“It has always been my belief that people who spend too much time with my work end up as lost souls, drained of reason, who lead lives of raving emptiness and occasional lunatic violence. What a relief it is to see this documented.” – Liberalism Lemony Snicket
When I was growing up, Mom encouraged me to read a lot. She brought home encyclopedias, dictionaries, Bibles, and thesauruses so I could learn facts about the world. She took my siblings and me to local libraries on weekends in the summer, so we could exercise our minds during the dog days of bare feet, sweet tea, mosquitos, and moon pies. Dad kept saying, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it”, and “A mind is terrible thing to waste.” I certainly didn’t want to lose my mind.
When I think about my success in school and getting into Yale, I think first and foremost of my parents encouraging me to read. I think of books and all they taught me. For inasmuch as learning is sacred, books are acolytes of the divine. The idea of hurting them is somehow…sinful. They are, after all, a singular inheritance. If all society were lost tomorrow, and we had to start from scratch, we would rediscover writing, electricity, industry, astronomy, and all the gifts of science and math. But the lessons of our books would have gone the way of the nephilim and Atlantis. All those windows into vast tapestries of imagining and experience would never be more than half-remembered dreams from too many lifetimes ago.
So imagine my horror at discovering that some postmodern industrialist smilingly murdered a series of books to decorate storage space. The barbarians are inside the gates, indeed. I always imagined there was an abyss at the heart of civilization, the analog of the supermassive black holes within all the galaxies in heaven. I never thought I would catch of glimpse of what it might be like to see that void, that negation of all sapience—that ultimate nihilism. It’s enough to make you wonder—or cry or plea—is anything sacred?
One of the things that struck me in places like Yale—where a certain kind of liberalism is the smog you have to breathe—was how often the answer to that question seemed to be: “What does that even mean?”
Dear Reader, I cannot tell you what that means. If you have never felt anything like transcendence, purpose, or calling to rise above yourself, I cannot talk to you of Honor. If you have never believed anything worth fighting or dying for, even when the stakes seem impossibly trivial and the potential reward more spiritual than effable, I cannot speak to you of Sacred. If you have never met something so beautiful that the experience of it could only be a testament to Truth, I cannot convey to you Beauty. And if you have never fallen in love across a bridge of pulp and ink, I cannot explain to you why a book is more precious than a mockingbird.
I can’t make you care about or understand anything. I can only show you the little pieces of the world that I see. And through words across the cloud, you’ll learn something true or not. If you believe that something substantial would be lost forever if every book were ruined, then we are at least as far as the foothills of tradition, with its many idiosyncrasies.
If you cannot fathom freedom without this precious inheritance, then you have another portrait of why I am a conservative.