Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Why we should question authority

The Consensus of Inertia

The world we live in is in dire need of change; the developed world is in crisis – nation states are virtually bankrupt – individuals are suffering from all sorts of moral and physical and mental decay – the developing nations of the world are still suffering – have been suffering from natural and man-made calamities – and the Earth, the planet that sustains all of us is suffering because of us, because of our willful neglect of the natural environment.

Change will not merely arrive, however much we desire it; we will have to change; we will have to re-examine all the things that make us what we are, and what we do. We must begin to change immediately, not wait for governments to change for us but rather change those ideas that we have come to habitually and uncritically accept as real and beneficial to us.

This book examines some of those ideas – those ideas handed down to us, and that still serve us as we blunder through life. The aphorisms and common sense notions that operate upon us in ways in which we may be largely unaware, contain in them the seeds of our own demise. It is time we brought them in to the bright light of conscious awareness to question them and to determine whether or not they are still worthy of our attention.

The methods used in this book use techniques from ages past – from Plato and from Descartes. Plato use what are known as Socratic dialogues to delve into any notion, any philosophical stance or premise of which he as uncertain. Descartes urged us to re-invent ourselves, casting off all our rusty, pre-conceived ideas to make a fresh start on this journey of ours through life on Earth.

This book does not provide answers; it provides something far more valuable – it provides questions - and in providing some that need to be asked, it should stimulate you, the reader, to ask more, for that is the way we should now proceed, questioning what we think we know; and questioning why we assume we know what we think we know.

Answers are needed, of course, but it is only in the formulation of questions that any real and valuable answers will be arrived at.

This book represents a beginning: a way to question; a pre-disposition to question, rather than this meek acceptance of the imagined wisdom of others. It is the essence of taking control of one’s life without taking hold of the reins of power. Those reins may be wrested from the hands of the powerful, but a continual propensity to question makes the powerful answerable to those they have some power over. Accountability not violence is the way out of our predicament.

Robert L. Fielding


We often look to the words of others to guide us through our lives: we look to the words of our parents, our siblings, then our teachers, and we follow paths that have been laid down before us, as often without questioning the wisdom that is in the words of those who have guided us. We trust those situated above us: either in age, in positions within an organization; or above us in reputation.

Our lives reverberate with the words of others; the language we use is idiomatic, which means it has been handed down to us; it has been uttered so often by so many that it has gone into our minds as a set of words learned from youth; often heard and repeated, rarely if ever questioned as to the truth of meaning it expresses. It is the way wisdom is passed down through the ages; from father to son; from teacher to pupil; from king to subjects.

We live in a time in which conventional wisdom appears to have let us down, or, alternatively, we have not listened quite so attentively as we formerly used to the words of the wise.

Quotations have always been a rich source of wisdom, and have been called upon to justify action, or to inform actions beforehand. Yet, even the words of the wise, the renowned, the adored and the revered should be scrutinized for the content they contain. To adhere to words without examining their worth and their applicability to us living life in the present moment is to abdicate our responsibilities, to ourselves and our children – to those who will succeed us.

Some of the actions we take now will have repercussions that our children will have to live with after we have departed this life – long after. It is this that makes it imperative that we examine those ‘truths’ we take for granted, the words handed down to us to use as yardsticks to measure whether we are behaving in ways that will pass the test of time.

The quotations examined in this book are not obscure ones, do not come from unknown sources, but rather from those of our forefathers revered by us in all the fields in which we think, act and account for ourselves: in the fields of politics, religion, science, the arts and humanities, from the world of literature, from entertainment and from any field in which greatness and wisdom are a part.

The wisdom inherent in anything handed down to us in the form of words is accounted wise for a variety of reasons: words may be thought wise because they were uttered by someone who is looked up to – has always been looked up to – and, it is thought, has always been correct in his or her thinking. There seems, on the face of it, no reason to suppose that the words are anyway in error; they may be thought wise chiefly because they have always been thought wise – have gone unquestioned – because so many account them with so much wisdom, and the many cannot be wrong, can they?

Words can be thought wise because we are habitually used to saying them – quoting them – because they are a part of our everyday speech. Words can be thought wise chiefly perhaps because we have never thought to scrutinize the supposed wisdom contained in them, and finally, words have often been though wise because we have been content to let them rule our lives rather than engage in the harder work of thinking about them, of questioning the wisdom they express.

In questioning this wisdom it is possible, and indeed desirable, to delve, so to speak, into the train of thought that preceded the words quoted. In this way, it should be possible to get to a closer meaning of them, as well as approaching the fullest extent of their origins and implications.

Indeed, it is this exploring of the implications which may be the most fruitful part of the exercise, in terms of anything the reader is able to take away and use to straighten out issues of which he is uncertain.

This is quite normal; that notions and ideas, expressed as opinions, can and often do apply to fields of human experience unrelated to the initial application of the idea expressed. Thus, for example, an idea expressed by Albert Einstein, for example, purporting to relate to scientific endeavour, could equally well apply to the solving of a problem in the humanities.

In going into the implications of the words quoted, it should be possible to broaden their meaning and make them readily applicable to the reader. This is a feature of conversation, of discussion, surely, that issues get broadened out sufficiently to enable them to become more accessible. This is the whole point of this book and the discussions contained within it; to extrapolate from a short quotation into a longer and fuller debate surrounding its meaning and to initiate both a new discussion and develop an older one.

Robert L. Fielding

“Sometimes questions are more important than answers.”
Nancy Willard

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

“Questions are never indiscreet: answers sometimes are”
Oscar Wilde

“He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever”
Chinese proverb

“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.”
Naguib Mahfouz

“Questions are the creative acts of intelligence”
“The power to question is the basis of all human progress.”
Indira Ghandi

“If you judge, investigate”

“There are two sides to every question, because, when there are no longer two sides it ceases to be a question”

Robert L. Fielding

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