JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer
Reiling, Assistant Editor.
Some of the newspapers in this country have picked up a press report
of the recent utterances of a French physician that seek to establish a correlation
between the increase of insanity and the spread of popular education. This
is not a new idea; it has long been held that much of the increase of insanity
is due to the increasing complexity in modern life and the educational demands
are only the attempt to meet the changed conditions. It is not education that
increases insanity; it is the condition that needs education as its antidote.
The old saying that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing is true enough,
and a misused knowledge of reading devoted only to ephemeral and morbid publications,
the dime novel and the yellow press does not conduce to the best mental health.
This, however, hardly comes under the head of education, and it is a question
whether the environments of modern civilization bear harder on the absolutely
uneducated or the partially or imperfectly educated. There are a good many
elements in the question to be considered, and judging from the effects of
contact with civilization on savage or inferior races it would seem possible
that even a very little tincture of modern culture would be, in its way, a
safeguard. There is much truly said of the evil effects of overstrain in mental
training, but that is an avoidable error and its results are not probably
chargeable against education in general. There is little doubt that our modern
civilization is hard on certain weaklings who would have been better off in
some respects as regards their mental health if they had lived a hundred years
ago, and to this fact is perhaps to be attributed considerable of the increase
of insanity of the present day. It is a mistake, however, to credit any considerable
part of this to education; it is an example of the fallacy of confounding
the cure with the cause, which in one way or another we, as physicians, not
infrequently meet. Education does not necessarily lead to happiness—it
adds to our responsibilities and anxieties—and, as the preacher says,
"with much wisdom there is much grief, and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth
sorrow"; but, after all, wisdom is the principal thing and the complete bliss
of ignorance, were it desirable, is at the present time beyond the reach of
even the poorest.
EDUCATION AND INSANITY.EDUCATION AND INSANITY. JAMA. 2002;288(14):1788. doi:10.1001/jama.288.14.1788
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