On Being a Sheepherder and an Ignoramus

Most of us these days have never herded sheep. It is an ancient human occupation that afforded lots of time for contemplation and gazing at the stars. The reverie was punctuated by emergencies and predators and the mystique of living outside and exposed probably wore off quickly.

Shepherds sleeping bag

We have all been ignoramuses, either studiously or by neglect. The neglect part is easy to understand. The universe of molecular biology is expanding outward at the speed of light these days, and seems to be accelerating. The time required to keep abreast is more than most shepherds can afford.

Here we will explore studious ignorance and the importance of shepherding new ideas.

We are so bound to daily life that we don’t notice that many human behaviors are as mysterious and unbelievable as the foliage of a peacock and other displays in nature. One of these human behaviors is the vestiture of authority in the medieval tradition of academia.



The idea here is validate a certain prescribed course of study and original work within that scope. It is also a rite of acceptance into a clan of wise men vested with authority that distinguishes them from shepherds.

A complex society requires a literate class with the moral authority foster the reigning paradigm and to  keep records. Confucius developed a system of examinations that has been the basis of Asian scholarship for two and a half millennia. Charlemagne imported Irish priests.

Yet there is an inherent conflict between beaurocratic responsibility and nurturing new ideas. This is the shepherd’s role. To live on the exposed and dangerous edge of understanding where new ideas grow. It is better to be a studiously ignorant shepherd, cognizant of what we believe we know, but willing to ignore it.

This entry was posted in Metaphor, Sheepherders and ignoramuses, Wilderness and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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