On the Spectrum of Ignorance and Wisdom

 

“Spectrum” initially referred to the range of colors displayed as a continuum when white light disperses through a prism. Today we use the word to describe any continuum on which a condition, person, or group might fall. Political spectrum is a good example. The phrase “on the spectrum” applies to people with a variety of social disorders, usually lumped together as some form of autism.

Just about anything displaying subtle gradations can be placed on a spectrum line. Some, like your intelligence quotient, is quantified by IQ points based on testing. Others are not so easy to pin down. What I have in mind is the spectrum of ignorance to wisdom.

This is tricky territory for the same reason we don’t, in polite company anyway, make judgements about a person’s IQ—which we aren’t likely to know—and how smart they are. Another reason it’s tricky is that words like ignorance and wisdom will mean different things to different people and under different circumstances.

Merriam-Webster defines wisdom as: “knowledge that is gained by having many experiences in life; the natural ability to understand things that most other people cannot understand; knowledge of what is proper or reasonable; good sense or judgment.”

The same source defines ignorance as: “a lack of knowledge, understanding, or education; the state of being ignorant.”

In other words, ignorance is the lack of wisdom.

People with low IQs or an overall lack of wisdom don’t generally brag about such things (which they may not even be aware of). Some people, though, do like to brag about their high IQs and how smart—and wise—they are.

Braggarts aside, the qualities of stupid and smart, and ignorance and wisdom are more often attributed to us by others—sometimes correctly, sometimes not. Such judgements, right or wrong, depend on those judges’ own placement on the ignorance-wisdom spectrum.

The dictionary definition of wisdom is useful only on a superficial level, because it gives no insights into vague ideas of what’s “proper or reasonable,” or of “good sense or judgment.” Each day, people gain another day’s worth of experience. That incremental gain doesn’t necessarily add to one’s wisdom. As for “the natural ability to understand things that most other people cannot understand,” well, it may sound mystical and shamanistic, but the relatively few people who understand quantum mechanics or string theory aren’t necessarily wise.

So how to know wisdom? To get a better gasp of what wisdom means let’s take a look into some qualities showing in wise people.

  • Wise people carry intentions of harmlessness. They consider their future actions in terms of the benefit they will have for others, avoiding harmful actions. They reflect on past actions, also in terms of benefit and harm to others, then adjust accordingly.
  • Wise people carry intentions of good will. They speak well of others, avoiding gossip and derogatory speech. They are truthful. Their tone is pleasant and harmonious instead of harsh and divisive. They say things that are meaningful instead of chattering on without purpose.
  •  Wise people have an understanding of the connectedness of things and instinctively see how changes in one area or circumstance may have profound effects on seemingly unrelated areas or circumstances. They understand the nature of cause and effect on levels deeper than the mundane.
  • Wise people are generous, because they understand the grip of need. They are virtuous, because they understand the heavy boot of dishonest and dishonorable people. They don’t take what doesn’t belong to them, because they understand the pain of loss.

I doubt this covers everything, but it’s a start at painting a picture of wisdom. Wisdom has more to do with understanding the nature of the human condition and responding in a positive way. Those who understand the nature of the human condition and respond in a negative way—taking unfair advantage of others, for example—are, at best, sociopaths. At worst, they are psychopaths.

Wisdom has little or nothing to do with general knowledge and IQ. Knowledgeable and intelligent people can be short on wisdom. Uneducated and low-IQ people can be wise.

Giving attention to your inner world as well as the outer world, with the intentions of harmlessness and good will, is the means for cultivating wisdom. Like a well-tended garden, wisdom can grow. The more wisdom grows, the further away from ignorance you travel along the spectrum. And that’s good for you and good for the world. The world is sorely in need of wise people. All people are sorely in need of wise leaders.

The Hoax of Trump

Listen. Donald Trump is a Hoax. There is nothing to fear as we march on to greatness, greatness intended, by God!, for you and for me and the USA.

We all know that socio-political upheavals have occurred in the past and have worked out just fine in the end. There is nothing unnatural about any of what’s happening.

Please understand the perpetrators of the Hoax of Trump are whiny Liberal do-gooders who just want more free stuff like clean water, adequate healthcare, a healthful environment, clean energy, social justice, reproductive rights, and a whole slew of other job-killing things that hold us back.

Or maybe the perpetrator is Russia, who really wants to use Mr. Trump to help make Russia great again. I’m not sure which, and I don’t care. And you shouldn’t care either.

So listen up, all you Trump alarmists! Fix yourselves a veggie burger and a cup of mint tea. Then sit back and relax as greatness envelops us all. These are exciting times indeed!

(I do confess a little concern about one trifling detail: my Constitutionally Guaranteed First Amendment Right to say what I want without fear of retribution. But I shouldn’t worry, because I know, in my heart, that Donald Trump is just as concerned about it as I am. I take solace in that!)

The Crushing Grip of Conviction

Grip
You know the truth,
Absolutely, you do.
The facts are obvious,
So indisputable.

Blissful it must be to
Bask in the comforting
Rays of certitude,
Righteous and secure.

Ah, but what of those
Oceans of conflicting
Truths with currents of
Doubt and confusion?

What then of those
Precious beliefs,
Cherished opinions, and
Hard-cured convictions?

Can you be wrong and
Others right? No, no, it
Cannot be that way; for
Strong is the grip of

Blind faith in God
And Preachers and
Politicians who never
Can be wrong. Ever.

(Even
When
They
Are.)

The Right Man for the Job

Caravaggio's Narciso (1594-1596).*
Caravaggio’s Narciso (1594-1596).*

I’m beginning to see how Donald Trump is the right man for the job. I don’t mean President of the United States, though, because he’s unqualified for that one. Rather, he—and only he—is uniquely qualified to use his coming position as president to fulfill a purpose whose time has come. It’s now or never.

As president, he will show us Americans what the rest of the world already knows about the country we call our Homeland. As a country, the United States is narcissistic, duplicitous, dishonest, and dangerous. As president, Trump will hold a mirror to us the people and say, in contradiction to a few other politicians: “This is who we are.”

For too long we have wrapped ourselves in the flag of American exceptionalism, believing (by God!) we have the unique purpose in the world to rule. We piously claim ourselves a Christian nation, but we sell more weapons around the world than any other country. We espouse freedom but overthrow weak democracies in order to exploit their human and natural resources. We start wars so as to promote our own interests, regardless of the economic and human costs. We oppress our own citizens through bigotry and hatred.

Politicians, i.e., Republicans, like to tout their Christian values. To me, Christian values are things like “love thy neighbor as thyself,” caring for the poor, “turning the other cheek,” the Beatitudes,** and all those other Christ-like qualities one finds in their over-thumped Bible. Yet those politicians ensure the poor stay poor (while blaming them for their poverty), ensure the rich get richer (while saying they deserve it), decry peacemakers and justice-seekers as unpatriotic, undermine their opponents with lies and cunning, use their office to increase their own power and influence, and many other tawdry things. And we the masses cheer (or jeer), just as ancient Romans had done at the Colosseum and Circus Maximus.

Such are we—as a nation—the Great Pretenders, wrapped in delusion.

Now (by God!) we have Donald Trump. He, too, is a pretender. And a con-man. He doesn’t try to hide who he is, either. He is the greatest, the best, the only one who can save the country—but that’s just his sideshow-barker’s cry. Something else awaits us inside his hall of mirrors. He made a lot of promises for the sole purpose of garnering the support of the masses. It worked, and he’s in.

Based on his campaign, post-election behavior, and his selections for cabinet and other positions, Trump’s plan for making America great again will not entail building up and unifying, but demolishing and dividing. In the meantime, he will line his pockets and those of the plutocrats he’s brought into power with him. The rest of us, I fear, won’t fare so well.

Well, fine. He’s who—and what—we voted for (not all of us, but enough). Donald Trump is who we are as a country. Some of us, though, don’t find that image so appealing. These are people who, like me, cringe when we see our reflection in the national mirror. Many of us have seen it for years, generations even. Most of us have gone along with the program with uncomfortable acceptance. Others of us (but not enough) have stood up and stood out but with only small success.

And now, maybe enough of us—even those who believed the Flim-Flam Man from Queens—will be so appalled by his behavior and disregard for the average citizen and the world that we rise up in outrage and say: “If the United States will be truly a good and moral force in the world, then we must begin now to practice what we preach so the rest of the world will see us as we wish to be seen.”

All our politicians at every level—whether Democrat, Republican, or whatever else—need to hear this cry. We must demand they and other leaders set examples of goodness and not greed, harmony and not hatred, justice and not judgement, virtue and not viciousness. We must insist they create conditions that foster the health and wellbeing of all of us, not just the ruling class.

Donald Trump has exposed the right’s longstanding moral corruption masquerading as sanctity. He has shown us just how complacent, misleading, and corrupt much of our media have become. He has revealed how the Democratic Party has lost its way as champion of the working class. For all this we should thank him.

Now, we, as a country, must shatter the mirror of national narcissism that Trump holds before us. Let us use him as a beautiful, beautiful catalyst to create the kinds of change that benefit us all, every one of us. This is real life I’m talking about, not just another episode of “Celebrity Apprentice.” We’ve had enough of that.

*The story of Narcissus and Echo

**The eight Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3–12 during the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

A Peculiar Kind of Thanksgiving

During one of the 2016 Republican primary debates, Sen. Marco Rubio said, “I thank God that George W. Bush was president on 9/11.” He was implying, of course, that a President Al Gore would not have handled things so well as Bush did during the aftermath.

In a sense, though, Rubio was thanking God for two protracted wars and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people; thanking God for the billions of dollars wasted on those wars; thanking God for destabilizing the Middle East and opening the way for ISIS; thanking God for yet another generation of broken soldiers and broken families, some of whom live in broken cars and under broken bridges. There is more, of course, but that’s the picture.

Knowing now the consequences of the 2000 election—an election predicated and fueled by intense hatred of Bill Clinton and, by extension, Al Gore—would your vote then have been different? Could anyone who voted for Gorge W. Bush honestly say, “Well, so what? It would have been much, much worse with Gore as president.” Worse how? I ask.

Surely there was a lot of God-thanking when the Electoral College tipped in favor of Donald Trump, giving him the presidency despite Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote. Never mind that we have set ourselves up for potential consequences more terrible than those brought on by George Bush.

Some of us Americans are comfortable with the prospect of living under an authoritarian, white-nationalist regime. I can imagine how grateful they are for the opportunity. Others of us are not so enamored of the idea.

But who knows? There could be reason for optimism. Take one example: Maybe under Trump the middle class will rise to its former glory days. Maybe all those shuttered factories in the rust belt will spontaneously rev to life. Workers (non-union, of course) will enjoy a wage high enough that families can once again be single-earner households. Dad will truck off to the plant while mom cooks a nice hot breakfast for the kids before she drives them to their excellent charter school. Wouldn’t that be great?

Today, we can only predict how a Trump presidency will play out. But the anomaly that was the past campaign and election doesn’t bode well for the country and the world, let alone for those who championed him.

Yet someday, no matter how bad things get over the next four years, someone undoubtedly will “thank God” that Donald Trump was president. Because under Hillary Clinton, just like under Al Gore, things would have been so much, much, much worse. For the believers, it could not be otherwise.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

(For the record, I supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries, but voted for Clinton in opposition to Trump. I would have preferred another Democratic candidate. Clinton’s sense of entitlement to the presidency and her close association with Wall Street were off-putting for me. However, she has suffered years of assault by the right-wing propaganda machine, and I don’t think she deserves the reputation the right has assigned to her.)

The Power and Fallacy of Belief and Our New Civil War

battle_of_franklin_november_30_1864
Battle of Franklin, Nov. 30, 1864. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

With all the disinformation, fake news, innuendo as fact, and lies gone unchallenged, it’s been difficult to get a grasp of anything close to truth during the past campaign for president and post-election. This onslaught of propaganda has rendered truth irrelevant, further cementing Red-Team beliefs and Blue-Team beliefs as well. Belief is a Kevlar vest against sharp attacks of disagreeable facts. And it’s an armor-piercing bullet, a weapon of force and power.

It’s been difficult for me to disentangle what I read in the news from both camps and make of sense this of war of beliefs between the Reds and the Blues. To help me put things into perspective I reached back in history to an era where the destructive forces of belief split the nation.

We all know of the Civil War, the War Between the States, between North and South, between the Blue and the Gray. Although I think even today some would deny it, the root of this war was slavery.

Slavery was the way of life in the South. It was as natural as magnolia blossoms. It’s mentioned many times in the Bible and not unfavorably. Belief held that God approved of slavery, endorsed slavery. It was right and good. Moreover, it was a necessary duty. Such was the belief that made slavery possible, thus making it possible for those upright people of Southern gentility to sleep well at night and with a clear conscience.

Ah, but those in the North, those abolitionists, believed slavery was an abomination. It could not be possible for a good and gracious God to condone slavery. Slavery was evil and it must end.

So here we have two strongly held and conflicting beliefs. Some 500,000 people died for those beliefs. Those conflicting beliefs ripped families apart. Those conflicting beliefs wrecked the Southern economy.

Such is the power of belief.

But who was right? Where lay truth?

Did Northern victory prove that God abhorred slavery? If so, all those Southerners held wrong beliefs about God and a few other things, too. Or could it be that God got whupped along with the true believers? If that’s the case, then Satan, not God, stood behind Northern victory. And, hell yeah, the South will rise again!

Or maybe, just maybe, God had no opinion of slavery or the war, for that matter. If so, the South used God as an excuse for deplorable behavior (not at all uncommon, don’t you agree?).

Such is the fallacy of belief.

So what do you believe? Is slavery right or wrong? Was God with the Gray Team or the Blue Team? Or nowhere to be found? Is belief the same as truth, or is truth independent of belief?

And here’s another bit of perspective-putting: Abraham Lincoln, that good and deliberative man so determined to keep the union together, was despised by half the country for what he believed.

Now take this perspective on truth and belief, pop it into this very day, and make of it what you will.