You Don't Know.
"Adults always wonder what to say and how to say it when they're talking to a child. You want to be wise, but all you are is a child yourself in a larger body. Nothing is ever what it seems. The things that you think you know are never certain. I know that now. I wish that I didn't, but I do."
- Robert Crais
I recently listened to a dear friend’s podcast discussing the idea that we don’t know as much as we think we do. For some reason, it struck a chord deep down inside of me. He’s right; for all of my love of philosophy, economics, and mankind, there isn’t all that much that I truly know. Even though, as many of my family and closest friends can attest, I may speak as though I “know,” I don’t. In fact the only thing I do know is, as René Descartes famously said, “I think, therefore I am.”
With this being the case, I’m left wondering about the actual point of philosophy or history. It is modern day hubris to suppose that we know 99.9% of the things we claim to. While yes, we have evidence to suggest that something might be true, we would do well to remember all of the past theories that science has thrown at us. It’s shortsighted at best to believe that our tools, as advanced as they may be, are the end all be all to finding truth. Even more, it’s likely that some undiscovered unknown could flip every single idea we’ve ever had on its head.
None of this is to say that we should completely disregard what we have observed about the world and how that has led to the increased prosperity of Man over the ages; it is only to say that we must recognize the inherent possibility and probability that we may at any time be wrong.
After making this realization, you might find yourself asking “OK, so how does this apply to real life? Are you not going to fly in an airplane because it might not work the way we think it does?” My answer: Of course not! I live and work, much like most westerners, under a set of assumptions: that through science, history, philosophy, and mathematics we can observe the world around us and attempt to improve it. In fact it is not the study of these things that I believe is the direct problem. It is the way in which most of the world views science, history, philosophy, etc… as being an ever-changing set of eternal truths. Sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it? Well it is. These areas of knowledge and study has been used as a foundation to lay out some of the world’s greatest horrors: war, eugenics, racism, sexism, slavery, and mass incarceration to name a few.
In fact, philosopher and American historian Thaddeus Russell, in a recent debate at the Soho Forum referred to some of the medical establishment’s atrocities in the 20th century saying,
“medical scientists using the scientific method studied a bunch of people and said “Oh, if you have these ideas about politics, or are a woman and have these bad desires and sleep around with women, or if you are something we simply don’t want in our society because you are weird or different, we are going to have to do something to you. Put you away and reform you and assimilate you into the dominant norms of our society so that you can get along here.” And many of those people never left those places.”
He went on to mention that lobotomies (a medical procedure now shunned for its ineffectiveness and brutality) were used on people deemed ‘different’ by American society up until the 1980’s.
Much of the then accepted scientific basis for these past nightmares has been proven false through bloody trial, but that does not erase the tragedy left in its wake. More importantly, it also does not prevent disproved ideas from resurging under new guises. Because of the dualistic way science is viewed, it is looked at as both an eternal truth and an understandable series of trial and error. This makes it possible to both revile against past mistakes and to wholeheartedly embrace the same reasoning for making the same mistake in the present and future. Again, not to say that it is science itself that is the problem, but rather the religious acceptance of ideas and theories put forth by “experts” in their respective fields.
Today more and more people in developed countries identify as atheist or agnostic, disregarding the superstitions of the past as being a series of stories or lies made up by our ancestors to explain the unexplainable. To me, this is understandable, because there is no feasible way for me to know that the stories of gods or beings or miracles are true or how they are meant to pertain to me in my life. But people still hold religious-like beliefs, replacing prayers and church with a dogmatic adherence to the newest scientific trend.
At face value, this doesn’t necessarily seem like a problem. In fact, it could be a good thing to follow the cutting edge of human discovery; I would argue that it is. It is when science and philosophy are forced upon the public that we see widespread disaster and carnage. The 20th century provides countless examples of this; from the Nazi and American Eugenicists, to the academic pushers of war and economic centralization worldwide, we saw how badly a mandatory science project can go. Of course this is only possible with the wedding of politicians and academics.
I love science, philosophy, history, and economics. I believe in its positive capacity to improve the lives of humans around the world by orders of magnitude. However, the way in which it is administered is crucially important.
Only an individual can act, and it must be individual actors suffering the consequences of their own actions. Therefore it is down to the individual to implement the wonders of scientific discovery into their lives. If not left up to individual actors, politicians will grasp for power by working with academic and scientific ideologues to force the latest trend or narrative down the throats of all within their reach, for both better and worse . No matter how noble the intention, the real side effects of whatever policy is prescribed will ripple through society and leave whatever scars they may. This has been seen time and time again: the societal elites, whether by divine inspiration or scientific expertise, have been given the privilege of dictating how people live their lives and what they do with their resources.
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
I believe it’s time to end the archaic practice of rulership over others for many reasons, one of the most persuasive being that there is so much that we simply just don’t know. I don’t know the best way for you to live your life, and you don’t know the best way for me to live mine. You and I may have convictions - strong, rational, and scientifically backed convictions - but the chance that you or I truly know what is actually best for other people at any given time is unlikely. Science continues to progress, fads come and go, diets rise and fall. People must be given the liberty to choose their own path, to try whatever they feel is best for them, medically, philosophically, or economically; to use the state as an implementing tool for the academic studies is a tragic miscarriage of what those very studies are meant to be.
I hold my convictions, not because I know, but because I don’t.