Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Rise Of Surety

I'm sick of surety.

There is generally only one form of surety available to the consumer of information. That is the surety of self-enforced ignorance. I'll explain.

I need to know things, and I want to know things. People who are going to report things to me have a profound duty, almost always shirked. I can only find out things from most people and institutions around the edges, exposed -- or perhaps betrayed is a better word --unintentionally. To be an intellectual is to be a skeptic who is willing to listen. It's a waste of time, mostly, now. No one's going to tell you much of anything.

Many talk and write all the time. The most tedious people talk like they are writing at you aloud. Bloggers have a tendency to do this if they meet anywhere. Show me a picture of your children, you housebound agoraphobes. It's the only thing you have I can be sure you know much of anything about, that I don't. Unlike whatever half-remembered lesson from a fool you're half-remembering again and hurling down on the listener's ear from your intellectual dunghill Olympus, your children might be interesting --if they have the innate sense to run away from home.

Ignorance begets speculation. But ignorance, self-imposed mostly, is being transmogrified directly into obdurate surety without the intermediate step of true speculation. True speculation involves saying "I don't know," prepared to hear the truth, if available. Few will admit that they don't know much about any particular thing, because they think it leaves an opening for their enemies, who being bad people unlike you will never admit ignorance; but at the bottom of it everyone's simply afraid to be presented with facts that would make them uncomfortable. That's why all they'll acknowledge they don't know --if anything -- is how their personal bete noires managed to wreck the particular wreckage at hand, or how exactly their Dear Leader managed to arrange good weather for them on the day of their picnic. In this world, never allowing anyone else to get a word in edgewise is the Eleventh Commandment that trumps the other ten stitched together.

There are very few people who said "I wonder what happened to that plane that disappeared without a trace" yesterday, and left it at that. They immediately began to speculate, as humans do, but in the new, adamantine method. They rearranged their prejudices, born, weaned, and brought to manhood by rigid talk-to-the hand disinterest in others' opinions and objective reality, to fit the topic, as they would fit every topic.

The Drudge Report keeps a list of cable "Chat (yelling) About News Shows." Apparently even this thin intellectual gruel is a kind of bloodsport horserace, too, like so many things. I have never seen one minute of any one of those shows, and I don't think I'm missing much. That which is useless is boring or infuriating, to taste, in these matters. I could learn more in five minutes of How It's Made than if I watched a century of people yelling things at one another wearing pancake makeup. And I already know how it's made.

I dare you to tell me something I don't know. Telling me something you don't know but are absolutely sure of is of supremely doubtful utility.


Andy said...

"I dare you to tell me something I don't know."

That's almost easy. You could even fake that one, if you are clever enough and have the false confidence of a career liar. I wonder, however, how many people could tell you something they do know. I'm struggling a bit with that right now. It's like walking into a record store and not being able to think of any of the bands you listen to - should be easy, but most of it just doesn't go deep enough to sit still.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

Did you know that the Machinist Handbook gives teh relative hardness of varouis woods, and the recomended Feeds & Speeds at which to machine them, both with HHS and Carbide tooling?

westsoundmodern said...

You would think that evolution would have supplied humans a humility governor somewhere along the way. When I see an actor or musician presume to lecture someone like Dick Cheney on foreign policy, well... I've never built an end table but I bought one at Target once so I'm sure I could fill pages of the Huffington Post why yours suck.
"I don't know" is the keystone of civilization. People should try it more often.

Apis Melliflora said...

I'm not sure if you're claiming to be a know-it-all or an admirer of pondering non-speculators, but here's what I do know: that either way, your usual biting wit is having a go.

lorraine said...

I know one thing for sure and that is that there is no way of direct knowledge of anything. It is all built on what you think it is, what you have been told and past experience. That is all I know for sure. Lorraine

River Cocytus said...

You're a musician. Are you familiar with this scale?

C D E F G Ab A B C

It was taught to me by my jazz instructor. It *can* be harmonized with only two chords and their inversions: C6 and Ddim7.

As for the point about not knowing:

17. One day some old men came to see Abba Anthony. In the midst of them was Abba Joseph. Wanting to test them, the old man suggested a text from the Scriptures, and, beginning with the youngest, he asked them what it meant. Each gave his opinion as he was able. But to each one the old man said, "You have not understood it." Last of all he said to Abba Joseph, "How would you explain this saying?" And he replied, "I do not know." Then Abba Anthony said, "Indeed, Abba Joseph has found the way, for he has said: 'I do not know.'"

Oy. That's from some of the sayings of the Christian Fathers.

SippicanCottage said...

You guys aren't paying attention if you think I'm challenging you to duels.

River- The wryest joke ever in Jeeves and Wooster is Bertie asking Jeeves after Jeeves trots out some obscure fact:

-Jeeves, is there anything you don't know?

-I really don't know, sir.

I'm was born a poor off-white bass player, so it's strictly Mixolydian for me. They'll be no Phrygian. But if you push me too far, I'll open up a can of Locrian on ya.

Thanks everyone for reading and commenting.