A Touch of Context:
The other day I listened to a friend share her ideas about violence. She believes we, as a society, must combat violence; she perceives violence, in and of itself, as an evil that must be stopped.
I didn’t feel the need to express my opinion.
I felt the need to listen.
I listened for her experience, her background, any indication that she had first-hand knowledge of how violence functions in a person’s life, in the lives of both the giver and receiver. I asked her how her sense of the function of violence shaped her perspective. I posed my question this way so as not to pry. It can be to discuss personal experience, and personal experience isn’t necessary for an opinion, an idea, or a belief, and personal experience isn’t necessary for and doesn’t guarantee accuracy.
Is experience necessary for understanding?
Her response explored why she felt the issue important. She didn’t, as best as I could tell, have any experience with physical violence. Violence, of course, can take many shapes and forms, and perhaps she had more experience than she wished to share.
I simply don’t know.
I listened, and I considered her perspective. I considered my own perspective. I think I left the conversation with more than I brought because it made me question just how valuable ideas may be.
Analysis or The Difficult Task of Thinking:
As a writer, novelist, and independent thinker, I care about ideas, the ideas of others and my own. I care about quality of mind, the ability to dissect and examine thoughts, to assemble and disassemble theories, and the ability to perceive and share nuance. I do my best to listen to those around me, both interpersonally and aesthetically, in order to develop my thoughts beyond something personal, something individual. Art grows from connection, and connection can be hard to find.
Forces of isolation contour and in many ways define contemporary society and culture. These forces may be commercial, economic, political, or technological. According to the media, if the internet, radio, television, and cinema can be claimed generally as a source for the “cultural conversation,” ideas can bring us together, help us heal our fractured sense of identity, and bring us closer to the lives and lifestyles we deserve.
We’re told that if only we had the right idea, we could get right and everything would be all right.
Is that true? Can ideas support us when our actions fail?
We’re supposed to combat the ills of the world: violence, ignorance, prejudice, poverty, and disease, etc.
What, then, does it mean to be human? Where, in this model, is the space to feel differently, to value differently, and to engage personally?
In my experience, ideas have no communal value. Ideas are immensely personal, the quantum of thinking, and without the difficult act of thinking, ideas have no substance, no form, and no quality. They exist in the abstract, as a symbol of something beyond experience, just out of reach of those who would claim the validity an idea represents.
In the example my friend gave, the example of violence as something we “combat,” violence exists only as an idea, an abstraction devoid of human reason. Violence, as an experience, stems from human emotion, human impetus, and human perspective.
As we push back against the destructive aspects of our humanity, we must address what it means to be human. Our idea of violence means little in the face of determinant human emotions such as greed, anger, shame, and alienation, perhaps even the emotional drive to combat violence, which may manifest in unforeseen ways.
Culture isn’t the manifestation of right thinking or the representation of a society’s accuracy. Culture exists as the location wherein a society engages what the people who constitute the society understand as important.
Contemporary culture reflects a society attempting to smother individual humanity, to control the emotions that create possibility, ambiguity, and destruction.
Generally, I’m left with more questions than answers. Here are a few of those questions in the hopes that you can help me think through these issues.
How valuable are ideas and how do ideas serve to change minds or shape lives?How do ideas differ from actions? How are motivations different when thinking or acting?
In your experience, what is the difference between ideas and thoughts? How is thinking an action?
What was your most recent experience of communal culture? How did it serve you, inform you, affect you, shape you? Did it provide a context to work through communal values or did it represent or push ideas or interests you don’t share?
To complete the circle, can ideas support us when our actions fail?