Friday, September 25, 2015

I don't know

that I don't know what I don't know. Or, I'm ignorant about those things that I'm ignorant about being ignorant about. It's a big and positive step, I think, to get rid of that first I don't know or that first I'm ignorant about. If I can move from there to a stance of knowing that I don't know what I don't know...that's a seriously big improvement, right?

I wrote something like that in a previous post. When I ran across a statement akin to that it sort of threw me. Maybe it created some discombobulation for you too. I found a graphic that sort of suggests something about what that could mean.


Right down at the bottom of the graphic, where the 01 is located, is where sentences like I don't know that I don't know what I don't know would be located. It would be in this area that things that we think we know but what we know is inaccurate or incomplete would sit too...because we would not know that we didn't know because we thought we knew. Whew.

Don't be mislead by the linear like configuration depicted in the graphic because, depending on the topic or subject, we're all mostly all over the place and the places we're at, in terms of learning, change all the time. No graphic that's a still snapshot is going to do anything but provide sort of a vague approximation of our knowing/learning. It's vital, I think, for us to understand that "knowing" is always tentative, uncertain, incomplete. What we know is pretty much always open to revision or being added to (hopefully in terms of becoming more accurate).

That 01 level is intriguing because I wonder if that isn't the place where culture can have a seriously potent effect on us...with ease. That's where it could have the biggest influence with the least amount of effort...or so it seems to me. I suspect that it is there that invisibling or oblivion often happens. There's where we could easily be flimflammed with nonsense and lulled into believing that new knowing wasn't needed and/or possible.  

If we can exist in a state wherein we accept, and are conscious of, that we don't know what we don't know...and be open to new (or more accurate) facts or theories or insights...that's a good thing. Sometimes it's uncomfortable and sometimes it's disconcerting but a good thing nevertheless.

One of the authors I've referenced recently, Robin DiAnglo, uses the word humility when she writes about that openness to new learning. The wikipedia entry I linked with humility describes it as being the opposite of narcissism. Hmmm.

But...if we operate by engaging life as if we know...and that there is nothing new to know...oops...we're in deep trouble. The saying that twenty years of experience isn't the same thing as living the same year over twenty times is one that I've always liked...because it means you have to keep on accepting that you don't know what you don't know.

If, like me, you came to ethical veganism as an adult after having not been living as one...then you have had the experience of realizing that what you thought you knew was inaccurate...and...there was much that you didn't know. I didn't know what I didn't know...but...I thought I knew. I was in error. For me...that apprehending of my error and ignorance was seriously disconcerting...it frightened me. Because...it clearly exposed to me that I was quite capable of stumbling along through life thinking I was behaving ok...when I wasn't. I was harming others, all the while, thinking I was living an ok life. That's scary.

It's tempting...when a big new learning like that happens...to grab onto to it and think "whew, now I've got it figured out". When...once all the dust settles...what a new learning like that should signal to us is that there may be other things that we think we know that we don't or other things that we don't know that we don't know. Why should there be just one? What if there are others? How can we know? How do we go about discovering or realizing that?

One thing that has occurred to me about doing that (not that I really know or anything) is maybe, if I sort of consider what's going on around me, I can get some clues about finding areas where I don't know what I don't know.

The analogy that pops up for me is maybe if I think about living my life as sort of like driving a car...I'm going along thinking I'm driving ok and steering with what I think is some skill and care but...I look in the rear-view mirror and see behind me the bodies of beings I've hit with my car and mail boxes I've knocked over...oops...time to reconsider my notion that I'm driving competently or carefully.

What if I consider my society or culture or nation as if it were a car I was riding in as it was going down the road and I look behind it and see many injured and harmed victims...maybe that's a clue that some/many/most of the things that society/culture told me back there at that 01 level of learning were erroneous...or maybe it neglected to tell me something I needed to know to live in a way that does the least harm.

Would that be a way to maybe realize that there were some things I didn't know that I didn't know (or that my culture/society/nation had mislead me about) and maybe to point me toward areas that I could do some more learning about?  I wonder.   



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Saturday, September 19, 2015

"I would have lived...

my life differently." This sentence, which was written in a post titled White Happened to You over on Dr. David Shih's blog, stunned me when I read it.

It echoed with me because it perfectly expressed a dismal and uncomfortable truth that's stung me at various points in my life but never so pervasively and wholly as it has since I was lucky enough to become a little less oblivious and began stumbling along the path of veganism.

Culture is a word often used to reference ways of living and understanding and comprehending...pretty much everything. What's often left out of thinking about or writing or speaking about culture is that it also teaches us obliviousness. In addition to identifying how to do things and understand things, culture also quietly and stealthily teaches us what to not know or comprehend or be aware of. This aspect of 'culture' doesn't get much thought and yet...in ways large and small...a case could be made that this strategic and purposive hiding of knowings and comprehensions is just as significant and influential (maybe even more so) than the acquisition of knowledge and understandings that happens to us with a culture.

We are taught what to know...but also what not to know. The sentence that began this post was voiced by a woman who had been guided into becoming aware of some of the knowings that her culture had hidden from her...and...as a result she realized that she would have made different choices and done her life differently had those things not been hidden from her.

I think (tentatively) that maybe those several years ago when I experienced my vegan 'transversion' (or whatever word fits better) was the first time it came home to me how much I had been carefully taught to be oblivious. It both shocked and scared me. Shocked at the awfulness I had participated in for years because of this important obliviousness and scared because I couldn't help wondering what else didn't I know that I didn't know I didn't know. (I realize this sentence looks strange to you...it really does make sense and if you don't get it...keep struggling with it)

When I was an adolescent the books of J.D. Salinger were extremely popular with a segment of young humans. I too was smitten with his writing (he's a white man who's whitely oblivious in many ways...so there are many limitations in his perspective). He did express some things though that possess truth that endures.

One thing I remember vividly that he wrote that has stuck with me for over 50 years...it came from a book of his titled Franny and Zooey. I don't have a copy of the book right now so I found the sentence online but there's no page reference...my apologies. The meaning of the sentence has stayed with me all these years and it's still with me. He wrote:

I don't think it would have all got me down quite so much if just once in a while- just once in a while- there was at least some polite little perfunctory implication that knowledge should lead to wisdom, and that if it doesn't, it's just a disgusting waste of time.
Wisdom is defined in this dictonary entry as "the ability to discern what is true, right or lasting; insight". I would add that I include being able to comprehend what is fair and compassionate in my private notion of the meaning of wisdom.

I appreciate encountering that which seems like wisdom to me. I linked to Dr. Shih's blog at the beginning of this post. I only recently found it and I'm sharing it here as an offering to you. I've found a number of thoughts/insights there that are worthy of being tagged as "wisdom".

He writes about "race" but he's actually writing about things in addition to "race"...he's writing about oppression and oblivion and the harms we do while believing ourselves to be innocent. His writings are worthy of being read and re-read and re-read once again.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Little LuLu was

a character in a series of comic books that I sometimes read when I was a child. When I was thinking about this post I realized that, in some ways, she was a feminist. While Little LuLu was a girl, she did many things that weren't "girlish" and that probably had more impact on me than I realized.


There were a number of "boy" characters in the comics but Little LuLu was the main character and generally occupied the "leadership" role.

That's interesting to think about. But...I'm writing about her not because of that but because I used to do something with her name that would often provide me with great fun and delight...and...it would upset my mother...invariably.

For some reason, I discovered that I could say her name, Little LuLu, over and over and over...out loud...and after some number of repetitions the meaning attached to that combination of sounds that is her name would disappear and I would be left with simply the movements of my tongue and lips and the breathing in and out involved in making those sounds.

And it was delightful. I loved it and would start laughing and laughing. It was almost delirious making in the strange sense of freedom and joy that it would bring me. My mother, who was a fairly conventional (not always, but mostly) white woman would become upset if she heard me doing this and scold me and tell me to stop. Being "silly" wasn't particularly well thought of by her. I learned to do this in places and at times that she couldn't observe me. Sometimes I would do it quietly as I was falling asleep and I would drift off with a big smile on my face. (note: this phenomenon may have been similar to some forms of meditation)

Weird, right? Maybe so...but...consider this. By repetition of that name, Little LuLu, maybe I was interrupting something that I didn't have a name for then...something that is profoundly important and meaningful. If this were a class here is where I would ask the students to speculate about what was happening when this little boy said Little LuLu over and over until joy overtook him and he started giggling.

Probably many would suggest the boy needed treatment of some sort.

But...what if...by those repetitions...I was unknowingly demolishing a social construction? What if that was happening...and...that demolishing produced a sense of freedom? What if that repetition freed those particular lip and tongue and breath movements and subsequent sounds from any human imposed meanings and that freeing brought with it a sense of joy? Social constructions can be useful and they can also be inaccurate and they can also be confining and they can also be confusing and and and.

Language is a social construction. By that I mean it is simply a bunch of sounds in various combinations that everyone who employs that language agrees upon attaching some particular meaning to some particular combinations of sounds.

One of the things that we are often closer to as children, that we often forget as adults, is that language like all other social constructions, is just crap that humans make up. And...by itself...without that agreement...it is just a bunch of sounds made by lips and tongues and breathing. It's the agreed upon meaning that counts...not the sounds. And...the meaning is arbitrary...it's an agreed upon fantasy that everyone attaches to particular sounds.

An aside...the word barbarian apparently came from early Greek sources and it meant babbling because people who used a different language made sounds that had no meaning for folks who spoke Greek. Notice how the agreed upon fantasy for the word barbarian has changed over time.

Additionally, as you have each learned through living your life, many have fantasies attached to a word that vary somewhat from the fantasy you might have. That's when we hear phrases like: "that's not what I mean by that word" or some such thing.

What other things are just made up? Or...if you prefer a more important sounding phrase...what other things are social constructions? What other things have no more "real" meaning than does Little LuLu?

It can be frightening and confusing to realize that...way more of the "world" (by the word "world" here I mean human society and our conceptualizations) that we humans pretend is a certain way...is just stuff we make up...it can also be quite liberating to realize this. But...quite often achieving liberation involves discomfort and apprehension. I'll write more about how Little LuLu relates to veganism in a later post...disconnecting Little LuLu from agreed upon meaning also relates to many other "isms" of oppression...but...that's for later.