Author Archives: daithi

Answers and questions

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”
― Voltaire

Q&aStack
Politics, or the game of getting re-elected, is one area where the art of dodging pointed questions is considered a required black art, which is either naturally occurring in an individual or acquired via coaching and specialised training. Politicians of the modern day know that everything they say will be held up to scrutiny within seconds of being said, so any version of the truth which they may elicit must either be positioned “beyond the debate”, by the nature of it being an agreed fact or a null-implication platitude, or “kept out of the debate” by not allowing any specific aspect of their political manifesto or opinion be explicitly defined or accounted for.

Informed citizens, journalists and people armed with a cannon full of truth often aim for our politicians in public forums. Confronted with such artillery, it requires maneuvering through the battlefield with the greatest of care to avoid being caught in the fall-out by any loose shrapnel. Quite often it involves politicians ducking for cover, digging in and entrenching their defences with the use of diversionary talking points and misdirection tactics.

When did you last see a leader standup and voluntarily take accountability for what they said and the result of their actions? When did you last hear a politician answer the actual question they were asked, besides when it related to a trivial matter? In which case they will easily explicitly respond with the most favourable response according to their latest polls just in, or they may just let the facade drop for a moment and let unfold a gaucherie which would embarrasses the head monk of an abbey.

Considering the elusiveness of their elected brethren, one would hope that the questions posed by these con-artists of rhetoric to each other must then be the most sharply engineered instruments so as to lock onto a moving target, such as another fellow’s opinion on the subject at hand, by means of verified facts? Alas, rather than using their questions to broaden the public debate on issues and encourage a deeper understanding of the situation, we see the game of re-election descend into a distracting blaze of allegations of a personal nature, the attacking the person instead of the issue tactic, the oul’ “ad hominem” ploy. This keeps the real issues out of the discussion as the valuable time of day is eaten up by sound bites of the caretakers of our public offices, calling each other names across the room.

This is a phenomenon which feeds into the media machine which thrives on such fodder. These schoolyard antics make for scandalous headlines digested by unscrupulous media hacks and spat out out by the omnipresenting news outlets whose original purpose, let us not forget, was to inform the public of the true goings of the day. Two years after writing the United States constitution, the founding fathers, upon reflection, saw it in the best interests of their developing country to add certain additional laws, the amendments to the constitution or also known as the “Bill of Rights”, the first of which relates to the right to free speech and the freedoms of the press. The press, also described as the “Fourth Estate” with the other three estates being the houses of the Government, was regarded with the esteem such that its rights to report the truth, despite the consequences, were enshrined in what was called the First Amendment.

This First Amendment and its applied interpretation, is perhaps the most referenced constitutional argument in non-legal domains outside its home jurisdiction of the 50 states united. The “right to free speech” is a right expected everywhere but actually enshrined without limitations in very few places. I say “without limitations”, as free speech is on the menu in quite a few countries as long as you don’t talk about certain things, the sort of topics which may upset or criticise political or Soverign powers. These limitations, known as sedition laws, are undoubtedly a very useful tool for governments to keep unwanted questions out of the game. By putting the unwanted questioners behind bars, it serves to remind freethinkers the potential cost of turning their thoughts into words or actions.

So it’s ok to say what you want as long as you don’t want to criticise the way things are or potentially change the way things are? Is free speech where you have to reign your words, really free speech or is it an illusion of free speech? Further considering that Governments are actively passing legislation to make it more difficult for controversial questions to be asked (by categorising activists; political, animal or environmental, as terrorists), we find ourselves driving down a highway with fewer and fewer exits showing up ahead on the map ahead in case we need to change direction.

Our media having resigned itself to calling the play-by-play change in opinion polls in the run up to Election Day, essentially commentating on the horse race instead of facilitating and deconstructing the debate, is not portraying itself as a potent poultice with the potential to sooth and heal the painful ailments. Nor will they yield a scalpel, aimed at cutting through the fatty tissues of empty words and posturing to extract the cancers from our political bodies.

In the midst of all this, should we take ourselves aside and ask the questions of ourselves, “where are the questions going to come from and who is going to ask them?”.

Do we learn from our past?

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana


Since the beginning of recorded civilisation, we have documented the key moments from our collective existence and defined it as “our history”.  This history has shown us where we came from, and with some analysis and understanding, serves to provide insight into our current permutations of situations and habitations.  We carry our history around with us, it’s our collective baggage.  It provides the reference points for navigating what we call our reality.  It suggests why certain groups have privilege and why others are oppressed.  I say that it “suggests”, rather than “explains”, because our reality is subjective and defined by the observer.  As such, one history can create many conclusions.

When a certain behaviour causes you pain, you attempt to avoid that behaviour to attempt to avoid the pain.  Once bitten, twice shy.  As individuals we draw from our experiences to minimise the pain and sorrow in our lives.  As a collective, we have our history from which to learn from.  Yet in the same way which we, as individuals, repeat our mistakes, as a collective we are no different.  Is simply remembering the past enough to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes which have afflicted humankind since our documented inception?  These atrocities and injustices include war, racism, genocide, to name but a few, yet time after time, we repeat our collective mistakes without realising we have once again fallen into a trap we laid for ourselves.

As we study the history of humankind’s greatest sorrows, the inevitable question arise: “How could they let it happen?”.  The shame of ancestral inaction lingers for generations.  ”How could the Germans have let the genocide happen?”, “How could the Americans have let the lynchings happen?”, “How could the world have let the war happen?”.  How could they not see what was happening in their time?  Why do we not learnt from our mistakes?

We assume that our generation is immune to such lapses in societal judgement. We have studied the history and we will never let genocide, racism or war happen again in our lifetime.  Are we complacent to the point of thinking “our” society is any more advanced than “their” societies in the past?  Are we oblivious to what happens in the world around us?  Let there be no doubt about my point here, future generations will ask of us, “How did they let it happen?”.

“How did we let what happen?” –  The exact line every other person from generations before us would say if confronted with a time traveller asking them that question.  The exact same line every generation will say until we understand that remembering our history is not enough.  The malaise which has afflicted us over eons is not indifference, greed or hate.  It’s blindness, as in not seeing that which is right before us.  This blindness is caused by a combination of two main factors: ignorance and fear.  Ignorance meaning the lack of knowledge or insight, that which we do not know. And fear, a belief that something will cause us pain.

The rise of the Fascists in Germany or Greece went and goes unchecked in countries blighted by austerity measures.  The plundering of nation’s wealth into the pockets of a few in the name of empire and colonialism happened 200 years ago and in the name of globalisation and capitalism today.  The division of black/white, north/south, east/west, Christian/Muslim, Catholic/Protestant, continues to separate us from our brothers and sisters, yet when we cut each other’s throats, we bleed the same blood.

If we want to learn from the past, we must do more than remember it.  If we believe there is nothing wrong, we are ignorant.  If we know there is something wrong but do nothing, we are fearful.  Our ignorance can be addressed by adopting new ways of looking at the world… critical thinking.  Assess the evidence, formulate hypotheses, draw conclusions.

Our fear can be addressed by acknowledging our mortality.  Some day, we will all die.  As individuals, in our lifetime, and as a collective, when our environment can no longer sustain us.  Do we want to die knowing that we let it happen? Again?

 

Why not ask why?

WhyHow do we begin to understand our world? From a young age, we naturally question everything. “Why?” asks the child. “That’s why!” replies an adult, and the process is repeated until the child runs out of questions or, more likely, the adult runs out of patience. At some stage in the journey from child to adult, the questions begin to be replaced, with opinions which previously presented themselves as answers, and beliefs which restrict the lines of questioning in various topics. Have your firmly-held beliefs ever stopped you from questioning something which you don’t understand enough about?

Just as certain religious beliefs can restrict one marveling in appreciation of the advancement of human thought, the everyday beliefs you hold about yourself, your country, your society, may be restricted by the confines of what society deems to be tolerable questions. Why is it deemed “naive” to be an idealist, “evil” to support terrorism and “crazy” to suggest that there may be something happening which may be beyond our current models of measuring, analyzing and understanding about our world?

Could the words “naive”, “evil” and “crazy” steer you away from asking questions in subject areas which people don’t want to have to think about in order to answer? We tell children that there is no such thing as a stupid question, but we put a societal tax on asking questions in the way we treat people who ask those questions. People who ask difficult questions can find themselves in situations which invoke great emotions in people. People will feel how they feel. Change of thought patterns are accompanied by initial discomfort while the mind wraps itself around a new idea. Don’t worry about pushing the limits of your mind too far, it’s more capable than you think!

Remember how much fun it was to learn new ideas when you were young? Why am I asking you so many questions?