While reading The Plague by Albert Camus, I came across this passage that made me think about our theme Seeing and Knowing. The Plague is a book written in 1947 about the contamination of the city Algier in Algeria. The more spread and possible interpretation of Camus’ text (considering the time it has been written) is the metaphor of the nazi’s occupation in Europe during the second world war. The Resistance groups (represented by the the sanitary groups fighting against the plague) and the fight against the occupation and the horror. In this passage, Camus talks about how the most important thing is not to be good or bad, but not to stay ignorant about the current issues.
Translation by Stuart Gilbert: “However, it is not the narrator’s intention to ascribe to these sanitary groups more importance than their due. Doubtless today many of our fellow citizens are apt to yield to the temptation of exaggerating the services they rendered. But the narrator is inclined to think that by attributing overimportance to praiseworthy actions one may, by implication, be paying indirect but potent homage to the worse side of human nature. For this attitude implies that such actions shine out as rare exceptions, while callousness and apathy are the general rule. The narrator does not share that view. The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding. On the whole, men are more good than bad; that, however, isn’t the real point. But they are more or less ignorant, and it is this that we call vice or virtue; the most incorrigible vice being that of an ignorance that fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill. The soul of the murderer is blind; and there can be no true goodness nor true love without the utmost clear-sightedness.”
I thought it was very interesting to consider Camus’ view on ignorance and knowledge when we saw Rousseau’s and Sophocles’, who gave us a hard time deciding wether staying ignorant was better than knowing the truth sometimes or if staying ignorant and blind is better for oneself.
Camus’ view on Knowledge or at least the opinion he gives his narrator (let’s not assume he puts himself in the shoes of the narrator) is pretty fixed. For him : “The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding. On the whole, men are more good than bad; that, however, isn’t the real point. But they are more or less ignorant, and it is this that we call vice or virtue; the most incorrigible vice being that of an ignorance that fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill. The soul of the murderer is blind; and there can be no true goodness nor true love without the utmost clear-sightedness.” Since the book’s interpretation mostly focuses on the European Resistance towards the Nazis, we can understand that he urges people to get knowledge and to not stay blind to such situations when something bad is obviously happening. It’s more about not ignoring an issue and taking a stand than doing good things in an ignorant way. He would even consider associate ignorance as a vice and knowledge or the “les ignorance”, maybe the interest to get information as a virtue.
I was going to proofread this post before posting it in case I made grammar mistakes or whatever, but after the awful events that happened in my country, in Paris, and in the world (Bagdad and Beirut), I just cannot wait to post it. When I read this passage I was thinking about Neo-socialism, but now all i can think about it terrorism. all the lives lost. all those dead bodies. and i couldn’t agree more with camus. we need to know. we need to inform ourselves. we need to be aware of what is going on in the world. and most importantly we must acknowledge that no human life is more important than another. I am so moved by what happened in paris because I am french, this is my capitale city, it represents my nation and some of my friends live there. but we should not forget and we/i still should be moved and disgusted by what is happening in the middle east. the attacks in paris are AWFUL and i just can’t believe it happened, but after reasoning myself and managing to calm down, i can’t stop thinking about all the dead bodies in Syria, all the people escaping war at THIS EXACT MOMENT, and we just stopped talking about it. we just don’t talk enough about it. and we do amalgams, we confuse those migrants with terrrorism, we confuse islam with terrorism and it is not okay. we need to be informed, we cannot stay ignorant about what is happening around us or we sadly, unconsciously let this happen.
This post wasn’t supposed to be a rant about terrorism, France, or the civil war in Syria, but I started it a few days ago without being able to finish it and tonight I just cannot stop writing and thinking about how much it can relate to our theme and to the current events.
All I wanna say to close this post is THANK YOU for acknowledging and supporting us, french people, you cannot imagine how much it means to me, us. BUT, Knowing is everything. Please do not stay ignorant to every thing that is happening everywhere else in the world. Please get knowledge and get informed, please support other people and other cultures. Please do not mix up religion and terrorism. As Camus said, it is not about being good are bad, it’s about not staying ignorant. Because all those terrorists, who killed hundreds of people around the world today, they were blind. Please do not stay blind. you don’t wanna be blind.