Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Dust Bowl of the Mind

“The real use of a thinker to us is that he sets our sluggish mind in motion, and opens up new vistas for us to travel on our own feet.”  (John Arthur Gossip)

The Great Plains region of the United States (Oklahoma and Texas panhandles, sections of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico—a 150,000-square-mile area) has little rainfall, light soil, and high winds.  The early farmers knew this, but paid little attention to this destructive combination and over-farmed the area.  From 1932 to 1937 a series of droughts dried out the soil.  Since the soil lacked a strong root system of grass to serve as an anchor, the ever constant prairie winds easily picked up the loose topsoil and swept thousands of tons of dirt (via dust storms called  “black blizzards”) all across the nation. The dust storms wreaked havoc, choking cattle and pasture lands, and driving sixty percent of the population (“exodusters”) out of the “Dust Bowl.”

I thought of the “Dust Bowl” this morning when I read  the following:  “Sir Joshua Reynolds used to tell his students, ‘the mind is but a barren soil, which is soon exhausted, and will produce no crop, or only one, unless it be continually fructified and enriched with foreign matter.  The greatest natural genius cannot subsist on its own stock:  he who resolves never to ransack any brain but his own will soon be reduced, from mere barrenness, to the poorest of all imitations; he will be obliged to imitate himself, and to repeat what he has before often repeated.’”

Our individual minds, like the Great Plains,  are barren soil, soil that will soon be exhausted, if we do not continually ransack the minds of others and carefully cultivate and develop our thinking.  If we do not read, study, and learn from history, science, etc.,  and use that knowledge, we will have no anchor when the winds come. The winds are blowing now.   Our own poor shallow opinions  and notions will not stand in the face of these winds.  We must cast our nets wide and seek the wisdom of others who have gone before and those of our own time, reading all kinds of things from poetry to biographies to keep ourselves anchored in the present drought (fake news and other silly notions) if we want to withstand the frivolous winds.

Goethe wrote:  “the most irritating of all people are clever young men (or anyone else) who think they deny their own originality if they admit that what they think of has never been thought of by any one else before.” 

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