The older I get, the less I know?

The older I get, the less I know.  Isn’t it supposed to work the other way around?  A friend of mine, Jerry, gave me this quote from Bertrand Russell the other day:  The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”  The Greek philosopher Socrates was once proclaimed to the wisest man in the world. The day before he died, Socrates declared that he knew nothing. On that same day, the Oracle at Delphi was asked “Who is the wisest man in the world?”  She replied “Socrates is the wisest man in the world.”  This was reported back to Socrates who said “When I was young, I knew everything but now I know nothing.” The Oracle, who was never wrong, was asked “How can Socrates be the wisest man in the world when he knows nothing?” She replied “Only the wisest man in the world would know that he knows nothing and have the courage and humility to admit it.” 
So we go to school to learn many facts and figures.  We study history to learn the story of humanity, we study physics to learn the theory of the cosmos, we study biology to learn how animals grow and develop and we study science so we will know how the world really works.  We learn more and more and are deluded into theories and opinions and positions. We become more and more certain that we are wiser and smarter. The more degrees that are conferred on us, the smarter we are supposed to be.  In reality, we begin to suspect that all of these facts and data bits are not really helping us to become smarter or wiser.  The older most of us get and the more learned most of us become, the more we suspect that there are no truths to the world.  We begin to see that there are always more truths behind the truths that we think we have found.  Our profundities become curiosities as we get older until at some point they wither away and become obsolete.  How many theories have you seen that were proven wrong?  How many times have you had to eat humble pie because something you were absolutely positively sure about was proven conclusively wrong? 
I remember seeing a picture in the paper the other day of a man accused of sexually molesting a young girl.  He was accused of pedophilia and charged with a felony offense.  I took one look at the visage staring out of the paper at me and promptly proclaimed “If there were ever a guy who was a pedophile, he sure is.”  A few weeks later, a more complete investigation proved him completely innocent of all offenses and the young girl admitted that she made the story up for some unknown reason.  I was beyond having egg on my face.  You would think that at my age, I would have learned to avoid rush to judgments.  I can make no excuses for my blatant stupidity. 
For the last few weeks, the media circus has been focusing on the Trayvon Martin case. It seems every day we are confronted with some new facts that support a change in who the media wants us to think is guilty.  Trayvon initiated the encounter. Zimmerman initiated the encounter, Trayvon provoked Zimmerman.  Zimmerman stalked Trayvon. Trayvon was a good kid.  Zimmerman was loved by all of his friends.  Trayvon was a racist.  Zimmerman was a racist.  Tapes, witnesses, photo enlargements, medical information, acoustic information, video tapes, the entire gamut is presented daily with one expert after another telling us what they think.  Each day it appears we know more and more about less and less.  What are we doing here folks?  Are we indicting racism? Are we selling papers?  Are we voyeurs to some weird witch hunt?  Are we looking for the truth?  Are we taking sides so we can become right? 
Trayvon s death is tragic. It is a loss to his family and friends and society.  I have never been “stalked” to the extent that many Black people are but I have had many friends who have told me about situations wherein they were stalked or profiled because they were Black.  It is always embarrassing for me to hear these stories.  I wish we lived in a nation where this could never happen, but I don’t and it does.  Somehow though, I think Trayvon’s death could be a catalyst to help change some of this outright racism. I keep thinking and hoping that this young man’s life and death will not be in vain.  If we can somehow get pass this media circus and any calls for revenge, there are lessons here that we need to learn.  If you remember the famous story Rashomon, you may be more liable to realize that we may never have any truth to what really happened between Trayvon and Zimmerman.  However, the lack of truth and certainty does not mean that there are not lessons to be learned here. 
I think many of you are also appalled by this show that seems to be playing out in the papers and television.  I can only hope this is not the forerunner of more cases being played out in the media. If so, we will truly have become a Roman Circus instead of a civilized society of laws and courts and presumptions of innocence until proven guilty. 
What can you help do to overcome the types of bias and prejudice that the media often promotes?  How can you avoid your own “rush to judgment?”  What does it mean to “judge not others, less you be judged yourself.”  How often do we see the mote in others eyes but ignore the pole in our own?  What lessons can we learn from Trayvon’s death so that it is not meaningless?  

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bruce Galbreath
    Apr 04, 2012 @ 13:57:05

    There are racists in America, but is racism a problem here? Compared to a world of perfect brotherhood, there clearly is. One person unjustly discriminated against is one too many. But compared to just about any other country, developed on undeveloped, we are just about the least racist, most accepting place on Earth. White supremacist racism has become less and less acceptable during our lifetimes. David Duke lives in a trailer and has a handful of followers, while “Reverend” Al Sharpton lives in a mansion and has thousands of followers.

    We may find out some crucial facts about the Martin/Zimmerman story, or we may not. But it strikes me that the attention to this one killing (out of thousands) arises because there is a narrative some of us want to be true. We want this to be an awful, racist country, one with evil villains and perfectly virtuous villains. It makes a good story, and it gives us easy explanations for social pathologies, and the hope that, if we can only stamp out those evil racists, those pathologies can be easily cured.

    Everywhere in history we find xenophobia, the fear of and distrust of strangers, those who are different. In our modern, relativistic society we find that rarest phenomenon, what some have called eikophobia, the fear and distrust of the familiar, of ourselves. Every culture is worthy of respect and dignity, except one, the one that is the source of all the world's problems. If only we could be cut down to size, the world would be a perfect place.

    You are right that the truth, if it is available at all, is harder to get at than we at first imagine. Rather than doing the hard work of finding out what little we can, we instead jump quickly to conclusions, judging things as worse or better than they likely are in fact.



  2. John Persico
    Apr 05, 2012 @ 14:00:52

    “The NBC/‘Today’ show problem is just one example of the confusion and rush to judgment which has been at the forefront of this case,” says Richard Goedkoop, professor of communication at Philadelphia’s La Salle University, in an e-mail. “The larger problem here is that the news media as a whole and the punditry class, in large measure, feel that they need to analyze and ‘solve’ this case before the authorities have finished a full investigation.”

    Professor Goedkoop adds, “It is time to give it time and to withhold our judgment, as difficult as that might be.”

    Some media experts have taken direct aim at NBC.

    “The incident serves as a reminder about some basics of journalism: check your facts, curb your preconceptions, and don't distort other people's words through selective editing,” says Jack Pitney, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California, in an e-mail. “The story undermines public confidence in the mainstream news media, which is already pretty low.”

    In a recent Pew Research Center study, Professor Pitney notes, 77 percent of respondents perceived the press as lacking fairness. Seventy-two percent said the media were unwilling to admit mistakes, 66 percent cited inaccurate reporting, and 63 percent saw political bias.

    Still, the potential legal case involving Zimmerman is not altered one whit, say legal analysts.



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