It is a common assumption that one must be aware of the proper facts in order to be able to react correctly to various situations in our society. One must keep up with current events and educate oneself about pending issues or you won’t know what to do in relation to various developments. Knowledge is the key to proper behavior. In other words, I must be motivated by the right things, the correct facts (often the “hidden” facts) or I can’t possibly know how to act or behave.
Interestingly, this assumption is very similar to our prevalent religious thinking. Often people assume that others must be taught the facts before they will know how to behave religiously and morally. Knowledge and the proper dissemination of the correct knowledge then become critical and a “calling” as one who propagates the “truth” is the ultimate avocation. It is also the ultimate head trip. Religiously, these called ones are members of the clergy.
Of course, we have a secular counterpart to the religiously called. That would be the conglomeration of many secular sources of the “truth”, for example media analysts, expert consultants, political pundits. Of course, what is called true by any source is nothing more than what the caller happens to perceive as true. Truth purveyors are never free of a personal agenda because such freedom is impossible. To the extent we accept the notion that our correct actions and responses to life circumstances depend on correct knowledge (truth by another name) we are doomed to failure. We do not have nor will we ever have the truth about anything, in an absolute sense. At best we will have our own sense or someone else’s sense of that truth.
That brings me back to the basic assumption here. Is it logically conclusive (dare I say true, given the dogmatic statement above) that my behavior should be directed by external knowledge gained? Or, alternatively, is there an internal basis for reacting to every life situation without reference to outside data? Can I view individually and personally without outside influence and discern a response which is proper for me?
The statement that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing is familiar to most. The thing that is perhaps not so familiar is the realization that at best we have very little knowledge about almost everything. Additionally, if we are not extremely careful in our pursuit of knowledge, the more frantically we seek it, the less factual information we may actually acquire.
Like so many philosophical questions, the one I originally raised is complex. If the issue is narrowed a bit to that of how do I know how to treat an individual person, then there is certainly moral merit and even Bible to support the idea that proper treatment is not a function of what I know about that individual. The application of the Golden Rule requires no specific knowledge of the person to which I apply it. In responding to societal issues and associated public policy, the situation is considerably more complicated. However, there is no obvious reason to assume that, in a large measure, our behavior and reactions in regards to groups (the subjects of societal issues and policy) are not guided by an eternal principle which is unaltered by any new “current facts”. In the final analysis, being guided in all things by an internal motivating force is more powerful and consistent than being whipsawed back and forth, allowing our actions and reactions to be dictated by the “truth of the moment” as conveyed by those called to our enlightenment.
Yes, recognizing that knowledge based decision making is complicated, does not make it any less so. However, recognizing the subjectivity of so called facts will allow us to accept differences of opinion with more grace and hopefully encourage more reliance on our internal sense of ethical rightness, uncolored by the moral indignation so often prompted by those who would be our instructors in the “facts”.