Ignorance and want: the prophecy of Charles Dickens

(Author’s note, May 12, 2020: More than two years have gone since this post was published. I trust Charles would agree events since then have proved his words are more remarkably and tragically prophetic than ever. I also trust he would tell us not to despair, but to shine a light of hope in the world, wherever we are, and however we can.)

(Author’s note, December 8, 2020: Whatever happens between now and Inauguration Day, or even after, regarding the results of the U.S. presidential election — and I shudder to think what could still happen — the last four years have exposed deep-seated, long-simmering problems at the heart of American democracy, and therefore by extension democracy as a world-wide movement. The needs of ‘the people,’ many millions of whom live in a state of ‘quiet desperation,’ or loud and angry, can no longer be ignored or denied.)

(Author’s note, October 10, 2021: “I shudder to think what could still happen,” I wrote above. Well, what happened in the U.S. after Dec. 8, 2020 was, and is still, surely bad enough. But I could say the same thing now, with people in ‘Trump country’ openly calling for civil war if he doesn’t get his way. Are we watching the destruction of the world’s first and once-greatest democracy; with consequences for democracy world-wide? So it appears. And if so, who does it benefit? The answer to those questions holds the key to understanding why and how this historic tragedy is happening, and who is the mastermind.)

“This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.” — Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.

I was talking a few evenings ago to my young friends, a well-read, pleasant couple with hope in their hearts, about the state of the world. We settled for a while into a discussion about the troubling, political situation in the U.S. where exploitation of a significant portion of the population by a populist demagogue with dangerous dictatorial tendencies is leading that great country, and the world, down a dangerous path.

Suddenly, as often happens, a recollection of a memory that seemed relevant to the discussion came to my mind. In this case, it was a scene from the 1951, British-made movie A Christmas Carol, based on the short story of that title by the great 19th Century English writer, Charles Dickens. Continue reading