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"Challenges", Conventional Wisdom

Examining the Water, or Not

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

If you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise old fish explaining what water is, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude – but the fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance.  – David Foster Wallace

Mark Twain expressed the same idea when he said:

It ain’t what you don’t know that get’s you into trouble.  It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

The phenomenon they described just might be the greatest single cause of human suffering.  Many of the unquestioned assumptions that underlie our beliefs about ourselves and each other  are false.  And because of that we characterize one another as something we’re not, and then we vilify each other for being that something, which we’re not. 

A mission of The Independent Whig, therefore, is to be not merely aware of the water but to examine it closely and carefully; to identify and understand the assumptions and presumptions that are hiding in plain sight behind the questions, analyses, and conclusions generated by our righteous minds, but of which we might not be aware.  Anything and everything that “everybody knows” is begging to be peeled like an onion, exposing the layers underneath that influence the way we perceive and react to the world.  Only through a complete and accurate understanding of itself will the Social Animal be able to bridge the gaps that divide us, or, at a minimum, have grownup conversations.

One would think that this mission would be shared by anyone and everyone interested in advancing the cause of human progress; or who values education or the life of the mind; or who fancies themselves open to new ideas, and tolerant, inclusive, and diverse in their thinking; or who aspires to the ideals of the scientific method; or who feels that it’s important for social thought and policy to be rooted in facts, evidence, and a deep intuitive and rational understanding of human nature rather than in myths and unfair stereotypes.   

But sadly, and possibly tragically, the institution we humans created for that exact purpose, and the people who most loudly claim those ideals as their own, seem these days to be the very ones most intractably dead-set against them.  The education system, from kindergarten trough advanced graduate programs, and the supposedly open-minded, tolerant, inclusive, diverse, science-based cognitive style and moral matrix of the cultural left seem more intent on shutting down the free and open exchange of ideas.  Instead they seem to be circling the wagons around their grand narrative of the culture of victimhood and than of exemplifying that for which they claim to stand. 




3 thoughts on “Examining the Water, or Not

  1. Whig, I am trying to reach you through your “Contact” key on your Home page but it doesn’t seem to be working. I have some questions about the work your initiating with education. Could you tell me how I might reach you?


    Posted by Susan Quinn | April 27, 2016, 3:23 pm


  1. Pingback: The Delusion Behind “Viewpoint Diversity” and “No Labels” Exacerbates Our Problems | The Independent Whig - December 9, 2016

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A politically diverse group of social scientists, natural scientists, humanists, and other scholars who want to improve our academic disciplines and universities. We share a concern about a growing problem: the loss or lack of “viewpoint diversity.” When nearly everyone in a field shares the same political orientation, certain ideas become orthodoxy, dissent is discouraged, and errors can go unchallenged.

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