On Blissful Ignorance
Updated: Feb 25
Every so often there is an effort on the news channels and web sites to discuss something positive and pleasant that has happened, but such attempts rarely rouse much interest. The general consensus seems to be that there is no such thing as good news. If it is good it is not news. And for some reason people seem to have a perverse pleasure in hearing bad news.
Nothing, it seems, is quite as exciting as a good disaster, as long, of course, as you are not personally involved in it. The well-known Chinese curse - may you live in interesting times - points to our particular interest in unfortunate occurrences. The saying, "No news is good news" can be understood in two ways. It can mean that not hearing about a specific thing means that all is well in that regard. But it can also be understood to mean that the awareness of anything whatsoever must be negative, and that therefore the best way to go about life is to remain unaware, to avoid, as much as possible, knowing what is going one.
There might certainly be an advantage in being ignorant, in that we may remain generally calmer and less susceptible to depression. By ignorance I don't mean the very negative use of the word as a synonym for stupidity, but rather, the choice of intentionally ignoring those things which can have a negative effect on our lives. The other side of the coin of course is that being ignorant of what can endanger us often leads to disastrous results.
The crusader period was, to the delight of those who study it, and the bane perhaps of those who lived through it, a particularly interesting time during which a great number of newsworthy events took place. But there were among the Franks some who chose to ignore this, at least for as long as they could. Among these were the Premonstratensian monks of the monastery of St Samuel (Montjoie) northwest of Jerusalem. The brothers built their abbey on the traditional site of the prophet's tomb in the first half of the twelfth century, perhaps during the reign of Baldwin II (1118-31). A fair distance outside of Jerusalem and far from any other fortified settlement, it appears to have lacked substantial defensive works, if indeed it had any at all. When the brothers finally got around to realising that they would need some it was too late.
It must have been fairly close to the Battle of Hattin (1187), months before perhaps, a year or two at the most, that they began to take serious measures to face the threat that had been mounting even since Saladin made his first incursion into the kingdom of Jerusalem seventeen years earlier. They finally began excavating a broad moat in the soft limestone rock and constructing fortifications around their church and abbey. But it was indeed too late, and when Saladin arrived towards the end of September the abbey was still entirely exposed. And perhaps nowhere else is there a better illustration of, to use the popular turn of phrase, being caught with one's pants down, than this very impressive half-built fortification and partly quarried moat with is rows of huge cubes of rock still set in it, appearing from above like nothing so much as a giant block of chocolate.