People hate civilization
I have a lot of books. Several thousand of them, mostly hardcovers. I have been collecting them for years. First I collected the books that I read - paperbacks. Then I moved to more durable hardcovers and collected books that I liked on topics I studied or that appealed to me some other way. The power of the printed word, the considerably difficult accomplishment of widespread literacy, and the transportation of old knowledge over time to add to constantly generated and expanding new knowledge in the present and future are the most important features of human civilization - even more important than the domestication of animals, the invention of the wheel, or fire, or hand tools. Those things - domestication of animals, fire and mechanics - are a function of knowledge and learning. Learning, and the preservation of the wisdom and learning of the centuries in books, are a miracle.
Thank God I was born and raised in an abundant, wealthy, literate, peaceful society like Canada. And yet, throughout my life I have consistently received a lot of resistance from others to books - the existence of books, my collection of books. I never understood it, because I thought it was so obvious and undeniable how books set us apart as special creatures, and that without them we are practically nothing especially not deserving of considering ourselves“civilized.” Civilization is a thin veneer at the best of times, and the power of books is a major element of that veneer. People must be stupid to resist them, and yet they do. Even today. I mean, this very day.
I know it is surprising, but civilization is quite unnatural and contrary to our true natures. Deep down people are actually quite hostile to it. I mean, we are natural barbarians. Or, that has been my experience. The most natural thing in the world is to thump your neighbor on the head, steal his woman, steal his ox, pillage his house and burn his books. The notions of behaving civil with our fellows, restraining ourselves and our selfish motives, voluntarily obeying laws, recognizing human rights to life, freedom, happiness, property et al, treating others in the manner we ourselves would like to be treated and living in peace with each other despite our differences are all alien to our human nature. So is the notion of cherishing things for their own sake - cherishing knowledge, cherishing beauty and trying to recreate it in the form of art and abstract expression, cherishing other people because we intuitively feel that they have value as cognizant beings similar to ourselves. Civilization as we know it, cultivated for thousands of years, is just dust in the wind, and it has to be taught from scratch to every generation. Looked at from an opposite angle, I would say that it behooves every generation to raze civil society to the ground in a heap of festering ashes, and then, of course, to raise it back up again, each generation in its own manner.
People who have this antipathy and hostility towards my books see their motives rooted in practicality. In other words, by their own admission, they are concerned with the useful function of books as the very definition of a virtue - as if utilitarianism alone, or utilitarianism primarily defines value. Without fail, the first question people ask me when they see my library (housed in Canada), is
“Have you read them all?” as if not reading a book undermines or destroys its value.
I always answer, “Yes, I have,” just to put it aside. Let them chew on that, I think.
Next, they ask, “But what good are they?”
That is my complaint in a nutshell, right there. Need I say more? Okay, I will.
For me, a library is an organism - or, at least, a nascent organism. Books are invested with the consciousness of those who produced them, and my conviction, then, is that a book is therefore potentially conscious. So, for example, a library is a place of heightened consciousness not so much because of the presence of humans engaged in intellectual activity there as of the presence of a great mass of books alone. And I like to imagine that if you collect a sufficient mass of books then you will have accumulated enough nascent consciousness to effect what I call “spontaneous generation of consciousness”: a new life form. It is through the accumulation of so much knowledge that a new, independent self-aware entity is generated.
Maybe I got the idea from the movie “Star Trek: The Movie,” more than twenty years ago. Remember it, starring all the actors from the original short-lived but much-loved television series? It is a feature-length adaptation of one of the old TV shows from the 1960s in which an old, late-20th century Voyager space probe returns to Earth after centuries of obsessively carrying out its program of collecting data: learn all that is learnable. It has collected so much data that it has become a conscious being as an effect of so much knowledge, and returns to the Earth in search of its “creator” in order to fulfill its programming by downloading its data - an accumulation of knowledge that spans the universe, according to Mr. Spock. Well, that is what I want in a personal library.
Or, maybe not.