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Dialogue with Strangers: Caves And Dark Places

Legend has it that one Edison Zvobgo, a former Zimbabwean parliamentarian, once stood up in the August House and proclaimed, “Madam Speaker,about half of the members of this house are stupid…” As one would expect, there was no shortage of honourables who got up on one “point of order” or the other to remonstrate against his comment. The Speaker of Parliament was swift to order him to reverse his statement. To which Honourable Zvobgo stood up again and said, “Madam Speaker i apologise, please allow me to reverse my statement….about half of the members of this house are not stupid”

This is exactly how i feel everytime i have to debate anyone on anything on the internet. It doesnt really matter what the topic of discussion is, you are almost alwys guaranteed to find someone who will disagree with you. As often is the case, a simple academic/ideological disagreement will almost alwys degenerate into irate name calling and personal attacks. Everybody talks and nobody listens.

From a near lifetime of conversations and, especially as regards social media, it has always been a source of great frustration that so many people end a debate as they started it, i.e. each side firmly locked in to their particular stance. This occurs whatever the hard facts and evidence that has emerged in the debate. Blindingly obvious truth is simply ignored. Great pride is taken in being able to remain unmoved and as stubborn as the dumbest donkey on the planet. Stubborn pig headedness is seen as a virtue. The source of the virtue is typically religion, culture or political ideology.

We also put ourselves and our opponents in “boxes”. So we have a White box, a Black box, A Muslim box, a Christian box, A Feminist box, … etc. We jump into our box, stay there and keep others in their boxes, come hell or rain. To explain why this is so we need to go back in time. Whether you are a “creationist” (believe in the Bible and Adam and Eve) or an “evolutionist” (an avid student of Charles Darwin) the reality is that we all reached a stage where we found ourselves in a cave.

We were there in family groupings, huddled together riddled with apprehension, confusion, ignorance, bemusement, superstition and supposition about the world outside, with all its wonders including other creatures that were in competition with us. This competition included us being on their menu as much as some of them were on our menu. Those were very, very dangerous times and survival demanded that we acted with unbending loyalty to our grouping in every respect. Everything we knew was handed down to us by our elders. They themselves had been recipients of such knowledge from their elders. In this way the collective knowledge of our group was seen and accepted as the guarantee of our survival. Not deviating from this body of collective knowledge was therefore undoubtedly the greatest of virtues.

Despite this however, we know beyond any doubt whatsoever that deviations did occur. Feel free to imagine that one day a member of the cave dwellers brought home some embers from a forest fire, started by lightning, and decided to “cook” the evening meal instead of eating it raw. Then another member found a way to extract iron from rock and make better arrow heads. At each stage that a member of our species deviated from the status quo, and tried something new, something different, we advanced as a species. No change for the better could/would have ever occurred if some of our forebears had not broken ranks, questioned the status quo and tried something new and different.

In the end we advanced from being primitive cave dwellers to a species that put men on the moon. It was not an easy journey. Change was always resisted, strongly resisted. That is why great minds like Socrates and Aristotle were persecuted and even executed for daring to question the status quo and insisting that what had been learnt and handed down before was wrong.

It is a truism that whether it be religion, culture, political ideology or any other body of knowledge or belief, it was all conceived, formulated and expressed at a time when man, as a species, was more primitive and less informed than he is now. For this reason alone there can be no sentient reason why they cannot be examined, questioned and reviewed for validity.

Understand that your current body of knowledge is a cave that you are in that is not of your making. It was all handed down to you by others who had less opportunity and information than you have to know and understand. So we really do need to be able to have open minds that are receptive to questioning everything, even our most cherished beliefs and convictions. Is this not obvious? After all we once believed in witchcraft. We believed that the world was flat. Before 1948 we had no concept of human rights. Slavery was normal. Gender inequality was normal. Might was right. Colonialism was normal.

So will you please accept this invitation to come out of your religious cave, your cultural cave, your political cave. It is dark in there. Expose yourself to that which is new and different. Listen to that feminist, listen to that gay man, listen  to that pastor and listen to that atheist. Listen. Be willing to learn and re-learn. Be hungry about facts. Be greedy about evidence. Be sceptical, even loathsome, about opinions. So in debate always ask yourself these questions. Am I ignoring facts? Am I ignoring evidence? Is my stance steeped in belief, dogma or ideology? Am I being stubborn? A mind that is incapable of change is incapable of improvement.

*Article in large parts contains excepts from a Note by Judge Chris Greenland* No copyrights intended.

You can purchase Judge Greenland’s amazing book titled The Other here http://theother.orgfree.com

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