By: Rosemary Dewar
Although innocence is defined as a state of lacking assigned guilt, there is a social aspect of innocence that can include a level of naivety and witlessness. It is accompanied by a deficiency of knowledge and experience. No one comes out of the womb knowing all things and evaluating them properly. Wisdom comes from knowing which information to throw out, and which information to integrate in order to effectively calculate a solution. Foolishness is just the opposite. Try doing the worthless thing enough times expecting a different outcome will drive oneself insane. One of two things will manifest. Either the community will dub the foolish person “the village idiot,” or the community will follow the fool to the point that there is a village full of useful idiots. Culture can either recognize that it is vulnerable to immature perspectives, or it can promote weak innocence.
Children are innocent and less formidable simply because they do not know enough. The reason for preserving innocence in children is to gradually develop the resistance to what will hurt them. Sometimes we don’t have control over what trauma is introduced into a child’s life; however, how the culture demonstrates the way to resolve that trauma will determine if the child will become willfully ignorant or wisely constructive. If culture organizes children to become adults that are easy to manipulate, that will leave the community susceptible to being able to be taken advantage of.
When someone takes away another’s ability to defend themselves, it is a violation of autonomy. How culture reaches solace amidst conflict can determine how moral it is.
The Judeo-Christian perspective asserts that an effective and moral way to confront and neutralize hostile engagement is to have intimidating strength, to know your strength, and be ready to restrain it for as long as possible. It states that you ought to be “wise as a serpent, and innocent as a dove.” A serpent is an ominous creature. It is partially instrumental in man’s exile from Paradise. Nevertheless, if your intent is to become that wise serpent, for the sake of all that is ethical and honorable, do not bite. You must hold your ground until you have to defend yourself. The text also states that “the meek will inherit the earth.” The word meek is usually defined as something blindly obedient. In fact, it literally means that those who are trained to conquer resist taking by violent force.
That is the easiest way to gauge the validity of those who claim to be moral arbiters. If someone has all the power to dominate you, and doesn’t, they have not violated you, and have in fact proven that they occupy the moral high ground.
Author Earnest Hemingway said, “All things truly wicked start from innocence.”
The child has to grow up. It is simply impossible to be innocent and adequately knowledgeable simultaneously within the human condition.
“No more; where ignorance is bliss, 'Tis folly to be wise,” says English poet Thomas Gray in his piece “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College.” It expresses the woes of the boy becoming a man by coming to the knowledge of suffering. Earlier in the piece he says, “These shall the fury Passions tear/ The vultures of the mind/ Disdainful Anger, pallid Fear/ And Shame that skulks behind/ Or pining Love shall waste their youth/ Or Jealousy with rankling tooth/” Passion must be something we can be strong enough to say “no” to.
Maintaining the state of willful ignorance is similar to watching worms and termites eat away at rotting wood. Observing entropic decay is like experiencing a living hell.
A childlike perspective may open our eyes to novelty, but it cannot achieve a purely ethical answer to wildly differing opinions. In a constitutional republic, the tongue can be sharper than the weapon used to defend it. You must learn when to hold it, and determine whether it is valuable enough to protect.
By: Rosemary Dewar