Pathways to Numbness
By Jorge D. H. Prósperi
The first step in trying to discern the truth is the pursuit of knowledge. That process is inherent at birth – the inalienable thirst to know – the obsession for the brain to naturally inquire, decipher and pursue information about the universe. Upon our eyes opening to the world, we begin to chase knowledge. We have lots of help along the way. Parent(s), family members, neighbors, schooling, community, profession, media (print, digital, social), performing/visual arts, athletics, religion/spirituality, even happenstance lending a hand.
Each of us is born with the incredible capacity to learn any language from infancy to adulthood. With a little effort and time, we can even become fluently bi-tri-lingual. Move us about as children by way of immigration and migration and we can even become bi-tri-cultural. As my grandchildren say, “How cool is that?!” Yes, human beings are truly very cool – remarkable – at least have the potential to be.
Let’s keep in mind that the formal acquisition of knowledge, called schooling, is required only from pre-school to grade 12. So as Peggy Lee poignantly asked, “Is that all there is?” What about the rest of our lives? Is a high school diploma suffice? You say you have a masters and doctorate. Congratulations! Again I ask, does a diploma suffice? What about after the walks across those hallowed stages of learning? What about plain old experiential learning without a degree? Surely we know people who are not only smart but wise and did not graduate from high school or college. I lived with two such individuals – mamá y papá.
So let’s review what takes place during those 12, 14, 16, 18 years of schooling. We climb the Tower of Babel listening, reading and writing a language. We hear countless stories of the past – of heroes and battles. We are presented with the language of numbers. Physical and natural wonders are observed along with an occasional dissecting of worms and frogs. If we are fortunate, we are asked to approach blank canvases with brushes and paints – wheels molding clay, mix yeso with water, carve wood, chisel marble and stone – even blow glass. We can even begin to learn yet another language. This one calls for sounds and collaboration of brain, fingers, hands, legs keeping tempo, harmonizing. Thousand of symphonic notes coming together as one. WOW! We are truly remarkable – incredible – and all because knowledge is made available… embraced… or not.
Schooling provides at least a launching pad to discover and pursue knowledge. But at some point classes end, homework no longer required, no more study groups, no entrance exams, no GPA, no report card, no diploma. We could actually stop thinking about the acquisition of knowledge without consequences. As a matter of fact, did you ever have someone at Costco or upon entering Taco Bell ask you for your ACT score or high school GPA? Who really cares whether we truly and critically become knowledgeable?
School days quickly dissolve and the world normalizes and accepts limited knowledge, little tweets of information as reality – just enough to keep us relatively functional. Just enough to keep the fittest surviving. Just enough to keep consuming and hoarding. Just enough to be duped and conned into thinking that knowledge, intellect, reason, logic and critical thinking are social diseases. Just enough to dull the meaning and purpose of citizenship. Just enough to stop caring about others and/or even suspect that all others are the enemy. Just enough to blame others for our dysfunctions. Just enough to proclaim anti-intellectualism, conformation bias and ignorance as bliss and place barriers on roads less traveled.
So why do we ignore as a nation serious pursuit of knowledge via critical thinking? Does the verification process to scrutinize information take too long? Are we just too busy to care about the veracity of the information we consume? Is it too tedious a process? Is it someone’s else’s job? Is a matter of not being trained to pursue knowledge and Veritas? Or is it a matter that we don’t really want to know the stark truth in the raw – be it historical or current social dramas and traumas playing out before our very eyes? Is it a matter of wanting the agony of others to just go away – the need to numb the senses in order to avoid seeing and hearing the lies, pain, the suffering, the oppression? Has it all become too much to bear? Or worse, do we affirm oppressive -isms, phobias and their applications because we either believe them to be true or become accomplices with our silence?
Do we dare to speak what is on our minds, hearts and spirit? What are the risks at home, work, school, church and society at large? Engage in difficult conversations or not? Allow misinformation, confirmation biases, predispositions allowed air-time freely without providing an alternative perspective? What about if the “boss” – the “highest authority” is expressing the misinformation,-isms, phobias and/or predispotions? What about if its a family member – friend? How do we navigate difficult socio-cultural-political discourse – casual conversations – debates – discussions? . . . hopefully never reaching the point of fear mongering, threatening overtures nor angry speech. To remain civil-civic minded should be a goal – maintaining self-integrity, self-respect, self-empowerment, credibility and trust in tack. But, when is it time to sense that the conversation has reached its limits as to open-mindedness on both ends and needs to end – left for another time and space?
At one point social media was promoted to be a major conduit for critical thinking. It was going to help us discern and scrutinize. It would become a filter in order to sift through untruths rather than promote them. Unfortunately, marketers had other intentions. It no longer was to be about the veracity of the talking point, the tweet, but about the fear of missing out on the latest sale, being left out of the conversation, not knowing that Suzy’s cat was constipated for three days and that Johnny’s cockatoo had diarrhea – all critical issues among infants being separated from their parents and matriculated into barbed wired summer encampments. Social Media could and would deaden – numb the social pain – its disturbing horror a few miles away… a self-absorbed tweet away. For a few seconds life became bearable… knowledge and reality cauterized… at least for some.
END OF PART III – Go to Part IV