Dagdha's Blog

Understanding the Facts

Posted in Uncategorized by dagdha on August 25, 2012

Like most respectful children who have the privilege of two good parents, I revere my father. He works ceaselessly and without complaint to provide for his family, often at the expense of his own happiness and well-being. In addition to his industriousness, I have always greatly admired his discerning intellect and the cool, sage-like wisdom he is able to impart to others. However, as I approach the age he was when he became my father, I start to question the foundations of his knowledge, according to the tenets of skeptical inquiry that he has taught me from a young age.

This past Sunday, as my family convened in conversation before our weekly dinner, we were discussing ideas for my sister’s recent school assignment, which required her to bring in something indicative of our genealogical heritage. As a joking aside to my younger brother, I suggested she take in a copy of Mein Keimf to represent our maternal German heritage, which we both indicated a passing interest in possibly reading at some point. The look my father gave me upon hearing this seethed with incredulity. I tried to justify my reasoning, positing that it’s important to understand how this historical work swayed millions in support of horrific genocide, but he dismissed this argument with a pretentious air of aged superiority, riposting that it’s possible to understand without directly subjecting myself to the source. This in turn fostered my own incredulous response – as if one should be afraid of knowledge! I let this topic of conversation die out, but internally I raged against this notion, which has simmered in the back of mind ever since.

In the past I have written about the purity and importance of existential knowledge, but now I wish to address a different mode of enlightenment: the text.  It would be a monumental (dare I say impossible) task to argue that any medium of communication is more effective for education than writing. Whereas spoken words have a tendency to mutate and degrade the further they travel from their source, written words, although not immune, are less corruptible, transcending the ethereal realm of ideas into corporeal form.

But not all texts are created equal.

Even if, for the sake of argument, we were to assume an equal standard authorship across all textual media, there would still be a great disparity between what is communicated in short-form, like articles and essays, and long-form texts, such as novels and anthologies. The former, I would argue, is effective merely for the communication of facts and ideas, while the latter facilitates their understanding. The limited scope of short texts does not allow for the exploration of counter arguments (at least to any depth), nor does it engender intervening meditation. In other words, essays and articles don’t allow time for a subject to “sink in,” which helps the reader empathize with the author’s perspective, even if  he or she does not agree.  I know that Nazism is evil – clearly – but how can I possibly understand it without extensively reading about its core philosophies? To make such an assumption is indicative of a larger problem.

Today’s ADD culture is obsessed with speed, productivity, and instant gratification, shifting literary focus to the aforementioned shorter texts. The dominate medium for news is no longer the newspaper -it’s brevity focused tweets with their 140-character limit (Facebook status updates are the new tabloids.) Although not conclusive, this could explain, or at least provide insight, into the waning empathy of societies.  Even when people do read books, at least in the United States, the overwhelming majority of best-sellers are young adult fiction, which might be alright if it wasn’t shit like Twilight. It’s no wonder our culture is degrading into the emotionally-driven chaos of teenage mentality.

Returning to my original purpose, I find it offensive when somebody tells me what I should or should not do in order to seek a deeper understanding of something. The offense is exponentially compounded by asserting that true understanding is possible from an outside perspective, contradicting the old axiom of walking in someone’s shoes before casting judgment. This is an extremely common hypocrisy of religiously inclined individuals, the majority of whom rarely seem to study opposing arguments. If one wishes to be taken seriously in a debate, he or she must first honestly question their position through the lens of their opponent, otherwise it’s just an egocentric pissing match.

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