In Defense of the Dark Ages

The other day I was on a video conference and while we were awaiting the leader, I took a moment to sell my “Great Books of the Western World” set. I do this any chance I get. These books are fantastic. Anyhow, the most intriguing part of the set is the concrete evidence of the so-called “Dark Ages”. Sitting between Augustine (vol 18) and Aquinas (vol 19) is a whole lotta nuthin’. That’s about 600 years of “darkness”. I find that nothingness exceedingly compelling.

Anyhow, while waiting, this lady says something that I’ve heard my whole life—without seeing a single shred of evidence—like, “I thought we’ve found that there really was plenty written by other cultures during that time.”

I said something like, “Nope”

Now, she thought she had the upper hand and she struck with something like, “So then why do people say that?”

I said, “Well, essentially, it’s just a lie.”

This never goes over well. Oh well.

Today I wanted to clarify my thoughts and record them for posterity.

If you don’t think the Dark Ages existed, you’re not just saying, “I think recent archeological enterprises have resulted in unearthing writings from between 400AD to 1000AD.” You’re actually saying, (without having even submitted one entry into the written record), “I know more than every human being who has lived since Augustine.” In other words, you’re saying, “My thoughts deserve to be in the Great Books,” despite having not even written them down.

Too strong? Don’t believe me? Allow me to explain.

It’s not just that some editor left out recently discovered writings, it’s that every other author whose genius (unlike yours) has made the world turn and given you almost every thought that you ever have or ever will have conceived left them out.

The negative claim that there was a “dark age” is not limited to a “dark age” for the West, unlike the positive claim that the Great Books of the Western World is limited to the “West”. It is about a “dark age” for human genius. And human genius, by definition, requires permanent results. And permanence is found in one of two ways—directly and indirectly. Directly, the genius is still in play. (Socrates’ skepticism, Trojan Horse, and “Oedipus’ complex” to name a few early ones.) Indirectly, the genius inspired other genius. (Euclid’s Elements > Space X’s reusable rockets. Even if Euclid stops being taught, his (and others’) ideas in the “Elements” can never be forgotten so long as we’re more technologically advanced than mankind was in 300BC.)

In any case, consider the pride in, “I thought we found writings during that period,” before you utter it. I really don’t believe that you intend to be so vain.

That’s the lasting beauty of the Great Books. To criticize them, you have to either willfully ignore them or submit your own entry. The danger in ignoring them is being played out as we live and breathe through masks in the West. The danger in submitting your own entry is public humiliation.

To be sure, the “Dark Age” was real.

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