Remember when you were a kid? You were probably a question asking machine.
“Are we almost there yet? What’s for dinner? Why does Uncle Teddy always want to give me a bath?”
Kids need to ask a lot of questions because they honestly desire knowledge. Think of all of the things you learn when you’re a kid. How to talk, how to shit in a toilet, how to piss off your parents, etc.
And kids look up to their elders. Maybe not always in a respectful way, but at least in a you-seem-to-know-what-you’re-doing-so-I’m-going-to-learn-from-you kind of way.
But when kids reach a certain point in their developmental process, questions begin to become a bit of a nuisance. Some parents are definitely more patient and forthcoming with information, but most parents seem to suppress question-asking of their children for a variety of obvious reasons.
Namely that kids can be fucking annoying. Working at a local youth center for 6 years of my life has taught me that one fact, if nothing else.
But it’s not the kids faults. Kids are only annoying because they have not yet learned how to be functioning adults. And they can’t learn how to properly act if they can’t ask questions.
So it’s no wonder that question asking carries with it a certain stigma in adult life because of the way we stifle curiosity and wonderment in our youth.
Somewhere during the period of transition between childhood and adulthood, kids begin to realize that questions no longer serve the purpose they once did. Information becomes a little harder to come by and kids are left to their own undeveloped devices to come to understand the world. Their beliefs and opinions began to falsely solidify into “facts,” perhaps because they were unable to get their previous questions answered, or because they were taught that this is what it means to become an adult.
Either way, the curious kid that once lived inside of us, hungry for all of the knowledge in the world, has been repressed so deeply that it simply becomes easier for him to accept the world at face value than attempt to actually understand all of its complexities. We eventually come to accept unknowns as unknowns and adopt a facade of understanding about the world to make existence just a little more palatable.
We then go about our lives with a half-assed smile on our face as we silently whisper to ourselves, “Everything is going to be alright.”
We’re so concerned with appearing as if we know what we are doing in the eyes of others that we forget we were all raised with the exact same handicapof ignorance.
The void of chaos that borders the edges of our existence has been present since the dawn of human existence. It’s present when we’re born and it’s present when we die.
The 18 year old high school drop-out is just as confused as the 48 year old investment manager experiencing his midlife crisis, as is the 78 year old war veteran laying on his deathbed.
We’re all just faking it, pretending we know what the fuck we’re doing to be able to create some semblance of order in our confusingly chaotic lives.
You might gain some life experience over the course of your life, but none of us have any clue why the hell we are here or what the hell we are supposed to be doing. We just adopt these facades of certainty to make coping with existence just a tad bit easier to deal with.
Life can be a bit depressing when looked at in these terms, so I apologize if I have burst the bubble of your happy-go-lucky pretense of an all-encompassing understanding of the universe.
But I would at least like to point out that we don’t have a complete lack of knowledge.
Look at how far we have come over the past few millennia. We have large metal contraptions that can drive us across countries. We have small computers that fit in our pockets and connect us with everyone on the planet. We have blankets with arm holes sewn into them. Really high tech shit.
We didn’t gain the knowledge necessary to make these technological advancements by assuming false truths about the world and getting lucky.
We asked questions. We sought out answers. We admitted our ignorance and attempted to fill the void.
The Best Question Of All
One of the most famous question askers was Socrates, and his favorite question was “Why?”.
It’s a great question, really. Probably the best one of them all. “Why?” seeks to answer everything about the known universe and our existence. Why are we here? Why was the universe created? Why does Uncle Teddy always want to give me a bath? (Does no one else’s Uncle Teddy want to do this?!?)
The Platonic Dialogues feature the character of Socrates questioning the people of Greece about an array of topics, ranging from courage to government to love. The dialogues often begin with Socrates engaged in an everyday conversation with an acquaintance who makes some inference or assumption that Socrates never quite agrees with. The remainder of the Dialogue then amounts to Socrates continually questioning what the acquaintance is truly saying.
Socrates then causes the acquaintance to continually contradict himself in their joined search for true knowledge. Conclusions are seldom ever reached, but in their effort to find a universal truth, both characters become more aware of their ignorance, and they are able to discard the previously unquestioned notion.
This represents the problem with our society. We don’t have the intellect, grace, or patience present within Socrates to ever come close to being truly knowledgeable about anything.
We have a million questions and want answers. We neeeeeed answers. When something goes wrong, someone has to be held accountable. A solution has to be presented. “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer.
Except it is. “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer.
“I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer.
To make myself clear, if someone asks you what color the sky is, and you say you don’t know, you’d better be blind or live in a fallout shelter or something. I will give merit to the notion that the sky only appears to be blue because of the information being provided by our senses, but we have to begin to accept truths at some point. Radical skepticism for humans is about as helpful as a bicycle is for a fish.
The crux of what I am saying is far more substantive than the color of the sky. Answering with “I don’t know” when you honestly do not know the answer provides the first step to finding the right answer instead of simply finding an answer.
Watch any politician give a press conference and field questions from the media. Even when the politician does not know the answer to the question, an answer is still given. Sometimes these politicians are called out for their question dodging, but never, ever never ever, do you hear a politician answer with “I don’t know.”
I cannot say for certain what goes through the mind of a politician (because I don’t know ;), but it does seem as if they are always certain of what they are saying.
Politicians are often asked questions that seek opinions as answers. When asked “What is the best way to reduce poverty in the United States?” politicians will often give a definitive answer, when really, every answer to that question should begin with “In my opinion,” because there is no factual answer to that question.
I would instead respect the politician significantly more who would answer with his or her opinion as an opinion, or simply state “I don’t know the answer to that question, but you have engaged my interest in finding a sustainable solution.” Or something like that.
I know that isn’t a very sexy response, and it would get really annoying if every politician abandoned conviction for timidity. We definitely need our politicians to be captivating and convincing, but the difference is that the politician who is capable of admitting his or her ignorance is more concerned with the truth of what is best for a body of constituents than with the personal gratification that comes with being a politician.
I also realize that politicians should be abreast of a wide array of topics so they don’t have to plead ignorance in the first place, but whatever. You get my point.
That being said, the real problem is not the politicians.
It’s us. You and me.
Maybe not me, so much as you. But us. We the people.
The politicians are only playing to an audience. They are saying what they need to say to garner attention and support.
Until we as a society begin to show that we value the truth more than we value answers, we will continue to be told what people of power think we want to hear.
You might be asking, “How do we find the truth, though?”
It’s actually quite simple. All you have to do is:
About what? About everything.
Nothing is off limits.
We once believed the Earth was flat. We have only since discovered it’s not by asking questions.
We once believed that slavery was morally acceptable. We have only since realized it’s not by asking questions.
We once believed Nicholas Cage was a good actor. We have only since discovered he’s not. But that one was actually pretty straightforward.
Without asking questions, we cannot make progress as a society. Should women have the right to vote? Is segregation unconstitutional? Do same sex couples have the right to marry? These questions, while they were considered extremist at the time they were posed, have allowed leaps and bounds to be made for the civil rights groups fighting for an answer to them.
Another point of contention is that the posing of a question does not directly correlate to the supposition within the question being implemented into a society.
I have the right to ask “Should marijuana be legalized?” without the fear of being penalized for curiously seeking an answer. My inquiry does not put forth the notion that marijuana should be legal, or even that I am demanding it to be legal. My question merely seeks to discover the information necessary to make that decision.
We partition certain topics within our society as ‘off-limits’ from questioning, but we must remember that everything is subject to question. I need to ask “Is there a God?” or “How does society as a whole benefit from the NFL?” in order to better understand the world.
I may not personally believe that there is a God or that the NFL provides as much of a benefit to our society as the resources we allocate to it would make it seem, but the general question of each of these items’ validities must be inquired about in order to properly evaluate their value to our society.
A further problem is the power of belief. Beliefs are the greatest enemy of knowledge and intellect because of the ease with which they can be introduced to the universe. I can formulate any belief I want with my autonomous mind, and it has the power to supersede truth or knowledge or intellect because my individual perception of the world is wholly subjective.
This is why we must question everything. Nothing is so sacred that it should have the ability to escape the scrutiny of the curious mind.
On the upside, or to appease the intrinsically stubborn, any ‘sacred’ topic that is addressed should not be feared to be altered if it truly represents knowledge or some facet of a universal code of morals and ethics.
If I ask “Should man have the right to kill any other man he desires?” and we decide that the answer is “No,” then we have suffered no harm and no foul for asking the question; if anything we are now better off for reaffirming a cultural agreement on murder.
If the topic in question does exist outside of this realm of acceptability, then the problem shifts to the person or people that held the belief that the topic was true or just or good in the first place. People need to begin to learn that change is inevitable and progress is mandatory if we truly seek to create a world that values knowledge, morals, and ethics.
An individual apprehension to change one’s ways does not supersede a universal implementation of knowledge, intellect, or goodness.
We need to get over our prideful, conceited, utopian views of our current state of being as a society and accept that we’ve been consistently fucking up since we carved our existence into the tablet of the universe.
Don’t get me wrong: we’ve certainly made progress. I would much rather live in the world we have today than the world that existed one, two, or ten thousand years ago. But we aren’t done yet. We still have a long way to go.
Enough of the bigotry. Enough of the hatred. Enough of the racism, sexism, egoism, commercialism, Catholicism, and every other -ism that is hindering our species.
We have no clue what we are doing, and the sooner we can come to accept that, the sooner we can make this world just a teensy bit less shitty.
I’ll start by asking a question:
Who’s with me?