what does it mean to NEED to understand?


Richard Moore

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From: Lynda Brayer
Date: 23 March 2010 10:58:35 GMT
To: Richard K Moore <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Re:  do you know this thinker?

Dear Richard:
Do you know John McMurty? Here is a fantastic article from 1983!!! which reflects much of what you are saying.
Have you thought about why people like ourselves drive ourselves to understand the situation in which we live, why it is constant, never lets up – despite the fact that we have no power, and know we have no power, to change things?
I ask myself what does it mean to NEED to understand?  Is it a question of being “true to oneself”?  Of becoming oneself?  Of finding and expressing in one’s own life values which may or may not be reflected in the surroundings?
And what does it all mean in view of one’s own impotency?
Thanks,  Lynda

Hi Linda,
Thanks for the article. Food for thought. I think I’ll publish it to newslog with a preface that links in the Obama phenomenon.
You bring up some very important questions. 
I think everyone has an innate need to understand the world they find themselves in. The social world, the physical world, and — because of the inherent mystery of life — the metaphysical world. Your comments about ‘true to oneself’, etc. seem right on the mark to me.
In stable, traditional societies, answers are provided. There are identified roles for people to pursue in life, established ways of dealing with the world and the necessities of life, and a mythology / religion / Grand Story that everyone accepts. There’s a confidence that things will continue on more or less on the same pattern. There’s not much need to ‘quest for understanding’, unless you happen to have shaman-like leanings. 
Our modern society doesn’t give us any coherent way of understanding things. We’ve got competing religions, including the religion that calls itself science. Our social infrastructures and communities are always in a state of flux, and families disperse to follow careers. Economically we never know what’s coming. Careers are a bit like running up an endless down escalator, trying to keep up enough momentum to not slip backwards. And that’s before the financial system collapsed and we had several simultaneous wars going on.
The question I ask is why everyone is not driving themselves to understand. How can anyone be not be searching, in the face of all this insecurity and confusion? And I think the answer to this can be found in the early educational system. The teacher throws things at us faster than most people can begin to keep up with, or in a form that is not digestible. People give up on ‘understanding’ and settle for ‘knowing the answers’ as a substitute. The ‘answers’ being whatever somebody put into the curriculum. 
In this way our ‘innate need to understand’ is frustrated from an early age. No one asks us what questions we have, or what troubles us. Instead we’re force fed with answers to questions we’re not asking and don’t care about. Instead of facilitating our understanding, ‘education’ presents us with more and more things to be confused about. We come to believe that only ‘experts’ can understand, and the best we can hope for is to find the right expert for every question. Perhaps we become an expert in something ourselves, which only reinforces the mythology of expertise, and leaves us not understanding everything else. 
Your question, “why people like ourselves drive ourselves to understand”, is perhaps answered by, “how did we escape whole from the educational system?”. And I suspect that has more to do with a rebellious nature than with any particular intellectual capacity. I’ve always had great admiration for rebels, like Jesse James, or Che, or Chavez.
You ask about ‘impotency’, and its relationship to ‘needing to understand’. 
For one thing, I think we have a special curiosity about understanding things we can’t change. If a loved one dies, for example, we always want to know exactly what happened, despite that being a depressing subject, and we’re already suffering from grief. 

And yet many people have told me that they consciously ‘don’t want to know’ about world issues, because they can’t change it, and they choose to focus on ‘taking care of their family’. I suspect this is a rationalization. I suspect it’s really a case of having given up long ago on understanding, and impotency is a good excuse for not trying now. This is only a guess however. I’m sure it’s deeper than that.
The other thing is that some of us refuse to accept that we are impotent. Where there is life there is hope. Our search is not in spite of impotence, but rather to overcome impotence. Somewhere there must be a loose brick, a way to escape from prison. And again this ties into a rebellious nature.
Let me once again relate the story of the miner who was trapped in a mine collapse. The rescuers had great difficulty in reaching him, and they were surprised he was still alive when they finally got to him. They asked him what had kept him going. He said it was his anger at the incompetence of the rescuers. He refused to die because he wanted to tell them off when they finally got there.

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