So, I was at the seminar last Friday when the presenter made an offhand reference to "light pollution." He was talking about how many more stars are visible in the desert, away from all the light pollution of the city. It immediately occurred to me that there is a post hidden in that term -- either that or a hit song.
Our ancient furbears wouldn't have comprehended the idea. For them there was light and darkness, the former an unambiguously good thing, the latter a dangerous -- and even dark! -- quality. You couldn't have too much light. But you could certainly have too much darkness. Remember, before the invention of electric light in the 19th century, darkness was total. Nowadays we rarely encounter anything like it, even, say, while camping. That's only pretend darkness.
It is important to bear this in mind whenever we encounter the symbolism of dark and light in premodern literature -- for example, "the Light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it," or "I am the light of the world." Those were very bold and vivid statements in a world that couldn't just flip a switch to illuminate their space.
From the earliest times, it seems that light and thought have been equated. To prove that claim, I'm looking in the index of my Familiar Quotations, but the references are too numerous. Too much light! Here's a line by Paul from 1 Timothy: "Ye are all the children of light, and the children of day: we are not of the night, nor of the darkness." Here's one from Ecclesiastes: "Wisdom exceeds folly, as far as light exceeds darkness." And from 1 John: "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all."
Interesting. The 18th century poet Thomas Gray writes of the possibility of too much light, or at least more than we can handle: He saw; but blasted with excess of light, / Closed his eyes in endless night. And Matthew Arnold makes reference to Light half-believers of our casual creeds, / Who never deeply felt, nor clearly willed...
Here's a crack by Goethe: Someday perhaps the inner light will shine forth from us, and then we shall need no other light. Ah. Here's a good one from Theodor Roethke: Who rise from flesh to spirit know the fall: / The word outleaps the world, and light is all.
Here is a cosmic -- if somewhat pantheistic sounding -- sentiment expressed by Jean Toomer : Beyond plants are animals, / Beyond animals is man, / Beyond man is the universe, / The Big Light, / Let the Big Light in!
Ooh. This was still the common sentiment when I began attending college: "A university should be a place of light, of liberty, and of learning" (Disraeli). It has since become a place of darkness, thought control, and indoctrination.
There are obviously many more, but let's move on.
I'm thinking of the Upanishads, which often symbolize God as the sun and Light as wisdom or liberation. The Isha Upanishad says Worlds there are without suns, covered up with darkness. To these after death go the ignorant.
Well, not anymore. Now you can just go to college. Progress!
To darkness are they doomed who worship only the body, and to a greater darkness they who worship only the spirit. What is the solution to this conundrum? Incarnation. You know, the Light becomes darkness that the darkness may become Light.
It seems that there was once a recognition that all light was of the Light. For this reason, you wouldn't confuse a candle with the sun, nor would you utilize a flashlight to try to locate it. Which is why you don't go searching after God with just the light of (lower case r) reason. Rather, reason itself is a reflection of the Light you seek.
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad lays out the Whole Point of it all: Lead me from the unreal to the real, / Lead me from darkness to light / Lead me from death to immortality.
Now, light pollution. What could that be? Think of standing in the middle of the Las Vegas strip. Plenty of light there. But try seeing the stars. There won't be any. Except the living dead ones on stage.
I would say that for human light to be functional, it must be a prolongation of the divine light. Or at least it cannot presume to exist independently without taking on a kind of darkness. In other words, knowledge must be illuminated by wisdom. Scientism, or positivism, or pragmatism, for example, are knowledge without light. And for certain souls, they can become so bright that they obscure the very Light from which they emanate.
But the liberal media are the quintessential case of light pollution. Being in and of that world is analogous to standing on the Vegas strip and seeing nothing beyond it. Academia is only slightly better. Or worse. I can't make up my mind. Consider:
"32 Percent of Millennials Believe George W. Bush Killed More People Than Stalin." Whose fault is this? Is it the fault of the light pollution of the media? Or the propagation of darkness by academia?
I reject this false alternative. It's both.