Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Big Lie!

Why do I care about all this "systems thinking," all these analytical techniques? What does it mean to us as people, as writers trying to make meaning in the world?

As I mentioned when I began writing this blog, I am using it to answer the question, "what do I need to know?" Like my friend, who I mentioned early on, I have sometimes doubted myself, doubted whether I have anything to say. By searching for an answer to the question, "what do I need to know?," I have concluded that yes, I do have something to say. And I believe it is something of great importance to every human being. I need to say something about "the great lie."

We began talking about research with a consideration of time and space. Why? Because, very simply, we exist as individuals at the intersection of a point in time, and a point in space, what we might call the "here and now." We think we understand the here and now. But usually we do not. Einstein's relativity taught us that time and space were one, were part of a great continuum. But we don't think of that marvelous discovery as having any application into our life in the "here and now." It is just "Theory," with a capital "T."

Too often we see ourselves as anchored to a past, with a future determined by the limitations of the present. We don't understand that, while we lived through a specific past, there were virtually an infinite number of possible pasts, just as there are virtually an infinite number of possible futures. The here and now is a possibility engine. We choose where this engine will take us.

Why don't we go where we want to go? Why don't we do what we want to do? We don't control our futures because we have bought in to a great lie. The great lie is this: "You aren't free. You can't have your dreams. There is only one future to seize, so you must compromise your dreams." This is a lie. It is a lie that is used to enslave you. It is a lie which is promoted by an endless set of social structures-governments, belief systems, schools, social roles we are expected to enact. A subset of the lie is this--if you recognize that these systems are out to control you, then you are asked to believe the sub-lie--that you can't beat the system.

Another great thinker of the 20th century, Michel Foucault, exposed the truth about this lie. He studied they way in which society has set up systems of surveillance, how those systems are designed to control us. However, he also pointed out that those systems were not inherently evil, and monolithic. Those systems were made by people. They can be changed by people.

However, in order to change those systems, you must understand them. Those who do not analyze systems, those who do not practice their freedom on a daily basis, those who do not seek to understand and change the system, those who do not continually yearn towards their vision of the future, those individuals enslave themselves to the system.

We write for understanding. We write to create a vision. Since vision is the fuel of the future, the fuel of the possibility engine, you might say writing is the key which turns on that engine!

"But what about others?" If we follow our vision, aren't we imposing our will on others? Isn't this unethical? It certainly can be. Here is Foucault's answer:

"I do not think a society can exist without power relations, if by that one means the strategies by which individuals try to direct and control the conduct of others. The problem, then, is to try not to dissolve them in the utopia of completely transparent communication but to acquire the rules of law, the management techniques, and also the morality, the ethos, the practice of the self, that will allow us to play these games of power with as little domination as possible" (298).

It is "self-governance." It is the "practice of freedom." It is seizing the vision, the possibility, of understanding and questioning domination at every level of one's life.


Foucault, Michel. Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth. Ed. Raul Rabinow. Tr. Robert Hurley and others. New York: The New Press, 1997.


Blogger Sarah Hill said...

I enjoyed reading this blog, as Foucault's words seem very true. I myself have wondered where the line is drawn, so to speak, regarding power, because it can't every really be dismissed or ended. Someone will always have it. The goal is that those with it will use it in such a way to help people, not hinder.
I also found the line "We think we understand the here and now. But usually we do not" very interesting, because we cannot, in this very moment, fully understand the impact that our daily actions will have later on. . . This applies to all areas of life-- family, friends, work, school, and others-- not just writing.

6:03 PM  

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