I love Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ as it is not only a book of one man’s revelations but carries no end of revelations for me as well. One of them which has stayed with me over ther years is the Ghost of Christmas Present’s revealing Ignorance and Want hidden beneath his robe. Of all Dickens’ work this moment is for me one of the most salient
The social vices to which Dickens was referring were poverty and lack of consideration for one’s fellow man, but I have always been struck by the homonym of want with wont. As a result, I have always considered these vices to be more Willful Unknowing and Habit. I come in contact with these every day, as do we all, though we seldom realize it out of our own ignorance and wont. This former vice is really one of three terms that we use interchangeably, though they are quite different: stupidity, dumbness and ignorance. Stupidity, sharing its root with stupor, denotes a state wherein an individual is impervious to sensation. (The Latin word for wisdom is sapientia denoting ‘feeling’ or ‘sensation’.) Dumbness simply denotes an inability to speak, but ignorance means ‘not-knowing’ and, at least for me, suggests a willful refusal to engage with reality. Wont, on the other hand, is that blind, apathetic adherence to ‘what we’ve always done’ just because we’ve always done it.
The point for me is very well taken as I seem to be at the mercy of endless wants. In a first iteration of this post I actually list them, but I find that this just reinforces the wanting in Dickens’ sense of lack. In the wanting, we reinforce our wont, our custom or habit, to focus on what we lack, and this simply doesn’t help. Our awareness of what we lack or want is meant, I believe, to guide us toward the manifestation of those things that are most fully of ourselves, but the cult of privileged decay, founded as it is in ignorance, derails the natural process and shunts our actions and intentions into blame and guilt, the two sides to the coin of victimization.
Thus ignorance and wont/want become a self-perpetuating spiral that can only be broken by realising first what blessings we already have and secondly comprehending their transient nature. This is what the Ghosts in ‘A Christmas Carol’ do for Scrooge: the lessons of past, present and future are that the past is a font of blessings in that the good memories are enjoyable and the bad can teach us, that the present is a joy for which we must be grateful, and that the future is both unknown. In many ways, ‘A Christmas Carol’ is classically (though indelibly Anglo-Saxon) Pagan as our present moment of life and joy is a fleeting breath of splendour in the darkness. It is the sparrow in the mead hall, and it does not do to miss the warmth and light of the moment in pining for what we think we do not have.