Posts Tagged ‘ignorance’

The Irrational Defiance of Phobics

“The psychological root of terrorism is a fanatical resentment – a quasi-psychotic hatred originating in the depths of the archetypal psyche and therefore carried by religious (archetypal) energies. A classic literary example is Melville’s Moby Dick. Captain Ahab, with his fanatical hatred of the White Whale, is a paradigm of the modern terrorist.

Articulate terrorists generally express themselves in religious (archetypal) terminology. The enemy is seen as the Principle of Objective Evil (Devil) and the terrorist perceives himself as the “heroic” agent of divine or Objective Justice (God). This is an archetypal inflation of demonic proportions which temporarily grants the individual almost superhuman energy and effectiveness. To deal with terrorism effectively we must understand it.” ~ E. F. Edinger: On the psychology of terrorism

Captain Ahab sees more than evil in the whale he seeks to kill.  For it to exist as a force, implies some defined order, and therefore some meaning to his universe.  And if he cannot find and kill it, then he has no proof of the orderliness.  What he fears, perhaps more than anything else (including his own demise), is a disorderly universe that attaches no meaning to occurrences, including the fact that he’d lost a leg.

Most of his crew suspected Ahab to be somewhat imbalanced about his intense quest.  But that imbalance did not stop them from following him at the cost of everything including their lives.    Ahab was not just authority, but absolute authority.  You cannot have an absolute authority without beliefs.  The certainty of those beliefs, “the feeling of knowing” according to neurologist Robert A Burton, M.D., comes not from examining empirical evidence, or even from any analytical process we call “thinking”.

“Certainty and similar states of “knowing what we know” are sensations that feel like thoughts, but arise out of involuntary brain mechanisms that function independently of reason.”   ~

So it is emotive based on what is presumed to be true.  The captain of the ship, certainly in the case of Ahab, is a dominator.  And those he dominates are fearful–not just of him, but of the idea of not being submissive to the authority.  Please note that the captain is not independently dominant, as he cannot manage the large ship without a crew.

His orders must be heard by those who are phobic enough to not dare disobey them.  When we see this behavior on playgrounds, it’s called “bullying”.  Sometimes the bullied fear not so much some physical punishment, but the withdrawal of favor: losing worthiness, or significance in some way.  And that is precisely why the crew of the Pequod, though many with deep personal reservations, do as they are told.

Through Captain Ahab’s commands, the crew could fight against evil, even death itself, because it had been given both form and a name–a great white whale–Moby Dick. This rendered it tangible, and therefore less awesome than an unnamed, illusive to clear understanding, death.

So as the captain commands absolute obedience, the crew follows him.  He has convinced them not just that the fight was very real, and very winnable, but that it was their unavoidable duty.  And in so doing, death itself becomes diminished.  Death, in the face of a necessary battle of righteousness, takes on a manageable definition when the foe is believed to be finite.  Compared to the unbridled fear of death, the “cause” with meaning and purpose becomes determinate.

It all hinges on beliefs overriding the insanity of the quest, and even though quite a few of them considered the skipper to be crazy.  It was safer to believe in the authority of the captain in spite of him being a bit nuts, than to allow the thought of the great unknown of chaos–that the personified evil, Moby Dick, might be a delusion–no, that would unhinge everything.

The study of mythologies identifies a common thread: explanations offer to give order to things otherwise phenomenal.  Chieftains, high priests, and witchdoctors have a long history of connecting subservience to the supernatural in a way that provides for a safety net beyond mortality.  And many of those who believe in the stories would rather die than have their beliefs undermined–even in the face of overwhelming evidence that what they believe is not remotely founded in facts at all.

The Beowulf epic, written by some anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet prior to the twelfth century, tells a tale of having to fend off, defeat, and destroy a nemesis monster character called Grendel.  From the point of view of Beowulf and his human comrades, Grendel is not one of them, but “the other”.

We can observe the failures of human civilization when, due to prejudice, misunderstanding, and ignorance, communication breaks down, and people become polarized in pockets of the “us”, and the “them”.  When all parties are so inclined to believe the differences to be irreconcilable, their phobic nature gives them few options outside of their fear.  And if they can growl loud enough, perhaps “the other” will fear them as well.

The very basis of the fear is often misinterpreted by the fearful themselves.  And without dialogue with a sincere purpose of moving closer to understanding, the objects of fear are often reduced to matters of cultural difference.  The differences, when carefully considered, may really be little more than acceptable costume, or the manner in which some child’s mother taught it to pray.

There are more than 6,000 languages spoken by human beings today, and most individuals know only one of them.  Some of these languages are only spoken by small groups of people.  In fact, almost a third of these languages are used by populations of only a thousand people, or less.  And while they may not be widely understood when speaking out, their needs, wants, and concerns are no less human than are those of the users of more common languages.  And even among the more frequently used languages, a clear translation of ideas often breaks down when the literal clashes with the colloquial, leaving intent to seem ambiguous at best, and at worst, hostile.

I think people could do better.  But they won’t as long as they remain afraid of what they don’t understand.  To clear up misunderstandings requires bravery and not cowardice; requires effort and not indolence.  It will require honest investigation of truthful information and not suspicious presuppositions.  It requires a commitment to wanting to do the right thing, and an openness to ideas that may be different from those we bring to the table.  While that may not be too much to ask, many seem to believe it’s too much to expect.

“You Have No Idea Where They’ve been.”

“There are some things that can beat smartness and foresight? Awkwardness and stupidity can. The best swordsman in the world doesn’t need to fear the second best swordsman in the world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn’t do the thing he ought to do, and so the expert isn’t prepared for him; he does the thing he ought not to do; and often it catches the expert out and ends him on the spot.”
~ Mark Twain

Twain mentioned awkwardness, stupidity, and ignorance, which are things with which I’ve had some experience over the years, both as antagonist and protagonist.  Took a fencing class as a theater student. Once on the mat, I was able to score well in competition. I was feeling pretty good about it when my professor, John Rudy, pulled me to the side. After staring at the ground for what seemed like several minutes (though probably only seconds) as if he was struggling with the words, he finally spoke:

“Don’t get a swelled head about beating the competition today. There are two primary reasons you looked good out there:

  1. You’re left handed, and most of the others were used to seeing a different approach, in fact, an opposite one;
  2. But the main thing is, you didn’t seem to have any idea what you were going to do from one moment to the other, and neither did your opponents.”

After awhile I realized I was the only student in the class that could get a technical advantage from practicing in front of a mirror. The image I saw in it would have an accurate juxtaposition, while all the others just saw everything backwards.  Never became great at fencing.  Sometimes I’d just paint the fence, and at other times, just sit on it.

In time, I took classes in modern dance, acting, and directing. I look back on my successes with the realization that most of the prosperity of favorable outcomes may have been due to the outrageous courage felt, because and in spite of, not being aware of what I didn’t know.

In 2002, Donald Rumsfeld is credited for saying:

“…there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

However, the term “unknown unknowns” had been around in NASA for a while, and also used by other engineers.

“Known unknowns result from phenomena which are recognized, but poorly understood. On the other hand, unknown unknowns are phenomena which cannot be expected because there has been no prior experience or theoretical basis for expecting the phenomena.”
~ Statement of Evidence of E. D’Appolonia, D’Appolonia Consulting Engineers, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Proceedings of the British Columbia Royal Commission of Inquiry into Uranium Mining, Phase V: Waste Disposal, ISBN 0-7718-8198-3

In recent years, there have been a number of unpleasant results from hydraulic fracturing, such as earthquakes and polluted ground water, that was not the expected or hoped for outcome.  At the same time, you’d think by now most adults have some experience with placing a spoon in the sink face up, and turning on the water.  Even when some people know it’s likely to splash water all over the place, they turn the water on anyway.  So it brings up the question of there being a difference between unknown unknowns, and just making stupid decisions.

My mind goes back to the first grade.  It was a regular practice to wash our hands before lining up to go to the Lunchroom.  I distinctly remember the teacher telling me and some of the other boys:

“When you wash up, use soap.  And wash both hands.  You have no idea where they’ve been.”

I’ve struggled with those instructions now for six decades, and from time to time I think the teacher was correct.

A Strange Fear of The Open Mind

“Culture encompasses religion, food, what we wear, how we wear it, our language, marriage, music, what we believe is right or wrong, how we sit at the table, how we greet visitors, how we behave with loved ones, and a million other things…”
~  Cristina De Rossi, Anthropologist at Barnet and Southgate College, London

Yes.  Additionally, one of the primary functions of any society is to protect, nurture, and teach its children so they can grow up and take charge without having to repeat all the unnecessary (and often stupid) mistakes made by their predecessors.  We want them to learn how to build “the better mousetrap”, and avoid the return of ignorant superstitions that lead to burning innocent people for witchcraft, or clinging to good luck charms instead of embracing scientific discovery.  However, we’ve been witness to efforts intending to stigmatize scientific discoveries as invalid, and the motive for such positions regularly seems to come from sources that make profits from the ignorance of discovery.  Ever question that, or wonder what specific motives would back up such behavior?  The bait looks delicious, but is there a hook in it?

Some will remember The Waxman Hearings that took place before congress on April 14, 1994.  The CEO’s of several major tobacco companies testified under oath that they believed nicotine and cigarette smoking were not addictive.  Well, weren’t the tobacco executives making money selling nicotine and cigarettes?  Big money?  Yes, they were.  Today we continue to hear the coal, natural gas, and petroleum industries (and all the politicians they own) take the same position–that the modern practice of using their products is not harmful to the environment, nor is it in any significant way causing changes or global warming (see  If you follow the money, you might at least suspect a bit of wool is being pulled over some eyes.  Please be aware that ignorance was not the reason for the false testimony of the tobacco industry, but their hoped for success depended to a large degree on keeping the general public ignorant, and hopefully continuing to buy their products because of such ignorance, or at least in spite of scientifically verified arguments for not doing so.

I think we’ll agree all good parents want their children to have a chance to “do better”.  So it is reasonable to appreciate mothers and fathers wanting their offspring to not only know what the parents know how to do, but to help the children to rise to even higher plateaus–of craft and skill, art, and understanding.  That’s justification to have a tradition of reading books to them, and sending them to mentors and teachers.  Unfortunately, as you well know, some parents are afraid of change.  And because of fears, are often reluctant for their offspring to take steps beyond “the way we’ve always done it”, or singing “Give Me That OldTime Religion”, as if “old” would always mean “best”, which you and I know is not always true.  Additionally there are some who seem to either not care or feel incapable of doing anything proactive about their children’s education.

Some of you remember a time when there was a  long-standing practice (tradition) of using lead in paints, food containers, water pipes, and as additives to other widely used consumer products such as gasoline.  The challenge to stop doing it when science helped us understand the harm we were doing to ourselves and our children still met with huge resistance.  And not just from capitalists and manufacturers heavily invested in lead, but from consumers as well.  There were many people figuring out ways to bypass catalytic converters during the time when some petrol was still available that contained lead.  Though it was not a wise practice, it was widely used–almost as if leaded gasoline was a tradition.

Because irrational fears about changes that could be connected to unknown or uncertain outcomes do exist, often born of ignorance, perplexing issues can surface when misunderstood risks are tossed into categories of impulse, rather than recognized as calculated.  We want discipline and accountability, which often mandates adherences to rules.  This is particularly powerful whenever individuals controlled by the rules do not understand how they could possibly do otherwise, or paralyzed by the fear of attempting to do so.  While it was a practice for a long time in warfare to march in straight lines and columns on the battlefield in bright and highly visible uniforms, the technological advances of cannons and firearms made the continuance of such to be disadvantageous.  In spite of the futility of it overall, it continued far beyond what sanity called for.  After all, wouldn’t you agree it was “tradition”?

One of the reasons was the image of power of the powerful was maintained as unquestionable, and many soldiers marched to their death as ordered.  It was what they were taught to believe, and any discrepancy of the rules faced severe consequences.  For many, it seemed better to die “bravely and dutifully” than to be hanged or shot for “stepping out of line”.  Thus, keeping an open mind when faced with “duty” is seldom allowed to be an option for consideration.

What would happen if people just decided on their own to not participate in wars anymore?  Would kings, dictators, presidents, and generals still go at it if they were not convincing or exploitive enough to raise an army to do their fighting for them?  Hmmm.  Should we consider changing the tradition?  Would changing it be disrespectful of those who fought and died in wars before us?  Perhaps one reasonably sane way to show respect for those killed in war would be for us to strive to make certain their children and grandchildren will not have to die that way.  Yet many people will never be able to see that as a viable option, because it seems to be a bit out of their control.

Even today, the concept of following command and direct orders without question is firmly instilled in the minds of military personnel world-over.  I understand it.  But outside the horrible circumstance of war, foot soldiers, pawns, and slaves might be better off than their overlords would have them be, if the dominated learned how to think for themselves.  Truth is, most would be afraid to attempt do so, because they fear the loss of the guidance they believe sustains them.  And that is exactly what they are taught to believe.  Dominators want the dominated to be compliant, so managing the phobic is often just a simple matter of managing their perceptions, and keeping them at a distance from ideas and thoughts that could lead to independence.

We raised sons, and also kept pets.  We wanted the boys to grow up to be men who could take care of themselves, solve problems, and know how to deal with adversities.  It worked.  They are all extraordinary men in those respects.  On the other hand, the dogs and cats were never expected to be educated to a level of self sufficiency.  We liked them, but there were limits of what was expected of their growth and development.

The human children, on the other hand, were expected to challenge their thresholds of self expectations.  There was real joy in seeing apparent light bulbs turn on in their heads.  That is not uncommon in healthy cultures, and is a part of…traditions.

Sometimes traditions clash, even within a culture.  When that happens there are those who have ideas for change facing off with those in fear of it.  Whichever side a person is on is not determined by rational thought as much as it is in accordance with their indoctrination.  Both sides might “feel” they are upholding a tradition.  Some reference to why I said that can be found in a book,”on_being_certain” by Robert A. Burton, Neurologist.

Beyond that, when conflict and controversy surfaces between practices that seem to oppose each other, some have to decide which traditional behavior will bring about the best result.  Unfortunately, more often the position most strongly supported by “authority” wins out.

We’ve seen this in universities that face funding issues that result in cutting programs and teachers’ salaries, while at the same time figuring out a way to give a popular coach a big raise and a budget increase in order to prevent his being recruited to a competitive institution.  The cuts are explained as efficiencies, and the off-sided boost to the coach justified as necessary and essential.  The maintenance of one program that was almost never the purpose for the institutions existence in the first place takes precedence over programs that were.

We’ve all seen this happen, and it is happening now.  Traditional curriculums of physics, chemistry, music, art, literature, and philosophy often become secondary to a recreational activity that has become tradition…and also big business for administrators.  We also see it in governance where fund-raising improves the lifestyles of politicians, but does little to advance the circumstances, long-term and short, for the constituency they are supposed to (but don’t) represent.  But after all, it is a tradition.

Some want to see that change, but such change faces the challenge of being called “progressive” as if such a term was in and of itself an indictment.  Ironically, most of the money available to finance what the public is likely to hear or read more or less subtly goes to support protecting the status quo (of bribery) than risk losing the coveted benefits of those who put up the money to pay for the game.

How do you address something if you believe it undermines-our-cultural-traditions, or in some way causes the next generation to forget or misunderstand how they got to where they are?  I’m not talking about a strict adherence to just dogmatic opinions, as they often overlook the facts required to understand growth and development.  Instead, let’s consider the current popularity, and even apparent love of reductions for the sake of efficiency that often seem to be “cost effective”, yet undermine integrity.  A simple example would be to side-step prerequisites such as not putting on a primer coat on a piece of raw wood before applying the top, or color coat.  It can be done, and it is initially cheaper.  But in the long run, the outcome is often less than desirable.

Lot’s of folks have trouble with the word liberal, and seem to have forgotten (if they even knew it in the first place) it comes from a Latin reference to that which is “worthy of a free person”.  In essence, the liberal arts do refer to an education that leads to being able to function with understanding in society, and be able to be a part of the processes of debating ideas and concepts with some background on how those ideas are constructed.

The trend of political disrespect felt by the liberal arts is an indication of a much greater problem: the abandonment of disciplines of reason. When the purpose is reduced to simply institutionalizing a system for a compliant work force that does not and cannot think for itself, there will be no real commitment to finding real solutions to difficult problems that require examination of empirical evidence. Instead, the business will be to find ways to blame problems on things or persons other than ourselves. It doesn’t take a genius mind to recognize how such as that leads to social dysfunction.

Anti-intellectualism raises its ugly head in almost every generation, and is a tool of those (shamans, witchdoctors, and charlatans) who cannot rise to, or maintain power without the aid of fear held in place with superstition.  It is the flagship of extremist reactionaries throughout history.  We saw it happening during The Crusades, The Spanish Inquisition, the rise of Fascism, the evil tactics of Joseph Stalin to take control of The Soviet Union, “McCarthyism” in our own country, ISES, and many other bigoted religious extremist groups that thrive on hatred and colossal misunderstandings.

We also see it in the power-mongering processes of the self serving who insist they get to sit in the lap of luxury no matter what the cost is to the rest of the world and its inhabitants.  And without an educated populace, working together to move ever closer to understanding: thus real freedom and peacefulness, the cultural tradition of helping the children of each generation progress towards a better and more sustainable lifestyle is in great danger of diminishing further as it goes out of style.

“When a person believes all wrongs are the fault of others, the only filter left that postpones desires for instant gratification, is fear…Teachers are not the cause of poverty and underfunded schools any more than doctors are the cause of disease and underfunded clinics…There’s no wealth in a society that cannot educate it’s children.  If you can afford it but won’t, then you’re an enemy of the children.”

 ~  things-ive-said-before

The Very Nature of Things

Neurologist Robert A. Burton has recognized through scientific discovery that brain stimulation/mapping of the temporal lobe has uncovered all kinds of new information about motor movement, emotions, and decision making.  Burton has determined that some of what we “think we know” comes from the “voices” within our own limbic system.

I’m sure you’ve spoken with people who truly believe the stories about space aliens abducting humans, and perhaps insist it has happened to them.  Even though they seem to be so certain in their beliefs, a little bit of knowledge about our real universe and some common sense tells you they are probably delusional.

“Despite how certainty feels, it is neither a conscious choice nor even a thought process.  Certainty and similar states of “knowing what we know” arise out of involuntary brain mechanisms that, like love or anger, function independently of reason.”

~ from the preface of:

“On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not”

 by Robert A. Burton, MD (Neurology)

We’ve all experienced opinions that, when placed in juxtaposition with a changing background, will take on textures and flavors not recognized earlier.  And for that reason, we need to continue to look.  The alternative is to accept some presupposition, and not even an original one, as if it were fact.  And that, of course, is not a wise thing to do. All of us know that, but people by-pass that logic every day, even when they know better.  Then, sometimes, they don’t know better, and listen for some explanation that satisfies them, and calms their anxieties about the unknown.

My father was born in a world that, for the most part, believed The Milky Way Galaxy was the entire Universe.  Science, through the process of moving ever closer to understanding, soon proved that conclusion to be wrong.  In fact, there are billions of galaxies, and The Milky Way is neither at the center of things, nor the biggest of them by any stretch of the imagination.

“Maggots from meat” was a misconception born of the erroneous theory of spontaneous generation, similar to the way it was thought that grapes became wine due to some magic trick performed by Bacchus or Dionysus.  The idea of spontaneous generation offered an explanation, but it was not scientific; it was not even presumed to be natural, and it was not true.  Prior to Leeuwenhoek’s discoveries of the world of microbiology, almost every theory or explanation about life was at best, born of ignorance.  And please don’t presume I mean stupid, for ignorance is something else entirely.

Disease and pain were presumed to be caused by demons and witches, and to this very day, some people still believe it.  Since they “feel” safe accepting what they’ve been taught, they investigate nothing on their own without prejudice, without knowledge, and without understanding.  Although that is a sad thing, it’s quite common.

The purpose of science is to move closer to understanding.  And that often challenges older explanations that were derived without understanding.  People believe all kinds of things, and they will kill you because of what they believe.  But for what people believe to be true to in fact be true, is not now, nor has it ever at any point in human history been required.

To argue in defense of what is accepted as true even though it isn’t, was the reason Galileo was convicted of heresy by the Spanish Inquisition for noticing Venus orbited the sun and not the earth.  As we all (hopefully) know now, the Inquisition was in error, but Galileo, even though he told the truth, was forced to deny it in public, or face execution.

To acknowledge discovery takes nothing away from lessons about ethical behavior.  It does, however, often challenge preconceived notions about the details of stories used to make the point.  We live in a most amazing universe, and the more we learn about it, the more we understand about nature.

Copernicus theorized the sun was the center of our planetary system back in the 15th century.  In the next century, Galileo proved the heliocentric idea was true, and went even further to note the sun itself rotated.  This was quite a leap from everything believed to be true before, and consequently, by insisting his findings to be factual got him into hot water with the College of Cardinals and the Pope.  While this information is considered common knowledge today, there are still those who find it to be heretical.  But don’t you think it would be silly to throw out the scientific findings, and declare it okay to just accept whatever belief a person chooses to have on the matter?  Of course you would.

If a thing appears phenomenal to me, and quite a few things do, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t natural.  It just means that I might not understand the nature of it.  But at no time does nature cease to be nature just because I misunderstand it.  All the evidence we have about “creation” exists in nature.  So, without any brilliant leap required, it would make sense that what we can discover and understand about “creation” would involve studying and and learning more about nature itself.

And for those who wish to connect with the mind of “God”, they might try looking at the nature of things “created”, and to understand what can be discovered about the process itself.  After all, that would have to be exactly the truest revelations, if there be any at all.  The alternative would be to be entirely dependent on explanations offered by people who knew very little about the nature of anything, but made up explanations about everything.

There are many wonderful lessons that can direct us towards ethical treatment of others found in books, many of them religious books.  To attempt to deny that would be silly.  There are also good lessons to be learned from parables and fables told for that purpose without the presupposition that the story itself depicts something that really happened.  For example, I can get several lessons on several intellectual levels from a story by Aesop, without even once believing there was a talking fox that liked grapes.

I can also learn from some of the lessons in the Old Testament (most of which was written down for the first time during the Babylonian Captivity) without presuming there is a way for a man to sell his daughter into slavery that would please the Deity.  Or, for that matter, slaughter innocent men, women, and children, enslave some of them, steal their land and property, authorize some sovereign or monarch to take for himself far more than he could possibly need while others around him suffer.  It’s rather interesting when you read old scriptures from most of our modern religions (and I have) that one of the saddest delusions man has ever conceived of is that oppression of other people is authorized and approved of by the Deity.

One conclusion, if there be one, is that Charles Darwin opened some windows that can help us understand the nature of things, and was brave enough to publish his findings.  So it seems to me, as we move closer to understanding, we should embrace discovery rather than to deny it just because it doesn’t fit well within the confines of preconceived notions that occurred in the minds of ancients who didn’t have the benefit of knowing.

Think if you will about all the all the ancient theories of how the sun provided seemingly perpetual light and heat without any understanding of nuclear physics.  Isn’t it possible that some of those old theories, regardless of how noble or moral the person who came up with them happened to be, were not quite…the truth?  Although most of us give lip-service to the idea of growth, development and learning, sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to let go of an idea that makes us comfortable, even in light of empirical evidence that points out the error of its logic.

I embrace science as an ongoing process, not stagnated or trapped wherever it lands on any given day.  There is a peacefulness to be found by wanting to move closer to understanding rather an run away from it.  And when we do that, the benefits that can be had from being open to new ideas, thus willing to cooperate, can lead us to marvelous solutions to problems, where the prospects of hope are almost boundless, hampered only by the limits of our imagination.

The complexity of it, I suppose, may well be lodged somewhere inside wanting to know the importance of understanding what our imagination is made of.  Neurologists, such as Dr. Burton, are beginning to show us how to do that.  Yet with all the accomplishments made thus far, what we don’t know is still bigger than what we do.  So if we consider it even in the simplest of linear terms, I don’t reckon we’ve reached the end point, no, not yet, not yet at all.