Monday, July 31, 2006
( 7:37 AM )
The Seemy Underbelly of Knowledge
I read two posts this morning on completely different blogs about the same idea: the knowlege we've gained and the words we know because of George W. Bush. Now most people wouldn't automatically associate W. with "words" and "knowledge." But think about how much vocabulary and other new information is now in your brain because of the last five years. And the point is, it's not exactly stuff we would have wanted in our brains:
Fallujah. Signing statements. Abu Ghraib.
Waterboarding. Stress positions. Free speech zones.
The theological and historical differences between Sunni and Shi'ite. How levees are constructed. Why levees fail.
These are things I knew nothing about until George W. Bush.
I've always considered gaining knowledge an indisputable good, but these pieces of the world I've come to know in the past six years have the feel of being forced into me under threat. They now carry with them a weight and a darkness.
The Ninth Ward. Haditha. Guantanamo Bay.
How much sweeter to have picked up these nuggets of geography and history as I always have, serendipitously led through a leisurely stepping stone process of one book or conversation suggesting another, and yet another, and now a couple of twists and turns ... you start out here, reading Faulkner and next you're drawn to learning about cotton production and before you know it, you're at civil rights.
Instead, in all cases above, I'd begun my acquaintance because of headlines and horrors and a screaming, driving voice in my head: There's something wrong! There's something very, very wrong! Learn about it! Fast!
This is from Susan G today over at Daily Kos. And her writing today really struck a chord with me because it's so true - so sad - but so true. The point isn't that we've learned these new things as a matter of course in our lives. The point is that these things have come upon us in the most negative way possible, corrupting our brains, forever molded into our consciousnesses.
Then over at Old Soul, Shari describes an incident with her child, bringing this issue close to home:
Out of the blue, my kid asked me this: "Mom, what is a chickenhawk?".
I was momentarily taken aback. My kid--already political at 8? OMG, was I ranting too much again when I should really have been blogging about it (yes, I know I've been silent but in the summer the days are full when school is out).
So when I asked why, the kid shrugged, saying "Oh, I just heard the word the other day". Oh dear, I thought, it was true. I was ranting again in the presence of kids, something I try to avoid. I was still a bit puzzled. I generally rant about other things, oh, like the DLC or Governor Schwarzenegger, but I can't remember the last time I even thought about chickenhawks. We don't watch TV. Where did it come from?
Since I was also distracted as well, I started rattling off the 'oh it's a person who wants war but doesn't want to fight in it' definition. At which point, the kid stops me right away.
"No, mom, I was reading about a chickenhawk which swooped up and took a mouse away". Oh, yes, I forgot about that type of chickenhawk. Hah. Mild relief.
My (perhaps naive) assumption is that most humans are in the habit of seeking out knowlege, searching for continued understanding, looking for the harmony in the notions of "what don't I know?" and "how can I know more?" But this kind of knowledge that we are carrying around now seems to be the kind that blunts our true natures and our hopes. It is the kind of knowledge that corrupts and corrodes. Susan G has the perfect analogy:
When I was 20, I was in a serious car accident. I fractured my back, collar bones, four ribs. I'd ruptured my kidney, I'd had a chunk of flesh the size of a Girl Scout cookie ripped out of my knee. I was hospitalized more than a month, and I'd been proud of being reasonably stoic and properly grateful to have survived.
The day I was released from the hospital, I went home and took a shower, the first in nearly six weeks. As I lathered up - a luxury I can still savor in memory after weeks and weeks of bed-bound sponge baths - my fingers found, underneath my arm and along my shoulder blade, embedded pieces of gravel and glass that had not been properly debrided. I realized they were going to be a part of me forever because my flesh had already healed over them. [...] I think what grieved me the most was that they were on the hidden underside, the most tender part of my underarm and back, and that although they were harmless, I'd spend a lifetime remembering, every time I bathed, the precise stretch of road they came from and how they got there.
I feel like George W. Bush and his policies are gravel and glass in my brain. Forever.
Something to think about. Or to try not to.