Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Listen to those long since passed who predicted the future

   I used to frequent the bargain basement of Riverow Bookshop in Owego, NY, commandeering everything from Louis L'Amour to Plato. Truth be told, I've read more L'Amour than Plato. Much of the shop's used stock was destroyed in the 2011 flood (check out the photo):
   When they reopened, I visited and happened upon Aldous Huxley's "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow" - a collection of essays written by Huxley between 1952 and 1956. He had a such a clear view of human nature and subsequently a clear view of the future. Many Progressives are so very resistant to Huxley, Orwell and the like, content and confined to living in the moment with a fountain of academic knowledge but a deficit of understanding. I'm not suggesting we live in the past to fix our present. But should we not consider the perspectives of those who accurately predicted our future? History is a resource to recognize warnings signs, analyze cause and effect, one that is mostly squandered on winning rather than learning.
    The current political climate is incredibly emotional and divisive. These career politicians are narcissistic celebrities with power beyond the three walls of a set, beyond the fourth wall, in fact - for their reach extends to our life and death reality. And yet they play and bicker like middle school children. They implement grand sweeping changes every election cycle, but rarely address detail and causation. They speak in generalities, then condescend to us when we challenge them.  
    In the essay collection's namesake Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, Huxley writes:
"We may not appreciate the fact; but a fact nevertheless it remains: we are living in a Golden Age, the most gilded Golden Age of human history - not only of past history, but of future history. For, as Sir Charles Darwin and many others before him have pointed out, we are living like drunken sailors, like the irresponsible heirs of a millionaire uncle...How long can this spending spree go on?"
    Huxely was a man not only given the gift of knowledge, but of understanding. Of this he writes:
"Knowledge is acquired when we succeed in fitting a new experience into the system of concepts based upon our old experiences. Understanding comes when we liberate ourselves from the old and so make possible a direct, unmediated contact with the new, the mystery, moment by moment, of our existence.
   Knowledge is always in terms of concepts and can be passed on by means of words or other symbols. Understanding is not conceptual, and therefore cannot be passed on. It is an immediate experience, and immediate experience can only be talked about (very inadequately), never shared.
   Nobody can actually feel another’s pain or grief, another’s love or joy or hunger. And similarly nobody can experience another’s understanding of a given event or situation. There can, of course, be knowledge of such an understanding and this knowledge may be passed on in speech or writing, or by means of other symbols. Such communicable knowledge is useful as a reminder that there have been specific understandings in the past, and that understanding is at all times possible. But we must always remember that knowledge of understanding is not the same thing as the understanding, which is the raw material of that knowledge. It is as different from understanding as the doctor’s prescription for penicillin is different from penicillin".
    Many of us are so willing to speak for others, fathom to know their motivations and proclaim them wrong or evil. That's not understanding, that's anti-enlightenment. And what of self-reflection? With the pervasive sensory overload of technology and corruptive Tribal mentality, despite a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips - one of the positives of modern technology - self-awareness seems to be at an all-time low. How can this be? As Mark Twain said, "It's easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled."

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