People seemingly obsess about ‘what they see’ in the world today; but how often do they question ‘how they see it’. The purpose of this blog – as with much of my work over the past thirty years – is not only to question current issues, but also to question the veracity of how people see those issues and the ‘facts’ that are all-to-often repeated without question.
Someone else who shared that quest for ‘the frame’ of meaning as well as the meaning itself was Neil Postman1. In his 1985 book, ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’2, he provides contrasting visions for how people are increasingly ‘losing their bearings’ in the modern media environment. As Postman says in the foreword to the book3:
“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny ‘failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions’.”
What’s your point of view on the above? Seriously, ask yourself. More importantly, would you know where to begin to answer that with certainty? So much of the information we are presented with today is given, ‘as is’, without detailed interpretation, and which we are expected to accept without question.
One of the things you should note above is those little boxes to the right of the quote. You will see these strewn over this entire blog. Those little boxes do not just list the source of the quote or data given; they also describe the names, keywords, or jargon-words used so that you can learn the background to these debates if you do not understand what is being discussed. [Note: For those who criticise my endless arrays of links to seemingly common concepts, don’t assume that everyone knows as much as you!]
Why expend all that extra effort to include those boxes? There is only one absolute truth in the world: “It’s complicated!”
If problematic issues are not being solved, then it is because the solutions – by definition of the fact the problem still exists – are more complicated than people wish to believe. In fact, whenever someone tries to strip away that complexity and offer simple explanations, in my experience, it’s because those complications often undermine their own ideological position.
To change the world, everyone – from gardeners to generals – relies upon a model in their head of how they believe the world ‘outside’ to exist. The reality is, though, if our tinkering with the world doesn’t work after repeated efforts, then that suggests that our model of the world is wrong. Unfortunately many people ‘in charge’ are unwilling to accept the fallibility of their model; and instead will reallocate blame to ‘something’, or usually ‘someone’ else to avoid discussing the details of those failings.
A major problem with the world today is that people do not question ideological assumptions. For example, when someone says that they are, “following the science”, they quite often are not4. That's because science is inherently based upon measurements of uncertainty or probability; while business and politics – with it’s innate belief in a single ‘certainty’ and the authority that creates – cannot relate that nuance or uncertainty in what is being done.
In reality, most politicians only accept the science5 that reinforces their message, and ignore or contest the rest. And in fact, most businesses, pressure groups, and individuals, do precisely the same. To seriously make change in the world you have to accept that reality, and question your own assumptions before proceeding upon any difficult project.
In a world where usually unspoken and unquestionable ideologies dominate – and where the central authority of our modern world, ‘economics’, has become a state religion6 akin to Christianity in the Middle Ages – to question the facts or the data is a revolutionary act!; which will often elicit criticism or hostility because by questioning assumptions, you inevitably question the authority of those who hold those assumptions to be true.
That is the purpose of this blog: To review current issues; to find the relevant sources or information which describe it; and to compare the substance of ‘what we know’ against ‘what is said’ – and do all that in a way non-experts might understand.
More importantly, as part of doing that I will clearly state the sources of the information, as well as explaining the jargon and necessary background knowledge so that you can follow the detail of the debate too. And at a time when knowledge is increasingly locked-up behind paywalls, I’ll always try to find the best free and open sources of information so that all can participate.
I’ll not try and play down or hide the reality from you: The contents of these blogs are ‘hard’, and pose difficult questions. But that’s the whole point. Since so much of society shies away from these hard realities, it should come as no surprise that most people goggle when they are confronted with them.
So many people try and communicate the complexities of the modern world, across many issues; but in this ‘age of distraction’7 such difficult ideas are generally ignored. Thing is, people have been warning of this for decades – in particular, how technocratic institutions8 are destabilising society. On that note, I’ll conclude with another quote9 from one of the thinkers, Carl Sagan10, whose perspectives have guided so much of my own work:
“We've arranged a global civilization in which the most crucial elements – transportation, communications, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting – profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”