Combating Ignorance

Combating Ignorance

It is only necessary to make war with five things; with the maladies of the body, the ignorances of the mind, with the passions of the body, with the seditions of the city and the discords of families.” – Pythagoras

Science is not a philosophy or a spiritual path; it’s a way of behaving in the world. It is a way of thinking that encourages logic, reason, information and communication in such a way as to explore the world in wonder and discovery.

It is unfortunate that polarization and nationalism, tribalism if you will, have made “fake news” and “alternative facts” part of our everyday life now. It is a reality with which we must learn how to navigate. It is not only learning to dig through facts and figures, research and media hype, but it is learning that we must, sometimes, unlearn. It begin with the idea of “we must know” is a fallacy. What we must do is begin to swim in our own ignorance and be cognizant of what we do not know.

To be blunt, if we want to fight ignorance, we must start with our own.

project_open-scienceWe listen every day to people who, by virtue of their self-appointed “knowledge,” without the science or experience to back it up, discard the rigorous work that scientists have done to establish or debunk our knowledge of nature. Chemists, astrophysicists, climatologists, oceanographers, biologists, geneticists, and nutritionists have all been sidelined when their messages did not fit the narrative of corporate interests or media hype. Those that seem to have the most money, most market share, or most “brand” have the last say. We separate the educated as elitists and the corporate interests as “the common man.” Who would have our best interests at heart?

To be very clear, expertise is not the same thing as elitism. A real expert and scientist knows where their knowledge boundaries lie. They know that they know less than they have researched, and are on a quest to explore. They are developing theories and testing them, asking what didn’t work and what did. They know that the fruits of their labors may take years, decades, to bear truth, and most likely lead to more questions.

Elitism, on the other hand, is “the belief or attitude that individuals who form an elite—a select group of people with an intrinsic quality, high intellect, wealth, special skills, or experience—are more likely to be constructive to society as a whole, and therefore deserve influence or authority greater than that of others.” They are the self-appointed leaders or gurus that have the answers. A scientist may be an elitist, but that is not a reflection on science but on the character of the individual. Or lack thereof.

Having just finished the documentary, “Behind the Curve,” on Netflix, I found it extremely interesting to listen to both sides of the debate on “flat earth theory.” There are those in the Flat Earth community who truly believe what science has let them down, that they have the truth and the science to back it up. What was extremely interesting was to hear the scientist’s remarks about this group of contrary thinkers. There was no condescension or elitism of any of the scientists interviewed. There was no pity or condemnation. It was a true desire to not ignore or sideline the discussion but to engage in it; it was about bringing people together rather than considering it an “us” and “them” situation. This was not about belief and fact; it was about education. Knowledge. Combating ignorance.

Freemasonry has an interesting take on the ideas of nature and science as they are combined with philosophy and a search for Truth. It is one of the few places that it seems both can come together, to discuss and debate with a very open narrative. Science is valued as much as the experiential; physics and metaphysics co-exist in conversation and thought. Nothing is off limits. These conversations, whether in a Lodge meeting or in social gatherings, at study groups or philosophical study centers are the ways we fight ignorance, if we are willing to listen.

top-10-books-every-college-student-read-e1464023124869I recently attended a study group where the topic was considering whether or not humanity had an influence on climate change. I was dead certain that humans influenced nature’s cycles; how could it not? There are seven billion people in the world, occupying space, consuming resources, and polluting the world around them. It was a belief and I knew it. However, I challenged myself to come with an open mind and not not make a judgment before entering the room. I am not, by training, a climatologist, meteorologist, geologist, or any other kind of -ologist. I know high-school level geology, and freshman college science. Let’s face it, I know nothing. What I did was bring in my own attitude and readings from media and pseudo-science journals, aimed at producing a message swinging one way or another. Being out of school for many years, I also felt the pride of age – I knew something of the world, darn it. I really felt like “know thyself” was part of my vernacular.

I admit to the conversation bringing my opinion around to a more moderate view rather than to a specific “side” of the debate.  The presenter discussed scientific findings I had not considered, and geologic facts of which I had absolutely no knowledge. I learned about ice ages, findings in the melting of current glaciers, ice core samples, geologic time scales, and historical facts of global significance. I won’t say that my mind was changed; I will say that I walked out with a broader idea of questioning what I have been told, and learning the truth for myself. I learned that what I had was a belief, not evidence. If I was going to change my ignorance, I needed to do the work. Myself.

This is where, to me, the collision of science and Freemasonry are at their best. Freemasonry is a mystery school – an initiatory rite that brings about the idea that the human being is nature and the best way to understand nature and the mysteries of life and death, is to study nature. How to study nature? Ancient Greek mystery schools according to Blavatsky are “not a unique system but, based on the spiritual structure of the universe,” of which it is important to understand Nature. They are inextricably linked, the Spirit and Nature, perhaps even one in the same. Freemasonry, as a modern descendant of these mystery schools seeks to take the core of nature and spirit, and propel the human into learning that both reside within humanity, and it is the Freemason’s job to not only continue to seek truth but to also seek Truth. It is to always ask questions, from knowing yourself to knowing the world, and doubt everything. It is a respect for the scientific process as much as it is for our own process. We are seven billion experiences and all are equally valid. Else, why are we having them?

pythagorasFor the ancient philosophers, ignorance was the opposite of good. To both Aristotle and Plato, no one does wrong willingly but only out of ignorance. Socrates had his own methods for combating ignorance, and many of these principles can be found in Freemasonic ritual and education. From continuous learning and making a daily advancement in education to providing education rather than criticism, the Freemason becomes a scientist of the world. Freemasons build on Socrates idea that one should “know thyself” in that they are lacking in knowledge, and that we have no idea what is best for others. The center point is the key to balance in all things but especially to combating ignorance. A measured approach, curious yet mindful. Lastly, I think Socrates was most right when he said that ignorance is inevitable. When Socrates said “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance,” what he was saying was that he was not ignorant of all things but that he was aware that he was ignorant of all things. He knew that he would be forever ignorant and it was only through perseverance that he could become “good.”

Freemasonry and Civil Discourse in the Digital Age

Freemasonry and Civil Discourse in the Digital Age

As Freemasons, the concept of the Word is very important to us, both in ritual, as well as in daily life. The Word represents the medium through which truth is transmitted, it’s how we express ourselves, and ultimately is the essence of the creative principle of the universe. In the beginning, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. One interpretation is that the Word represents the abstract essence of the ideal structures of information which form reality itself, the thoughts of the G.A.O.T.U., perhaps.

On a more practical level, in day-to-day life in civil society, how we communicate with one another via language can determine our success in life, the harmony of our social environment, and in some cases can be a matter of life and death. Some would even argue that language is the primary differentiator which makes us human and places us in a category above the animals. The importance of language to human life truly cannot be overstated, but exactly how we communicate with one another is also a subject of much debate and controversy, currently.

It seems to be exceedingly difficult these days to communicate with those we disagree with in any meaningful way, and almost every discussion, particularly on the internet, tends to devolve into divisiveness and anger. This is partly because of the lack of face-to-face interaction and partly because of the filter bubble or echo chamber effect, which occurs when either we or the algorithms that control what we see in social media cause us to only hear or communicate with those with whom we agree. These factors, thereby, contribute to increasingly polarized and radical views, and the atrophy of our capacity to tolerate opposing views.

Civil Discourse and Free Speech

What seems to be lacking in modern times is civil discourse. Civility, or Civil Discourse, is a long tradition of philosophy and communication, and throughout history, itFree Speech has undergone various transformations, or has at times been rejected. So, what is civility, and how should we use it in our approach to communicating on subjects where there is so much disagreement?

The root of the word civility is the same as the root for citizen, and civilization, the latin “civilis.” In the larger sphere of human life beyond communication alone, it means “working together productively to reach a common goal, often with beneficent purposes.” In other words, civility is cooperation towards a shared goal, which is the basis of civilization – hence the words’ etymological relatedness.

In communication specifically, we refer to this as civil discourse. Just like the definition of civility more generally, civil discourse is when we communicate together towards a common goal. This concept is most important, naturally, when there is a disagreement of some kind, for it’s easy to be civil when we agree. According to the principle of civil discourse, we should do everything in our capability to communicate with those we disagree with in a manner which allows us to work together towards a common goal: namely finding or approximating truth together. Alternatively, in some cases, it is simply coming to some level of mutual agreement or common ground.

The tricky part comes when civility sometimes might require us to restrict our sense of freedom of expression.

Alongside this principle of civility, we also have the concept of free speech, or freedom of expression, which, as we all know, is written into the U.S. Constitution as a fundamental right, at least insomuch as the government should not be able to prohibit it. Many people go a step further and believe that not only should we have the right not to have our speech censored by the government, but also that this should be a more broad cultural ideal; so that, in general, people are able to speak their mind without fear of retribution, ostracization, or termination from their job.

Compelled Civility and Free Speech

Today, speech and its regulation are yet another highly polarized and debated topic, to a compelled speechlarge extent along political party lines. On one side, we have those who wish to utilize authority to limit certain kinds of speech which are deemed to be harmful, such as hate speech, racism, mis-gendering, and “fake news.” On the other, we have those who believe in a fundamental concept of free speech, so that anyone should be able to speak their own opinion, regardless of the effects it might have, as long as actual threats are not being made. This includes opinions that many would find extremely offensive, perhaps even harmful in some ways, such as inciting violence.

This polarity is an interesting one and is reminiscent of many other polarities we may take notice of in nature and in human life: Chaos and Order, Progress and Conservatism, Intellect and Feeling; in a way, I can see all of these dichotomies at play in this singular issue. At times, it seems as if everything we do is some sort of interplay of opposites, and which side we identify with crosses over into other spectra of life, which might otherwise seem unrelated.

While I fall firmly onto the side of free speech as far as the government is concerned, how to approach the dichotomy of civility and free speech on a personal level is much more interesting and also relevant to the Masonic life.

To Be a Level in a World Askew

As Freemasons, we are simultaneously compelled to seek and speak truth, as well as, to unite humanity, which can seem paradoxical given all of the divisions over what is true. We are expected to tolerate differences of opinion and worldview. In our speech, as in many other aspects of our lives, we are encouraged to seek balance: the middle way. Not only that, but we also aim to serve as a balancing force on the world around us, for we believe that the truth is in the center point.

When we are able to balance free speech and civility in ourselves and when we are able to speak in a way that is not hateful or divisive without avoiding speaking our truths, webalance can act as a balancing force to the polarized culture of the day, around whatever topic of discussion we come into contact with. Part of the work we must do in the world is to be the level which brings balance to that which is askew.

In a world where polarized opinions seem to perpetuate themselves in an endless feedback loop, how do we do this? I think the answer has to be that we first seek balance in ourselves and then seek it in others. Every radical on one side has a nascent version of the opposite view and traits buried deep within them, somewhere. As in Jungian psychology, every introvert has an unconscious extrovert, or vice versa; whatever we identify with consciously, the opposite dwells in darkness within us, and it is our job to bring light to it – both in ourselves and in others.

How do we do that? We ask probing and thought provoking questions, rather than tell people what to think. We notice the imbalances in ourselves and others and seek out their counterbalance. We act as moderators, bridge builders, and help people find common ground. Perhaps most difficult of all, we maintain respect for the inner light that dwells within each individual, however concealed with the muck of dogma it might be.

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

Discover

A daily selection of the best content published on WordPress, collected for you by humans who love to read.

The Daily Post

The Art and Craft of Blogging

The WordPress.com Blog

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.