Thought Possible

notes & magnifications, by J.E. Robertson
NOVEMBER 10, 2008 12:52PM

On Laze & Malaise in Mass Culture, Part 5

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Culture & Resilience: a redefinition of wealth

Knowledge is wealth in its purest form, fully possessed by and inseparable from the individual. As noted in previous sections of this essay, the application of deliberately obtained knowledge to complex situations establishes the sovereignty of the individual. Variety is wealth insofar as it offers an array of options which may be combined in countless ways to confront the problems of living in the world. Variety in knowledge offers adaptability, and adaptability is the key to survival and prosperity at all levels. Ultimately, resilience, rooted in such flexibility, is the real meaning or value of wealth, of any kind.

Without variety, there would be only pure uniformity. All of existence would be one: one mass, with no constituent particles, with no variation of properties, no mobility and no place to go besides. Without the interaction among particles, among diverse forms, forces, materials and beings, nothing of the universe we know could exist. It is the collision, the mechanics, the action and reaction, the combination and differentiation among existent bodies that makes life, gravity, beauty, freedom and invention possible. Within the intelligent recourse to variety, there exists for humanity a maximum possibility for resilience in changing and adverse conditions. Inherent in this variety of choice is not only existence, but the possibility of freedom. Choice is not freedom as such, but together with intellect, offers us the possibility of really approaching it.

In the spirit of this re-examination of what wealth is, we need to take into account the attributes that help to locate, formulate and communicate knowledge. Eloquence is wealth, as it represents an intelligent sorting and refinement of vastly diverse ideas and elements of the surrounding world, offering clarity, harmony, and again, the possibility of freedom, through the use of cultural knowledge and variety for the most inventive yet apt expression of human reality. Precise expression of complex ideas liberates the individual, and eloquence is more what it aims to be when it speaks the truth, its options expanded — so in the best case, it is a measure of the potential for liberation through ideas, in any given context.

The Declaration of Independence or Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech are eloquent not merely as expert wordsmithy, but because they transmit transcendent truths, and they comment on evidence of what most needs addressing: truth upon truth, distilled into fluid language, freeing the mind to believe in hard-won solutions. Barack Obama's use of language falls into these transcendent categories: it is important to recognize that what his campaign has injected into American politics is not flowery rhetoric or ideological fluff, but a very real contact with the urge to get at, make sense of and share through the use of language, those timeless truths about the human condition that give democracy its purpose. 

It could be said that all social ills are the direct result of insufficient communicative agreements between and among individual people and the constituents they represent, whatever the political structure within which those ills arise. It could be said that most political structures are the direct result of insufficient eloquence, having led to the use of force where it would otherwise not be suggested at all. In order to engage in dialogue, or in heated disagreement, we need to have an agreed semantic base, use shared measurements, make common assumptions about the world —we live on the Earth, it is round, it has a geological history, there were civilizations that pre-date our own, trees that shed their leaves in winter and those that don't are categorically different—, so at least we know what concepts we agree or disagree over.

Culture, the vague and potent mix of ideas, traditions, changes, principles, language, will and expression, which defines all civil structures and to some degree all human communication, is an abstract category within which we conceptualize the intelligent diversity of a society. The more numerous the contributions, the more tolerant and open the means of administering and delivering cultural expressions of all sorts, the more knowledge there is available, the more possibility for new directions there is, the more resilient a system of human interaction within which those cultural expressions occur, will be. To benefit from such diverse inputs, from such productive oppositions, frictions and propositions, is to gain vital cultural and organizational resilience, to increase the wealth —as against decay— of a community, is to project its future potential as far as  possible, in as many directions as possible. 

This may appear to be a redefinition of wealth, but it represents nothing more than honest thought about thought itself and its central and unimpeachable role in every individual human being's life and navigation through life, and by extension the role that diverse and adaptable thought processes play in the life of a community, culture or nation. To address the faultlines where we find our political faith cracking, or to heal the wounds and cleanse the infections that seem to be inviting a long-term economic decay, we need to privilege the access to knowledge, but also to the ability to develop, disseminate, modify, adapt and expand it, for the overall wealth of a nation, a culture, a community, and the realm of individual freedom itself.

[from Cave Painting, at Casavaria]

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