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There Was a Time

There was a time when it made sense to spit on wounds.

We didn’t have a very good understanding of disease or any of the medical science that we understand today, and sufficient stories were told about the healing properties of human saliva that it seemed like a smart choice to expectorate on any flesh wound within range.

There was a time when it made sense to kill anyone who claimed that the world wasn’t flat.

To say such a thing went against the church’s edict, and to do so meant that everything society was built upon, the very fabric of what kept civilization ticking away, was wrong. In the minds of those making the decisions, a few lives were worth sacrificing for the sake of maintaining power and stability.

There was a time when it made sense to keep marriages traditional and races from intermingling.

As far as we knew, allowing a man to marry a man or a black person to marry a white person would lead to death, destruction, and the sentencing of our souls to hell, not to mention the social instability that would no doubt erupt.

There was a time for these things, but today is not that time. Not anymore.

Back then, we believed things that were later proved to be untrue, and we’ve left many of them behind.

Yet we’ve decided, out of laziness or stubbornness or sheer ignorance, to hang onto others, not because they’re true, but because we’re uncomfortable with change.

Clinging to old, factually-inaccurate ideas simply because your family or church or politicians refuse to update their mandates based on new information is avoiding making decisions for yourself. What’s ‘true’ will change based on the time, because as a species we continue to learn and spread the knowledge we accumulate. To have access to such knowledge and not use it is tantamount to not having it at all.

There’s a quote attributed to Mark Twain that goes like this: “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.”

The same applies to knowledge in general.

If you have access to knowledge but choose to ignore it, or to deny its validity because some other entity tells you to ‘look away! look away!’ because of incongruence with its traditions or tenets, you have no advantage over the poor, ignorant souls of the Bronze Age who didn’t have access to the fruits of centuries of trial-and-error, study, and scientific experimentation.

There was a time when there was an excuse for ignorance. We hadn’t built a proper infrastructure for learning and retaining knowledge, and those who wanted to learn would never gain access to the resources they needed to do so.

Today we have the opposite problem: an abundance of knowledge, and too-few people willing to take advantage of it, either ignoring facts to back up their own opinions, or simply lacking the ambition to reach out and take it.

What field of study are you ignorant about? European history? Algebra? Fundamental coding languages? Cooking? Parcheesi?

Try choosing a topic per week to study. There’s no time like the present to fill the cracks in your knowledge, and these days the plaster is free (though you’ll still have to apply it yourself).

Update: February 13, 2017

This is still so relevant. Perhaps uncomfortably so.

There’s a contrast I hadn’t noticed at the time, but am now aware of, between the dystopian societies portrayed in Brave New World and 1984. In the latter, government prevents people from knowing things by limiting access to information and constricting thought with gibberish language. In the former, though, people have access to anything and everything, but are so distracted by leisure that they never make use of it. We’ve always feared the latter, but seldom gave much credence to the former, despite its seeming alignment with where things are headed (by some estimations, anyway).