It’s mad, really, what people get up to, what complicated schemes they devise for themselves and others. Perhaps it’s because we are all born into complication that we cannot escape it, and we weave more threads into the madness of it all.
The knowledge trap is perhaps the highest form of madness there is. We cannot jump off the merry-go-round of believing we “know” stuff and can teach it to others. Or that to “know” stuff will give us a better life or a more prestigious career. Or that to “know” stuff makes us somehow better than the next guy who “knows” less.
So one must be very careful about understanding what’s knowledge, and what’s not. Perhaps the only form of valid knowledge is the practical kind.
The useful kind that allows us to travel safely, reproduce wisely, nourish and shelter our family adequately, and communicate effectively. These forms necessarily morph and alter with time: they need to be flexible and adaptable. Nothing about the things we do today in order to survive and reproduce and live vaguely adequate lives are at all identical to what these things were like in Neolithic or prehistoric times. We eat, get about, and communicate in vastly different ways. It’s all evolved through adaptation.
The forms of knowledge we think of as high or sophisticated are forms of madness, especially if they require us to believe stuff. Especially if they are rigid and include dogma or inflexible truths. There is no such thing as truth with a big T. Most of what humans believe has come about through a practical understanding of compromise, convenience and comfort. When they morph and become big truths, all forms of “knowledge” pose the threat of inflexibility, and put us on the path to madness.
It’s mad to think our ways of communication are inflexible and will live on unaltered. Little shifts must take place, such as another way to view the comma or the ellipsis. It’s mad to think there will always be something popular called “the novel”. Just as it was mad to think the madrigal would never lose favour, it’s mad to believe there will always be books, or bicycles, or schools, or Christmas. They might survive for as long as we are around to need them, but they will morph, adapt and synthesize into other things.
I have not erected an altar to Diana in my home. We do not own a piano. We eat meat on Fridays. These are only three things which might have horrified previous generations of “Dinglis”. And there are dozens more … but I won’t bore you. Any such list, however, would be a reflection of what previous generations manifested as forms of “knowledge”. Another way of saying, “We’re mad.”
Escaping madness might only be a matter of doing what’s practical at the time. Holding things to be immutable, true and everlasting is asking for trouble. What kind of trouble? We only have to look around us to see how some people tie themselves into knots and get themselves into all sorts of strife over some truth, belief, or so-called certainty. Mad scientists – those who swear they know little and are always curious about what might happen next – are possibly the only sane ones among us.
So go ahead – be a devil. Wear your t-shirt back-to-front, and use that ellipsis in a different way.
Examine philosophy, law, religion, table manners, politics, rules and regulations, grammar conventions even, and figure out how they went from being practicalities to becoming the frames of our madness on show.
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Rosanne Dingli studied fine arts in the 1970s. She still paints, and finds it much easier than writing. Her newest novel, Camera Obscura, deals with visual arts such as photography and painting. For more about Rosanne Dingli, visit her website, or her blog.