writer and essayist:
“The invention of printing added a new element of power to the race. From that hour the brain and not the arm, the thinker and not the soldier, books and not kings, were to rule the world; and weapons, forged in the mind, keen-edged and brighter than the sunbeam, were to supplant the sword and the battle-ax.”
Some time back I posted a quote that said ‘Propaganda is to a democracy what a bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.” There is certainly truth to that today.
As to the first two quotes, does the printed (or written) word hold the same power and influence as it once did, in more literate and serious-minded times? Attention spans are much shorter now (in part, thanks to the Internet, and also to lightweight, dumbed-down books and discourse in general). Few people read substantial, high-quality books. Conversation isn’t what it used to be; any literary references will rarely have to do with classic, time-tested thought, but rather pop-culture ephemera in most circles.
And I think Whipple was indulging in some wishful thinking if he believed that the ‘thinker’ has prevailed over the man of action, though the latter doesn’t seem to be in great supply now.
If only thoughts and ideas, preferably nobler ones, carried such weight as Byron suggested. And in the times of both Byron and Whipple, I don’t think there were such great rifts within Western civilization, not on the scale of today’s internal strife. Certainly even in those days warfare was still a fact of life, as always. Today, though, we have a ‘cold’ war ongoing which sometimes crosses a line to real strife and leaves us, the citizens of this country, unable to communicate in a civil fashion with those who oppose.
If only words were still capable of stirring people in the way that Byron believed. Maybe words are too abstract for today’s people, and only visual stimuli provoke thought on a deeper level. Who knows.
We seem to be stuck in a state where we are paralyzed and not capable of moving in one direction or another. I suppose our present immobility suits us for the time being as we seem at a loss as to which way to turn, or what to think about our predicament.