Strange, this absence from my blog. I just didn’t want to, which is unusual as I’m a writer. In part it’s because I’ve been thinking a lot about voice and who uses it and why. I’ve had a number of discussions with a friend of mine about knowledge and action and how so many of us – all of us – take positions and articulate them and even act upon them as if we know what we are talking about. Take democracy for an example: there are likely hundreds of PhD thesis written about this form of governance, and yet you cannot know all there is to know about the subject; even so called experts will be expert at a tiny aspect of the great debate. And what about all other forms?
And yet without holding all the knowledge that is available (which cannot be all the knowledge that potentially could exists, as it doesn’t take into account the questions yet to be asked or researched), how can we make declarations about democracy that aren’t 99% faith, and arbitrary if not totally random beliefs? Most of what I think about democracy will come from newspapers, my culture and my society. It will depend on my gender, my history, my education, and my parents. Non of this actually speaks to the question of democracy itself.
Why is this important? because if by necessity I cannot possibly really know democracy, how can I comment intelligently upon it? And if I can’t, shouldn’t I just shut up? Does the world need yet one more mouth adding to the cacophony? And his applies to everything except one’s inner world. A prof once told me that if all the published scientific journals were stacked on top of each other they would reach the moon 2.5 times. Nobody has a handle on that.
Despite all this uncertainty, everyone “knows”, and the world is populated by elites and experts -many employed by BP, by the way. Related to this is economics. I read about a study done by this journalist that looked at the predictions of economists over the last few decades. What he found was these legions of experts were wrong more OFTEN than by chance; i.e. you would be correct more often simply flipping a coin than by listening to economists. Why? because unlike random chance, economists are human and therefore biased. This bias makes them wrong more often. How many PhD thesis are written on economics?
So that brings us back to voice. We have one and we are compelled by society and instinct to use it. With the advent of social media, this has reached whole new levels. Is this a good? depends on how you define good, but what I’m saying here is there is no way of knowing. Certainly it changes things, but we don’t know from what to what.
Does it matter? I look at my assumptions around this and I find at least one bias straight away – the idea of authority. Speech as valuable when there is authority behind it, the authority conveyed by knowledge and information. Very Enlightenment that. The notion that knowledgeable speech is preferred over ignorant speech. But if knowledge is illusionary, maybe the difference between the Sarah Palins and the Madame Curries is actually much smaller than we like to think. Perhaps knowledge is just another way of creating hierarchy in society; certainly the knowledgable ones seems themselves as superior to their ignorant cohorts. I know I’ve been guilty of that, which is a real character weakness.
Raised an insecure individual with low self esteem and social phobia, I discovered that my intellect gave me an edge; the bullies might be stronger, but they would always be lower on the social strata than a smart, educated fellow. I could beat them with my mind, and in some way this succeeded. The problem of course is that such valuations are arbitrary and historical and essentially meaningless. It’s like the guy with the bigger hands gets the highest social status.
But there you go; everyone tries to find a way to fit in, to find their place. I used my intellect and therefore value intelligence and knowledge over strength or money or whatever. But can I say I know more, with my ten years of university education? Sure, but it only means I know .00000000000000000001% of all there is to know about any one subject, rather than just .00000000000000000000001%
Of course being the holder of that knowledge I would value it, but what it should teach me more than anything is humility.
I have several friends who are activists and I’m starting to challenge them with this. If you cannot know with certainty all there is to know about a subject you are fighting for, where’s the legitimacy? I think they are fighting on faith as much as their reviled right-wing ideologues. Ultimately, aren’t we all ideologues? Aren’t we all acting on faith and the belief that we know best?
This isn’t a simple issue. Even such issues as right-wing governments cutting back on welfare programs, which seems so obviously wrong to me, is in fact far more complex. We see increased hardship for people but is that all there is to it? My Christian heritage requires me to be compassionate and empathetic to the needy, but giving to the poor has never resolved poverty. Nor has a change in government or government policies. Is it possible that there is no simple solution? And even the notion of poverty and suffering is complex; from what I’ve seen in people who suffer in the West, is that the suffering starts within their own souls and extends into the world around them.
Occasionally random negative events happen in our lives but in most cases I would argue how they impact us is what’s already in our minds and hearts beforehand.
Case in point: we recently had our dinghy and outboard stolen while we were in Brentwood Bay. This really upset me as I don’t have the funds to replace it and our insurance company will drop us if we make a claim for it. Ultimately it’s a meaningless eventl, but it upsets me because it tugs at notions of lack that I grew up with, as well as a propensity to feel like a victim. I have a wonderous, fantastic life and the loss of a boat and motor doesn’t change that at all. In fact all my earthly goods could be taken from me and I would still be the same person with the same life. How I think about this event determines it’s effect on me.
So we believe we see suffering as a result of govt. policies and an argument can be made for that, but I’m starting to think reality is far too complex to support such a duality as being based on anything but faith. So what does my activism do? it can change things of course. I can effect change with my words, but is it really any better? For every atrocity I can think of it was some for of action that stopped it, but it was always some form of action that started it in the first place. And always it was hordes and hordes of people who carried the atrocity, through their personal beliefs system and faiths, although history only names the leaders. We abhor Adolph Hitler, but it was everyday humanity that caused the deaths of 70 millions of people. We persecute the leaders of the Rwandan genocide, but it was common folk who hacked their neighbors to death because of their prejudice.
It is us that perpetrate crimes against our fellows, and I’m not at all convinced that those of us with .00000000000000000001% of knwoledge are any less culpable than those with just .00000000000000000000001%, even though we always believe we are right and we always believe we know the best way. The Provincial Liberals believe they know the best way with their welfare cuts and those who oppose them believe that same and neither have a clue what’s going on.
SO maybe it really is time to stop doing, to stop talking, and look inside and see what’s going on in there. Welfare cuts come from ideology, which comes from inside people’s hearts and minds. Same for those who oppose them. What I say to both, in ALL such dualities and conflicts – to stop doing and look inside to your own assumptions and faiths and beliefs.
Perhaps faith and belief is really all that we have. Fair enough. But in that case, stop messing with things. Stop fiddling. Stop trying to change things. If you believe in Ghandy’s be the change you want to see in the world, just back away and stop.