Thursday, April 21, 2011

"This Is This"

At Sam's basketball practice last night, standing next to the bleachers and doing all I could to avoid being drawn into a conversation with another parent, I read, "The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science."

And finally I was freed of my soapbox.

The article makes it clear—as if I needed proof—that human beings don't care about facts.

Instead, we care about values.

It's what we value, not what we know, that constitutes our identity. Our values shape our ideas of community, our purpose in life, our search for the admiration of those we love, our physical safety, the means by which we exercise power in the world.

Around our values we construct whatever system of "knowledge" we need to assure their survival. The legitimacy of that system isn't a consequence of how factual it is but of how effectively it reinforces what we hold dear.

In the Age of Science, it's likely religion that gives us the best example of the conflict between values and facts.

Most people of faith sense, however vaguely, that if they were to spend ten minutes objectively researching the history of their religion, they'd run up against facts that they can't reconcile with their values. So, instead of doing the research, they devote a lifetime—yes, a lifetime!—to a system of knowledge that can be eviscerated by ten minutes of scientific or historical research.

But they don't shun the research because they're afraid of the facts. They shun the research because they don't care about facts. Really, they don't—bottom line—believe in facts. They believe in what they value; they believe in safeguarding, by any means necessary, the structure, immanently fragile, of their identity.

Their identity is real. It's not a fact: it's alive.

So it doesn't matter if this or that prophet was, speaking factually, a philandering scam-artist. What matters are friends, family, community, connectedness, personal charisma, prestige, one's personae. The "fact" that the prophet wasn't a philandering scam-artist makes all of that possible.

In the end, you know, calling him a philandering scam-artist won't help anyone through the valley of the shadow of death.

So back to my comment on the soapbox.

I've just spent a few days revising my blog. Rereading it, I was struck, more than anything, by its futility. It's changed no one's mind, and never will. People—this is a scientific fact—don't really listen, unless they need to, unless they already believe what you're saying.

Better that I share how much I like eating a tangerine while I'm sitting in the sun, it's thin skin peeled and stacked in a little pile next to my chair, ready for ants.

The breeze comes and goes according to a wilderness of facts that I can't begin to understand. The air smells of traffic.

And I'm thinking of how much I've lost, and of the facts I've needed to explain those losses, if only to myself.

A mallard pair, duck and drake, fly over head, their long necks extended, symbols of grace. They drop into the aqueduct behind my uncle's house.

Passing clouds intermittently dull the sun's brilliance.

The planet is warming. That's a fact. The church is not true. That's a fact. Our nation's wealth is consolidating into the hands of a tiny minority. That's a fact. It's a beautiful morning; this tangerine is delicious; and I wait in brutal, exquisite solitude. All facts. Which of them matters to you?

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