Sunday, April 02, 2006

Thinking Outside the Box 4

Thinking Outside the Box 4 Presuppositions and Prejudices We all have our own presuppositions, without doubt, on many issues. For most of us these are no mere unquestioned presuppositions. They are, rather, simple and bitter prejudices. From my last number of posts any interested reader will see that I have been exploring the ideas of the possibility of objectivity in thinking, the possibility of what we might term “broadmindedness” or the importance of taking a questioning stand with regard to these same thoughts. I have been arguing for a radical questioning of our own viewpoints, for a radical and philosophical approach to any of our presuppositions on any issues we may feel strongly about. Further, I should like to argue that we must attempt to question, and hopefully tackle our own deep-seated prejudices. Is this possible at all I wonder? Well, a true philosopher would say that it is. I suppose any committed Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim might say the same, not to mention a humanist of theist, atheist or agnostic hues. Jung, along with Freud before him and many psychotherapists since, have argued that the making of the unconscious conscious is the primary aim of all good analysis or therapy. The same can be said of our unconscious presuppositions and prejudices – if they are unconscious for us (in other words if we are unthinking sheep who follow empty, possibly hateful, slogans) - we must bring them to consciousness, acknowledge them and tackle them, and hopefully uproot them. Prejudices have absolutely nothing to do with intelligence. Let’s take an example of one very hateful and intelligent human being. For my purposes here I will take Enoch Powell as an example. John Enoch Powell, MBE (June 16, 1912 – February 8, 1998) was a right-wing British politician and Conservative Party MP between 1950 and February 1974, and an Ulster Unionist MP between October 1974 and 1987. Controversial throughout his career, his tenure in senior office was brief; however, his skills as a polemicist and orator gained significant public support for his controversial views on issues such as immigration into Great Britain. On this last issue he was a downright racist. (Being an excellent classical scholar was no antidote to this bitter racism) He made a very famous or infamous speech (actually on the anniversary of Hitler’s birthday, of which he later denied being aware), dubbed immediately his “Rivers of Blood” speech by the media, where he quoted that the floods of non-national immigrants into Britain would result in a blood bath. He drew his imagery from Virgil’s Aeneid. As I have already pointed out, Powell was a wonderful classical scholar. This speech was delivered on April 20th, 1968 in Birmingham, England and indeed he alluded to the contemporary Civil Rights movement in the USA during it. Here is a brief quotation from that infamously hateful speech. It sticks in my throat to quote it, but the point I wish to illustrate here is how hate can be so pleasantly camouflaged with rather scholarly words: “Here is the means of showing that the immigrant communities can organise to consolidate their members, to agitate and campaign against their fellow citizens, and to overawe and dominate the rest with the legal weapons which the ignorant and the ill-informed have provided. As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood’. That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect. Indeed, it has all but come. In numerical terms, it will be of American proportions long before the end of the century. Only resolute and urgent action will avert it even now. Whether there will be the public will to demand and obtain that action, I do not know. All I know is that to see, and not to speak, would be the great betrayal.” In summary, I wish to point out that we should never assume that scholars are without prejudices and indeed sheer hate; that reasons can be advanced for every evil under the sun; that persons of supreme intellect, who may achieve great academic heights in any one discipline, can be sadly lacking in the very basics of ethics and morality and empathy for their fellow human beings; that every scholar worth their salt should question radically their presuppositions and prejudices. One could argue that those so called “scholars” who do not do so are uneducated in the true sense of the term by not being open to being wrong; by not questioning their own presuppositions; by accepting the beauty of surface rhetoric rather than diving deep for the depth of real truth(s). The small image I have inserted at the top centre of this post is one of French Sculptor Auguste Rodin's (1840-1917) famous pieces called "Le Penseur" ("The Thinker"). It was originally entitled "The Poet" after Dante. It's re-titling was obviously inspired as this sculpture shows our desire for knowledge and how we must exert ourselves in thinking issues through. It reminds us that real knowledge and wisdom are hard won, and that thinking is an energy consuming act

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