I’ve covered the sorry state of knowledge and inherent lack of truth that plagues contemporary society.
But it didn’t start yesterday or even 100 years ago! It’s an eternally recurring theme of dumbing-down and almost-truths dispensed by nasty people posing as intellectual authorities over thousands of years. There is an endemic ‘loss of wisdom’ that has an iteratively degenerative effect, gaining more momentum with each generation.
Historically these lies, these tales, were of a philosophical or mythical nature and virtually harmless. They were stories that became true through retelling: Hercules, Romulus, Arthur. The stories were told first by the travelling bard, then more abstractly through tribalism and shamanism. Polytheism followed with its anthropomorphic (god of wine, god of war) pantheon of valiant heroes and demigods. Finally monotheism trumped them all and wrapped up with its epic, fearsomely vengeful tale of apocalyptic events.
Old wives’ tales (or fables or myths or whatever!) might’ve been lies or half-truths but they didn’t really harm anyone; they might have been ‘not ideal’, but that’s not the point — they were moving towards the ideal — they were retold to children with good intentions! The same could be said for the basic spiritual maxims of most religions: everlasting life; don’t murder; try your best not to sodomise your brother’s wife; treat others how you would like to be treated. All good but… it sadly didn’t last. Something changed. All of a sudden enforcement entered the equation. Arbitrary enforcement: rules, laws and peer pressure with little or no basis in moral/cultural advancement or ethical living. If abstract/intellectual enforcement wasn’t enough, there was a strong physical aspect too: witch-hunts, the Inquisition and the Crusades are but a few obvious examples.
Why did it happen? For thousands of years our focus had been on becoming a more advanced race. But one day, probably after the fall of Rome, we woke up and well… we fell asleep again. Life was no longer about pushing the progress of civilisation. Perhaps it was our growing understanding of human anatomy and psychology that caused the change. Maybe it was due to the formation of metropolises like Rome and the urgent need to control large groups of people quickly and easily. Personally I think the continued development of written and spoken language — and rhetoric — played a big role. Whatever it was, something snapped. No longer was storytelling used to share wisdom or morals to improve our progeny’s standard of living. Gone were the tales that frightened children away from actual dangers like dank caves or poisonous fruits.
A new breed of story started to appear, tales that weaved lies and believable half-truths into their narrative. And we know that words, both written and spoken, have a terrible power. Instead of cresting taller peaks and pushing towards new horizons people started to fear their surroundings. Authorities of knowledge slowly faded away to be replaced by scary chieftains, oppressive teachers, greedy priests and, of course, a vengeful God.
I’ve written about magic before and how it is ultimately synonymous with technology. Television was magic (find an old person that was around when television was invented and talk to them about it!) but sure enough, it very quickly became mundane. What do you think would’ve happened to the inventor of the television if he had been around in the Middle Ages? What do you think ‘witchcraft’ actually was? With such an attitude towards innovation and revolution (or evolution, hah!), is it a surprise that books, education and intellectual enlightenment all but disappeared for 1,000 years?
For a very, very long time the pursuit of knowledge and truth — science! — was frowned upon, persecuted. Scientists were shunned or burnt at the stake. Why?
Because they were dangerous. Knowledge is power.
We humans learnt just enough for the monotheistic surge to take place. We learnt how to exploit the human love of mystery with smart wit and sharp turns of dogmatic phrase. We have become a scared and tentative flock too fearful to break from the pack. In essence we learnt just enough to be dominated and no more.
And now we await — or do we create? – the next Renaissance where veracity of knowledge is returned to us.
Still more to come, I think; on prejudice and ignorance. Oh, and if you’re reading this on the blog itself, remember you can double click a word to find out what it means!