Furthest Right

A sign in the sky

When thou seest an eagle, thou seest a portion of genius; lift up thy head! – William Blake

attack_the_white_whale_of_uncontrolLike black clouds of war, our fears of the unknown perpetually haunt us as if they are looming in the sky. Terrorism, death, accidents –- how does one combat such things? Men on the ground? Education? Awareness campaigns? Preemptive strikes?

Forget about whether or not there is more terrorism or less terrorism than there was a month ago or a year ago. The question is not even can we get rid of it or not, the real question is: how would we know? A sign in the sky? Every man woman and child on the planet checking in at the World Bureau for their official statement and brain scan?

Much like a desire for quintessential knowledge, we desire a definitive and absolute answer that we can understand in human terms. We desire it because we fear the unknown. The unknown must be exterminated. Nothing can be left to chance. We must have a final solution.

Just like terrorism, the question is not whether we have more knowledge or less knowledge, or even if we can acquire a sort of perfect knowledge. The question is how we would know when we have perfect knowledge. Knowing about knowing is something altogether different than knowing. Socrates did not say that he knows that he knows. He said that he knows that he does not know.

Strictly speaking there is no sign of a sign. That would just be a sign. There is a sign and there is not-a-sign, but there is no ultimate sign of signs. Knowledge is always one category removed from manifest reality. If there is anything we should be superstitious about, it is knowledge!

This is not to imply that “conquering” the unknown with knowledge is bad. Solving problems is what we do, but there is no way, under the sign of knowledge, to know when enough is enough or even what problems do not need “solving.” Everything begins to look like a problem. Preferences and values become arbitrary and irrational under the assumption that there is an explanation for everything. Even if we do not know it now, eventually we will, we assume. We must continue to wage war against the unknown!

Once again, the problem is knowing definitively. If a person says they voted for Mitt Romney, does that prove they voted for Mitt Romney? No, they could be lying. If a person says they are not a terrorist, does that mean they are not a terrorist? How does one definitively prove one is not something? What evil lurks in the heart of man? One thinks of Looney Tunes when the bad guy is thwarted by Bugs Bunny and he says, “I don’t know how you’s done it! But I know you’s done it!”

Similarly, what we fear about death is not so much death, itself. Death is probably very peaceful in fact. What we fear is that we do not know when it will come. It is unknown. Death is not so much an objective destiny as it is a rendezvous. As we run away from our fears, we actually run toward our fate.

We all ask ourselves big questions. “What is the meaning of life?” “How do I become happy?” One might suggest that the closest we can come to putting this into words is: to be comfortable with the unknown.

If you saw an eagle flying in the sky, high above you, what would you say to yourself? “Why is he flying?” “How does he fly?” “Where is he going?” But now he is gone. Why would you even want to explain it? The eagle in the sky is manifest reality and the “knowledge” of it pales in comparison.

So, the ultimate battle is a cataclysm between Knowledge versus The Unknown. Ask yourself a question: if we were somehow granted perfect knowledge and if all the world’s “problems” were solved tomorrow, would you still have a purpose?

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