7.4. Reclaiming Human Inquiry

Nobody owns the truth. We can’t cram reality into a few ideas, or a single institution.

There’s more at stake in our ideological struggles than figuring out who’s right and who’s wrong.

I think it’s about reclaiming the project of human inquiry itself from all the interests, ideologies, and institutions that have seriously corrupted it, and pitted us against each other.

We’ve carved up human inquiry into hundreds of fields, topics, and disciplines. We have hundreds of sciences, philosophies, political ideologies, and religious and spiritual traditions.

We do this out of necessity. Because nobody can be an expert on everything.

But just because we carve it up to make it easier to understand doesn’t mean that’s how it really is.

Truth is truth. Reality is reality. There’s just one quest for understanding, one great project of human inquiry, one collective effort to make sense of it all, and use that understanding to make the world a better place.

We used to know that. That’s why ancient thinkers flowed so freely between science, philosophy, politics, and religion in their works.

But since the nineteenth century, we’ve largely forgotten it.

We’ve shattered this great, collective project of human inquiry into hundreds of little pieces—and now we’re forever arguing about how to put the pieces back together.

Because everybody’s an expert in their own little field. Everybody’s trying to prove their own worth. Everybody’s trying to reconstruct it around their own findings, their own theories, their own conclusions.

And of course, it doesn’t help that many of these fields of inquiry have become institutionalized, and are trying to accumulate power, money, and authority for themselves—and in many cases, are willing to bend the truth to make themselves look better.

In short, all of our ideological struggles—all of them—are the result of a fundamental misunderstanding about how knowledge works.

These ideologies, these institutions pretend they own answers. That they uniquely possess, within themselves, the pinnacle of human knowledge and understanding. And for that reason, they’re superior to all the other traditions of inquiry out there.

But nobody owns the truth. You can’t cram reality into a few ideas, or a single institution.

Human inquiry is a collective project, whether we acknowledge it or not.

I’m not saying you need to give up your beliefs. But maybe it’s time we started questioning what it means to believe in something.

Are you willing to see the belief systems you subscribe to as part of a whole?

Are you willing to acknowledge that even though they’re valuable and useful and very much worth your consideration, they aren’t perfect?

Do you have the insight, the humility, and the courage to admit that you aren’t better than anyone else, just because your quest for truth has led you down a different path than someone else?

Or do you use your beliefs as a cudgel to bludgeon people who don’t believe as you do, to put them down and make them inferior?

Truth isn’t a competition. Our society is—and that’s why we’ve imposed a competitive framework onto human inquiry. But that’s our doing.

We don’t need to change what we believe. We need to change how we believe.

That, more than anything, will allow us to resolve many of our ideological differences.

 

This is the 112th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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