Friday, 22 April 2011

Put the books down, look out the window and think for yourself.

Once upon a time there was a blank page – Locke’s tabula rasa. We couldn’t lean on some other persons thinking as a replacement for our own consideration of the truth. We had to look, listen, poke at, pull apart and generally fuss around at the world so as to get some information – followed by thinking about what it all meant.

Somewhere we’ve lost this – not entirely but mostly. Rather than craft our own arguments based on the evidence we’ve found, we turn instead to Professor X or Doctor Y and say, “look at the very clever person and what they say, I am clever too because I’ve read their writing and cleverer still for telling you about its wonders!”

Essays, articles, reports – even dissertations – are constructed through the careful rewashing of someone else’s work. This isn’t plagiarism, nor is it entirely without use but such an approach reveals in us a lack of thoughtfulness, a craven adherence to the status quo presented by our betters. We comply with authority’s bias and prejudice for fear that disagreement would mark us apart and down.

The creation of entire philosophies through the recycling of others' opinion – I quote someone, someone else quotes me quoting that someone and so on until the original someone quotes me quoting him! Replacing that blank page we have a vast wall covered in scribble, indecipherable as a whole but interpreted by a select group who understand the occult nature of that graffiti. As a result we learn nothing but that some acolytes are granted the great privilege to interpret the myths for us lay supplicants. And woe betide those who question those acolytes.

Perhaps we should start to question the basis of our policy-making – the pretence that the evidence it uses is real, the fiction that its processes allow for genuine review. What we need isn’t just a politics of doubt but a rediscovery of autodidact questioning and the questioning of authority. We need an end to telling people their opinion is worth less than some other person clutching a piece of paper from one university or another.
Above all we need to promote and champion people who doubt – who start with that tabula rasa rather than with someone else’s – be it Marx, Keynes or Rothbard – prescription for perfection.

Put the books down, look out the window and think for yourself.



richard hansen said...

Excellent. I have had some very similar thoughts and feelings over the years but obviously have never articulated them quite so brilliantly. I promise you this:
I will not quote you.


Anonymous said...

What you say is true but very difficult to do with the internet right there.