Sam Cooke wrote the song that begins with this line in 1960, and a procession of diverse artists have covered it since then. If you are from the right generation (the huge cohort that followed the “Greatest Generation” and thus were destined, by definition, to be inferior), then you have probably heard this song, and by now, I have probably successfully infected you with an earworm that will stay with you the better part of the day. That’s how songs work — they replicate themselves in your brain, without your willing it, and you’d better just hope you remember the whole song, or else you’ll be haunted by the scrap that you do recall. Here’s Sam Cooke’s original… And here’s a great cover. Yes, it’s a corny song. Enjoy.
I used to disdain this song because it seemed to celebrate ignorance. Why, if a man came to me proclaiming that he didn’t know history, biology, science, or a foreign language, I’d probably end the conversation long before he frankly admitted that he also didn’t know any trigonometry, algebra, or even geometry. Knowledge, I’ve always believed, is an ultimate good: the greatest thing in the world was to seek knowledge, and love did not make up for ignorance in my roster of desirable traits for humans.
After decades of striving to learn, I’ve achieved a state of genuine Socratic wisdom: I know now that I really know nothing.
I don’t know history. Not only did I neglect reading historical accounts for too long, but I have now been told that those historical accounts represent a malleable construct, not a cause-and-effect timeline. That’s not how history works, I am told. Rather, “history” may not reflect actual events fixed in the past, because, in a commonplace attributed variously to Voltaire, Napoleon, Pliny the Elder, and George Orwell, history is typically “written by the winners.” So I can’t really know the past, and there is no TARDIS around to take me there for a fact check. Moreover, I am trying to make sense of conflicting narratives about past events at the very same time that present-day “truths” are being deconstructed and manipulated right before my eyes.