First Hand

by Antone P. Braga

We live from a retrospective point of view. Our fathers and forefathers handed forward their experience, and the preceding generations’ experience, of a face to face relationship with life. We hope they were not misled and did not rely on assumption in their quest for understanding. But why shouldn’t we have philosophy of insight that is our own, not of tradition, and a revelation to us not necessarily through the eyes of others? We have a right, even more we have a great duty to pass-on an accurate history of our direct experience and understanding of reality, as did anyone who came before.

Assumption is a dangerous human condition. It allows for all manner of misconception, manipulation, distortion, deceit, and all multifarious means which human ingenuity can devise to secure advantage or control over another person or group. As an example, we cannot expect advertising to point out anything but the most glorified, positive and alluring aspects of a product, or service, or political view. We all understand that basic truth because we see it day in and day out. We know that the negative aspects have been omitted in its one-sided attempt at persuasion, it is only common sense. However, when we assume image is truth, we seem to lose a bit of our objectivity and we become more susceptible to the next experience and the next. It is as if the positive appeal has a way to override our common sense through a repetitive drumming-in.

We aspire to being served. However, it is but a step closer to helplessness. What energy and time does it take to roll up an automobile window? Perhaps no more than that of brushing one’s own hair for the same few seconds. Yet an incredible number of expensive electric windows are sold on the, “let us do it for you” premise. Eventually the window needs repair at an amazing cost, though with the current thinking that is someone else’s problem because we are willing to dedicate a very large portion of our income to support our own image of luxury. E. B. White had a few choice words on the subject: It is disturbing to realize that even after we have been reduced to Hollywood’s low, we are still rolling in the sort of luxury that eventually destroyed Rome.

What can we do for ourselves? That is the true luxury of life. We know our job, we know our hobby. Everything beyond that immediate spectrum we increasingly leave to assumption—someone else’s prerogative, expertise and domain—in short, life experience by surrogate substitution. Mankind is one faculty of all the divisions of society—not a farmer, plumber, attorney, engineer, etc., but all. The whole society contains the whole person. Our society is so specialized and subdivided that it is nearly impossible to gather in that whole person. We do however have a choice: to be man or woman on the farm, or, farmer on the farm; and the same is true for each other specialization. The transformation comes about when specialized mankind exercises intellect over being ridden by the routine of the individual craft, profession or occupation. Intellect is nature’s gift of curiosity. The seeking, finding and understanding. It should be implemented in as many ways as we have outlets and available energy.

In a complex world that increasingly demands more and gives back less, we are in direct competition with virtually everyone who provides any service or product that we feel we need. For every dollar spent for someone’s expertise or product, we exchange to that same extent. Our product or expertise must be worth as much to those from whom we buy, or we suffer a deficit that is only offset by finding other buyers to balance that debt. There is a disparity when dealing with countries whose standing is on the first rung of the economic ladder. We must eventually come to the reality that a global economy calls for a much greater need of self-reliance from each of us. We have become such specialized individual units that forced diversity is actually a blessing in disguise. There is no substitute for first-hand experience. The more we limit our experience, the more susceptible we become to a manipulated, distorted reality based on the portrayed image of that reality—the more we hand over our thinking, the more we can’t think for our own.

Original thought is worth a multitude of thoughts handed down. Each generation must write its own book, its own record of experience, its own reality, however evolved. The mistake is in placing such a high regard for those books and letters that came before us. They seem to incorporate the end-all and are of such high observation and articulation they intimidate the intellect. We must remember that each succeeding reality is its own entity—separate for observation, reflection, comparison and for putting to letter, verse, essay or book and, even proverb. Proverbs are perceived as having been all used up and passe. Reality and truism however, are never out of vogue. The simple truth is still the most powerful to articulate and pass-on. Ignore the nay-sayers. They come to new realities through others, not through introspection or original thought, and will come around as if always having been a supporter when society’s support becomes clear. But, this segment of society is Nature’s safety roadblock and it comes into play because the “bridge is out.” Society’s self-protecting instinct is to not let in just any new claims or ideas, but only those strong enough, or influential enough, to be handed down from the hierarchy. And so our protective shield and penchant for burying our head in the sand often work very much against our real hope, our real security—man’s intellect. At every crossroads on the path that leads to the future, tradition has placed 10,000 men to guard the past. —Maurice Maeterlinck

Once the bridge has been built and shown trustworthy the roadblock is removed, and indeed during that period of conviction leading to conversion, the traveler has been protected. If we were all original thinkers, society would be in total chaos. Each segment of society has a distinct role to play in order to maintain the proverbial balance. However, when the roadblocks become so fixed as to dominate and stifle the original thinking intellect, then the bridge is not built, for want of reception. Society in that state is closed and manipulative—a churning cavitation of sorts. Its mandate of conformity is a virtue only when that mandate espouses man’s intellect. Intellect needs more than plans, it needs action and fulfillment. It can attain true fulfillment only through action and reception. A detour must be found and taken for any hope of passing through a darkened entrance.

The end and the means, the gamester and the game,–life is made up of the intermixture and reaction of these two amicable powers, whose marriage appears beforehand monstrous, as each denies and tends to abolish the other. 

There are two distinct avenues of reception available. The first and foremost is through the direct choice of the hierarchy of society. Music is heard on the radio through those who have acquired the position of authority in determining the music that the majority of society will hear. The art is driven by its perceived ability to sell—its commercial value in the market, sales or listener ratings, or any other number of commercial guide posts. It is this common arrangement in society that governs most of society—the markets made available to it for profit—the capitalistic view of society’s communication with itself, vis-a-vis art handed down from the hierarchy—the subordination of the end (invention) to the means (chain of command). The upper class is not inherently injurious so long as it depends on merit for its existence, and if nepotism, favoritism, political considerations, censorship and other dictatorial factors are not part of the equation (some little chance). Censors have their own interest and the interest of their kind to consider in making their choice along with their own possible personal preferences and objections.

The limited access to hierarchy, overrun with roadblocks, leads to the second avenue of reception: art and communication from the bottom to the top of the chain—the subordination of the means to the end—a rather slow grass roots system. Not so much a drumming-in, as the persistent drip, drip effect over a long period of time until eventually it soaks in. The roots finally convey the message upwards that the plant is being nurtured from below.

The detour is made up of more than one road. It consists of many long winding trails that end up on the other side. When the detour is found to have reached the opposite shore without the aid of a bridge, as if not to be outdone or circumvented, the hierarchy then embarks on building a toll bridge. The roadblocks remove themselves, and join in the long awaited parade over the bridge. The initial resistance is converted into loyal support. Shakespeare said it best: 
The charm dissolves space,
And, as the morning steals upon the night,
Melting the darkness, so their rising senses
Begin to chase the ignorant fumes that mantle
Their clearer reason.
Their understanding
Begins to swell: and the approaching tide
Will shortly fill the reasonable shores
That now lie foul and muddy.

Society is none the wiser as to how many original thoughts are lost to the wayside, never to reach fruition, and makes no differentiation or provision for the next and the next. However, as the first-hand life style becomes the new clearer reality it automatically instills enticement for diversity of thought, and, empathy—encouraged intellect and improved reception.

The world has just begun inventing and we are not nearly done bearing witness. Man’s existence on the planet is but a speck in the passing of time so far. It only follows that our greater potential is yet in front of us and only through the lens of our own experience can we hope to pass-on the untwisted view.