Saturday, August 9, 2014

The violence of our knowledge - Finding where it originates so to recognized its trajectory - Parker Palmer

The Day After Trinity - 1980 documentary about Dr. J Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project.

"I have felt it myself. The glitter of nuclear weapons. It is irresistible if you come to them as a scientist. To feel it's there in your hands--to release the energy that fuels the stars. To let it do your bidding. To perform these miracles--to lift a million tons of rock into the sky. It is something that gives people an illusion of illimitable power and it is, in some ways, responsible for all our troubles, I would say--this what you might call technical arrogance that overcomes people when they see what they can do with their minds." - Dr. J Robert Oppenheimer

Excerpts from Parker Palmer's To Know as We Are Known
These words were spoken by a celebrated physicist in The Day after Trinity (link here to see documentary), a film documentary about the team of American scientists who produced the first atomic bomb. "Trinity" was the ironic code name for that original explosion, and only on "the day after" did the scientists stop to analyze and agonize over the outcomes of their work. The film is filled with images of horror. For me, the most horrifying is not that mushroom shape that appears in our dreams and lurks just over our waking horizon. Instead, it is the image of intelligent and educated people -- the most intelligent and the best educated our society has produced - devoting themselves so enthusiastically to such demonic ends.  They appear in the film as people possessed by a power beyond their control - not the power of the government that summoned their services, but the power of their knowledge itself. ... Watching this film, reliving that history, I saw how our knowledge can carry us toward ends we want to renounce- but we renounce them only on "the day after." 
To Know as We are Known by Parker J. Palmer on pages 1 to 2 (from chapter 1, “Knowing is Loving”).
We have ignored the question of origins because we imagine that knowledge begins as neutral stuff—“the facts.” …The problem, we believe, is not how our knowledge arises but how we use and apply those neutral facts. We think that knowledge itself is passionless and purposeless. So our strategy for guiding its course is to surround the facts with ethics, moral mandates meant to control the passions and purposes of those who use the facts. … But I have come to see that knowledge contains its own morality, that it begins not in a neutrality but in a place of passion within the human soul. Depending on the nature of that passion, our knowledge will follow certain courses and head toward certain ends. From the point where it originates..., knowledge assumes a certain trajectory and target–and it will not easily be deflected by ethics once it takes off from that source.
 To Know as We are Known by Parker J. Palmer on page 6 (from chapter 1, “Knowing is Loving”).
…History suggests two primary sources for our knowledge. …One is curiosity; the other is control. The one corresponds to pure, speculative knowledge, to knowledge as an end in itself. The other corresponds to applied science, to knowledge as a means to practical ends.
…Curiosity is an amoral passion, a need to know that allows no guidance beyond the need itself. Control is simply another word for power, a passion notorious not only for its amorality but for its tendency toward corruption. If curiosity and control are the primary motive for our knowing, we will generate a knowledge that eventually carries us not toward life but death.
But another kind of knowledge is available to us, one that begin in a different passion and is drawn toward other ends. This knowledge can contain as much sound fact and theory as the knowledge we now possess, but because it springs from a truer passion it works toward truer ends. This is a knowledge that originates not in curiosity or control but in compassion, or love–a source celebrated not in our intellectual tradition but in our spiritual heritage.
…The deepest wellspring of our desire to know is the passion to recreate the organic community in which the world was first created.
To Know as We are Known by Parker J. Palmer on pages 7 to 8 (from chapter 1, “Knowing is Loving”).
The love of which spiritual tradition speaks is “tough love,” the connective tissue of reality—and we flee from it because we fear its claims on our lives. Curiosity and control create a knowledge that distances us from each other and the world, allowing us to use what we know as a plaything and to play the game by our own self-serving rules. But a knowledge that springs from love will implicate us in the web of life; it will wrap the knower and the known in compassion, in a bond of awesome responsibility as well as transforming joy; it will call us to involvement, mutuality, accountability.
To Know as We are Known by Parker J. Palmer on page 9 (from chapter 1, “Knowing is Loving”).
To teach is to create a space in which obedience to truth is practiced.
…A learning space has three major characteristics, three essential dimensions: openness, boundaries, and an air of hospitality.
Openness is no more than the commonsense meaning of space. To create space is to remove the impediments to learning that we find around and within us…. So creating a learning space means resisting our own tendency to clutter up our consciousness and our classrooms. One source of that tendency is our fear of appearing ignorant to others or to ourselves. Even though we are bright into education by ignorance, the fear of “not knowing” often leads us to pack the learning space with projections and pretensions. Teachers lecture longest when they are least sure of what they are doing.
…If we can affirm the search for truth as a continual uncertain journey, we may find the courage to keep the space open rather than packing it with pretense. Second, we must remember that we not only seek truth but that truth seeks us as well. When we become obsessed with our own seeking, we fill the space with methods and hypotheses and reports that may be mere diversions. But when we understand that truth is constantly seeking us, we have reason to open a space in which truth might find us out.
The openness of a space is created by the firmness of its boundaries. A learning space cannot go on forever; if it did, it would not be a structure for learning but an invitation to confusion and chaos. A spaces edges, perimeters, limits. … The teacher who wants to create an open learning space must define and defend its boundaries with care. Not only will this keep the space open, it will also keep the students from fleeing that space. The openness of space–which is at first appealing to our jangled minds–soon becomes a threat. As the clutter falls away we realize how much we depend on clutter to keep our minds employed, to make them feel masterful. We do not want to face the barrenness that comes when our mind-made structures fail, so we run toward some distraction. If you doubt this, try creating a long silence in your classroom as Abba Felix did in his. Feel the anxieties arise in you and your students alike.
…The desert teachers know thees anxieties well. They know that in the desert, before we encounter truth, we must first wrestle with the demons of untruth that arise in the silence, demons that come from our own need to manipulate and master truth rather than let truth transform us. …So the desert teachers disciplined themselves to stand their ground, to stay within the boundaries of the learning space so that truth might seek them out. One symbol of this discipline was the “cell” (often a hut or cave) in which these teachers lived.
…Good teachers know that discomfort and pain are often signs that truth is struggling to be born among us. Such teachers will not allow their student, or themselves, to flee from the “cell.” They will hold the boundaries firm, and hold us all within them, so that truth can do its work.
But precisely because a learning space can be a painful place, it must have one other characteristic–hospitality.
…So the classroom where truth is central will be a place where every stranger and every strange utterance is met with welcome. This may suggest a classroom lacking essential rigor, a place in which questions of true and false, right and wrong, are subordinated to making sure that everyone “has a nice day.” But that would be a false understanding of hospitality. Hospitality is not an end in it self. It is offered for the sake of what it can allow, permit, encourage, and yield. A learning space needs to be hospitable not to make learning painless, but to make the painful things possible, things without which no learning can occur–things like exposing ignorance, testing tentative hypothesis, challenging false or partial information, and mutual criticism of thought. Each of these is essential to obedience to truth. But non of them can happen in an atmosphere where people feel threatened and judged.
…I have been in some classrooms where people seemed to be pressing each other, asking hard questions, stripping off the veils of falsehood and illusion. But behind the appearances, something else was often going on. In an inhospitable classroom, many questions do not come out of honest not knowing. They are rhetorical or political questions designed to score points with the teacher or against other students, questions asked not for truth’s sake but for the sake of winning. In such a setting it is nearly impossible to reveal genuine ignorance–which means that genuine openness to learning is nearly impossible as well.
To Know as We are Known by Parker J. Palmer on pages 69 to 75 (from chapter 5, “To Teach is to Create a Space…”).
The most neglected reality in education is the reality of the present moment, of what is happening here and now in the classroom itself.
To speak of the classroom as a place “in which obedience to truth is practiced” is to break the barriers between the classroom and the world–past, present, and future. To speak this way is to affirm that what happens in the classroom is happening in the world; the way we related to each other and our subject reflects and shapes the way we conduct our relationships in the world. By this definition of teaching, we practice troth between knowers and the known in the classroom itself.
The class is understood as part of the community of truth–more intense and reflective perhaps than other parts of that community, but related to all the rest. Reality is no longer “out there” but between us; we bridge the gap between learning and living by attending to the living reality of the learning situation.
From chapter 6 of Parker J. Palmer’s To Know as we are Know (88-89).

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