With a broken-down oven, in a hotel kitchen, on an uninhabited island
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David Ehrenfeld’s “Forgetting” [December 1995] struck a chord with me. I’d just been reading Harvard biologist and ant expert Edward O. Wilson’s memoir Naturalist. Like Ehrenfeld, Wilson recognizes the value of taxonomy, which he calls “a craft and a body of knowledge that builds in the head of a biologist only through years of monkish labor. . . . [The taxonomist] knows that without the expert knowledge accumulated through his brand of specialized study, much of biological research would soon come to a halt.”
Ehrenfeld is right that the “ultimate reason why we forget important knowledge is the corruption and loss of our societal values.” We live in a society that values money, entertainment, and celebrity above all. “Monkish labor” to acquire and pass on important knowledge is applauded by no one — not politicians, educators, business people, or religious leaders. In this much-vaunted Information Age, we seem incapable of distinguishing between what is valuable information and what is not — or perhaps we refuse to make the distinction.