The Arrogance of Knowing

– Manasi

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Lately I’ve been realising that the human mind lives within the fundamental delusion that it can know and comprehend everything, yes everything. This is the fundamental arrogance of the ‘I’, the attitude that we can design the best systems, create the best technologies, comprehend the greatest philosophies; that the individual is the fount of all knowledge and creativity. This amazes me, because sometimes when I am all alone and looking up into the sky I realize how very insignificant our world is, and suddenly the extraordinary importance we place on our lives seems so ridiculous. All that worry over the new job, the neighbour’s plasma television, achieving that super-svelte size zero figure etc is so unbelievably misplaced. I am reminded of a quote from calvin and hobbes which goes “ the problem with science is that we have a bunch of empiricists trying to describe a world of unimaginable wonder”. It seems as though we are quite literally living within an illusory world that we create for ourselves in our heads, blindly playing our parts in the unfolding of a mega- drama.

I wonder if those of us that set out to change the world, to change society also in our own way fall into this trap. It might well be arrogance to believe we can accomplish such a task, especially with some new strategy, by designing new systems, breaking down the old ones, creating alternative technologies etc

Can the ills of the world as we know it ever be comprehended? The poverty, squalor, injustice, denial, mental noise, hunger, oppresion of women, disillusionment and depression, rapid loss of biodiversity and soil degradation… can it all be theorized about? Can we attribute it all to the corporates, the governments, the ignorant rich, the ‘uneducated’, the capitalists, patriarchy ? I’m sure that an intellectual understanding of the systems that we live within has it’s place. It is certainly important to be aware of where our plastic goes to and where the food we eat comes from. But does it end there?  How can we comprehend such deep violence except in complete silence (both from within and without) and surrender. Embracing the unknown and the unspeakable… that is, if such a thing even exists.

It is very easy to see a problem and to go about fixing it; and very straight forward too. Create movements that are the antithesis to what exists. See a patriarchal society so create a feminist movement, see the dominance of fast food and so create a slow food movement and so on. But it’s much harder to step back for a moment. To truly examine for ourselves what is going on, to stop relying on theories, philosophies, sociologists, activists and movements to give us the answers but to truly examine the situation fresh and new. I’m not saying that we don’t need to do anything about the crisis that the world has come to. Just posing that a response is different from a reaction, that the first step towards knowing is to realize that we dont know, the first step towards doing something about it is not- doing. The immediate jump into action could be merely a reflection of our ignorance and fear of the unknown.

Is it possible to live with the awareness of our limitations, to dissolve into the vastness that surrounds us and with humility ask for guidance. For without inviting some grace into our lives we would only be perpetuating delusion. If we don’t realise that the truest knowing is in uncertainty and the sincerest believing is in doubt then we are like children playing with fire.

Maybe we can change the world, but maybe there is a larger plan unfolding that we know nothing of; maybe we do need to act, but maybe we don’t; maybe the world is as it should be… but can we at least hold these questions open?

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