Monday, February 28, 2011
“To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.”
Copernicus: What passes for knowledge is the enemy of real knowledge.
Interlocutor: Whereas we have always thought of ignorance as the enemy of knowledge, have we not?
C: We have, but if we think for more than a minute; if we allow ourselves to think clearly, we soon come to realize what our history books tell us is not always right, not always the truth, but is rather someone’s version of the truth. What we must look for in anything held by some as a truth is who stands to benefit by the version espoused as the truth.
I: And as it is in history, so it is now, in the modern era.
C: You must inform me of developments past my time.
I We are constantly harangued by what pass for fact when in actuality it is no more than a conjecture that has taken hold and been promoted so vehemently and so righteously as a subject with the objectivity of a physical science.
C: What is the subject of which you speak?
I: Why, economics; the study and explanation of shortages and gluts, of dearths and surpluses, and how man behaves in relation to them.
C: In what way is that connected to my words? You must explain yourself.
I: I will. First though, we must go back to a time when man tilled the soil, ate what he grew, or slew in the case of the hunter gatherer. Man worked to keep himself alive, as did others.
C: But surely you must understand that once man made a surplus from his harvest, he had to rid himself of it or let it rot on the stalk. What could he do at this juncture?
I: I do not think it was like that. Right away, we assume man is selfish, that he sees his best way as looking after his own interests first before that of others around him.
C: But surely that must have been how it was? Man as a selfish brute, living in a state of Nature, as we have been told by many. Surely such a man living at such a time would have done well to tend to his own needs before those of his neighbours.
I: But is that true? You forget that man was, is but a small figure on our Earth. He is a slow crawler on the hills; cannot bear loads like any ox or horse, cannot withstand the extremes of temperature, like any wild boar, and yet you insist that he must have been selfish; that that was his only chance to survive – in the face of the world all around him, fierce in tooth and claw.
We are constantly led to believe that man is selfish by Nature; that this is proven by his survival from those harsh days of the Stone and Iron Ages to today’s cosseted example, surrounded by every comfort to stay Nature and keep it in its rightful place – under his control. Do you imagine Nature has always been under his control? Do you imagine man acting selfishly could have survived through the darkest ages known in the history of man on this planet without cooperation rather than selfishness?
C: Since you put it that way, it does seem difficult to believe that he could have survived on his own without the cooperation of his fellow man.
I: Exactly, and yet from the cradle, almost, we have been led to believe that man is first and foremost a selfish brute, acting like the animals he slays for the meat that sustains him and for the fur that clothes him.
I never heard of man acting socially, together with other men; to fight a bear or drag a log across rough land; acting together to protect themselves from winters that would have felled the mightiest warrior or the weakest child. And yet that is how it must have been; in that so called ‘state of Nature’ in which philosophers, men of science and such, had us standing alone against animals twice our size and bent upon our destruction for them to devour us in their need, being at least as great as our own.
Have we not swallowed the theory of the survival of the fittest; a theory that deals with each species as it develops; as each sub-species of finch develops its beak to prize open the hardest shell to get at what lay beneath; have we not accepted such theories to explain the development of all God’s creatures, and yet withheld it from theories of our own survival down the long, long years from man’s earliest dawn unto this his latest dusk.
Have we not prided ourselves in our mastery of all things natural – taming of beasts, make the mountains bare their feet; lay the new cut forests at their feet; to turn a river in its bed, or plant a barren wilderness with wheat, as one man has written?
C: Yes, we most certainly have.
I: And we have done it, not by the sweat of our own brow, but collectively, by the sweat of all our brows. Could we have done those triumphal things alone, standing as one man, with but two arms to swing an axe, two legs to ford a stream in flood and flee from the bear bounding towards us in breathless hunger? Could we have done all that acting alone?
C: Surely not. But how does that bear on what we do today?
I: What we have assumed man capable of, standing alone, working things out whilst accounting himself as one not as many, we have allowed to creep into our theories until it possesses an invisibility, covered as it is with so much rhetoric, so much extrapolation, with man now placed at the very centre of the known Universe, not merely as one man among many men, but as Man; as Mankind, as a superman able to leap a gorge in a single bound.
We have allowed ourselves to be duped into believing we are something we have never been – Homo Insularus – Man as An Island!
Copernicus: You think man is more of a social being than an insular one, do you?
Interlocutor: No man is an island, it has been said, and I will go one step further and say that mankind is a series of linked lands – a continent of humanity.
C: And do you think that man conjured, for now that is the only way I can conceive of him, do you think that holding that man is essentially insular in nature has had a detrimental effect upon his existence upon Earth?
I: Since man has come to be thought of as first rational before human, then yes, I think our whole development in what we term the civilized world has been adversely affected by this way of looking at him.
C: Why do you think that?
I: Because over the centuries that man has existed alongside his fellow man – his fellow man, I say, his compatriot on this Earth, there are those who have always benefited from his being thought of as entirely selfish; the whole subject of Economics is predicated upon Man as an island, rather than Man as a truly social being.
This unit of production; called labour in economic terminology, is acting in the best way he can when he is acting out in his own interests. He is acting properly, as he should be doing, according to those gurus that inform our commercial and business interests and the way they are organized.
Whole armies of economists trained in our universities, by professors and lecturers who wholeheartedly believe that man is acting in his own best interests when he is behaving selfishly. Not only acting in his best interests, but acting in the only way. To do otherwise, they hold, is to act in a wholly irrational manner, and as such should not be considered in any other way that acting under a species of insanity.
C: And do you think that this has found its way to the way the man in the street, as we call the ordinary person, has this way of thinking percolated down to him/
I: Of course it has. Modern man has always thought that he is doing right when he acts alone. Only those who work in the heavy industries of shipbuilding and coal mining have come to think differently.
C: Why is that?
I: Because they know the reality of the matter; they know that they cannot exist in their place of work without the full cooperation of their fellow working men. You cannot build ocean going liners of hew coal without strong teams of men pulling in the same direction to overcome the heaviest of work.
C: And what effect has that had upon those who work in those heavy industries?
I: They have formed trade unions, the vanguard of the socialist state.
C: But they have been demonized by powerful interest groups until they practically cease to exist.
I: But that type of industry ceases to exist, at least in Western nations, doesn’t it? It ceases to exist, but the sprit behind that way of working still beats in the breasts of those who worked in that way. There is still a remnant of socialism even in those countries in which it has been wholly discredited?
C: Why is that?
I: Because man is still a social being, despite what he is told in textbooks at university and through the closed minds but open mouths of the media. He is essentially a social animal, even like the humble ant.
Copernicus: And surely, since I come to think about it, man requires the cooperation and assistance of other men in many of his endeavours, commercial or otherwise.
Interlocutor: He surely does. One need only think of farming, bringing in the harvest, which, having to be done in a limited amount of time, requires the help of many.
C: But this was traditionally done by villagers working together, yes?
I: Yes, that is right, whereas now the gentleman farmer, which is to say the owner of that piece of land and the machinery that services it, that man employs labour to collect In his grain, his barley or his wheat.
C: Or utilizes machinery thereby removing the need to employ labour.
I: And the more he uses machinery and the less he relies on paid labour, the better he accounts himself to his financial masters and to his peers. In effect, what he is telling the world is, ‘I am standing alone and surviving.’
C: Not only surviving, but flourishing.
I: Giving further proof that man is acting in his own best interests when he acting alone. Even the language he uses testifies to this remoteness; he uses words like employs and refers to hired men as employees, labour, to be factored into equations in the same way that plant, capital, land and machinery are factored in, as units that he must try to reduce in order to make that most iniquitous of outcomes – a profitable venture – accounting success in terms only of the profits he makes at the end of the day.
Never mind that he has abused the earth that sustains all, that he has alienated the farm labourer from the land he previously occupied and lived off. All that is factored out as extraneous to the equation, by economists applauding the business that hires none at all. Man is an island, they state, and prove it daily by looking down those rows of figures in business accounts, rather than looking at the haggard and work thrown on the scrapheap of humanity by modern techniques that require bigger fields, more chemical input and fewer men.
Is it any wonder that man is alienated by work that uses him as little more than an arm – a limb to lift and carry, when a man is human, not robot, thinking not automated, feeling not mechanical.
Who shall say he works best when he works alone; the very nature of his work demands that he is a man of many, a member of a grouping – be it a team in the bowels of a ship, unloading cargo, or at the bottom of a mine hewing coal from a face yea a sight harder than that wall over there. He must act alone in his dealings with his employer. If he acts in tandem with his fellow man – the way he is forced to work though his day, if he represents or is represented by another, he is penalized, demonized and ultimately thrown out of work because he is held to be acting in ways that go counter to the ways of civilized men.
As it is with the businessman, so it must be with the man hired to do his work; he needs must stand alone in his dealings to better his income, even when the odds are so heavily stacked in favour of the employer at the expense of the employee who does the work.
Robert L. Fielding
Posted by Justice at 10:45 PM