Why Do We Want to Know?

This map, from Multipolarista, shows the US-centred Empire bloc of nations (in red) that subscribe to the US-invented Rules Based International Order. The countries in green do not recognize that order, and they continue to support de facto a UN-centred international system governed by international law.

As the wars, the genocides, the sieges, the atrocities, and the economic, ecological, social and humanitarian crises mount, day after day, there is something in me (and perhaps in most of us) that at once dreads, and insists on, knowing what is really happening.

That’s not to say I want to know the truth. I want to know ‘my’ truth — that what I want to believe is true. When I am reassured about this, I embrace ‘knowledge’, ‘news’, opinions and perspectives that comfort me in my belief that I have a handle on things.

When I read ‘news’ that doesn’t fit with my worldview, I am inclined to disbelieve it, ignore it, and avoid exposing myself further to it. So, for example, while I once read the NYT and WaPo regularly, perhaps because at one time they reassured me about my beliefs, they now endlessly repeat opinions, posing as ‘news’, that are so far beyond being credible to me that I find reading them repellant and painful. So I don’t.

That is, it would seem, the nature of the human creature. My worldview is a model of the world as I (want to believe I) ‘know’ it, and I am seemingly compelled to try to make everything ‘fit’ into that model. And I change it reluctantly. I don’t think I’m unusual in this.

In this as in many other aspects of human behaviour, I am conditioned to believe what I believe — by my personal experiences, by what I’ve been taught by people I trust (or, at least, don’t distrust), by stories that I’ve been told, and by the beliefs of others I know directly or have read or listened to. All of this conditioning is filtered through my current worldview. And the result — what gets through that filter — is what I purportedly ‘know’.

My reaction to all of the horrors in the daily doom-scroll is, in accordance with my conditioning, philosophical — I try to understand what has motivated the various ‘players’ to have done what they have done and said what they have said. There is always a reason, in my worldview. In most of the violence, I can understand it as the acting out of conditioned fear and hatred that has metastasized into trauma — a collective mental illness. That’s not to say I condone it, or condemn it. I just want to understand why.

I suspect that for most people, given their conditioning, such understanding of the emotions and illnesses behind acts of violence is not enough. Their conditioning is to quickly decide who is right, wrong, good and evil, to take a side, to lay blame, and to call for ‘appropriate’ action. The ambiguity of no “good guys” and no “bad guys” in a horrific conflict just can’t ‘fit’ with their worldview. Someone has to be to blame for this disaster!

Most religions condition their members to think this way, and most political parties and political organizations position themselves constantly as the “good guys” and their opponents as the “bad guys”. In the US, citizens even sign up (register), often for life, to be a member of a political party, just as people sign up and go through rituals to be members of a church. These organizations are constantly conditioning their members (through their affiliated media, and now through email and social media as well), telling them what to believe, and reassuring them that the worldview they have ‘helped’ their members construct is the ‘right’ one.

There is nothing particularly right or wrong about this. Thanks to their conditioning, these political, religious, corporate and other ‘leaders’ honestly believe in the virtue of what they are doing, and the urgency of fighting those who believe otherwise. As I keep saying: We are all doing our best. The fact that this ‘best’ can often result in a self-reinforcing circle-jerk of hatred, fear, reinforced trauma, and collective acts of hysterical violence against blamed Others (violence such as genocides, wars, systemic abuse, sieges, incarcerations, acts of extreme vengeance, assassinations, torture, overthrows of governments, bombing of dams, hospitals and pipelines, etc) is unfortunate, but irrational mob behaviour is hardly a new phenomenon of our species.

Entrenched trauma + conditioned collective outrage + power (the means and opportunity to commit violence) => acts of violence, more often than not.

I suspect that most citizens of the American Empire who can’t fit the idea of trauma-induced genocide into their worldview, might argue that the current siege and slaughter of Palestinians is not a genocide, just a ‘reprisal’ for an attack on Israelis, to discourage further similar actions. Now that most of the country has been destroyed, and most of its inhabitants (principally women and children) killed, maimed or rendered homeless and starving, they might now be starting to wonder about the validity of that argument.

Then what? Well, our instinctive human nature is to ignore what doesn’t fit into our well-entrenched worldview, so if I took this position, what I would be most likely to do now is turn off the news, to pay no attention to it, and to welcome ‘news’ (propaganda) that justifies or denies the genocide as being something other than a genocide. I would wait for it to ‘go away’ (no longer be reported by the media I follow, you know, like CoVid-19), so that I would no longer have to be concerned about it, no longer have to confront the gaping holes in my worldview.

I used to believe, quite strongly, a lot of things that I no longer believe. My worldview has changed, often slowly-and-then-all-at-once, as I found my old beliefs simply weren’t tenable. Most recently, I’ve come to understand, to my chagrin, that my belief in my country’s (Canada’s) political independence from the US Empire was naive. I’ve come to acknowledge that that Empire has been systematically and intensively destabilizing and immiserating the lives of most of the world’s citizens, if they are unfortunate enough to live in countries that aren’t subservient to the Empire’s ideology, and have been doing so for my entire life. I’ve come to realize that my belief that the PMC are, if ideologically bent, nevertheless relatively informed about the world, open-minded, and inclined to seek collaboration and compromise to solve problems, was completely mistaken. I’ve come to appreciate that our newspapers and other media are not at all committed to seeking and telling the objective truth.

I suspect that, for many people, realizations like these, that totally undermine one’s worldview and belief system, would be gut-wrenching. But I’m preoccupied with knowing Why? Why has their conditioning led Canadian politicians, the Empire, the PMC, the media and others to behave in such nonsensical and self-defeating ways? Why did my own conditioning lead me to so completely misunderstand what has been going on? And Why, when there have been such astonishing opportunities for global peace, for redistribution of wealth, for solving the centuries-old problems of poverty and disease, for collaboratively tackling the horrific predicaments that are collapsing our civilization — Why at this 90-seconds-to-midnight moment has our conditioning instead led us to opt for preparations for an un-winnable, global, Empire-vs-Rest-of-the-World war? What madness has gripped our long-suffering species?

As I continue to study the lessons of history, and as the implications of us not having free will (one of the more bruising adjustments to my worldview) sink in, I am beginning to understand the answers to these questions. We have never been a rational species. We are now a severely damaged one, acting out our accumulated and collective trauma in increasingly destructive ways. We cannot help ourselves. We have created, with the best of intentions, massive, utterly dysfunctional systems that are now rapidly falling apart and which no longer serve us. The Tweedle parties in all of the Empire countries cannot find presidential or prime minister candidates who are not loathed by the large majority of their electorates. We recognize the massive and urgent existential threat to every one of us that is posed by global ecological and economic collapse, yet we are impotent to even start to address it. Hell, we can’t even manage something as simple as reversing the hare-brained idea of a Daylight Saving time adjustment twice a year, despite near-universal agreement on its folly.

All of which is to say: Knowing why horrific things are happening (and why desperately needed actions are not happening) in our world does not help us deal with them. This is the definition of a predicament — something that has no solutions, only outcomes.

If that’s the case, Why do we still want to know? If everything that’s happening is just our conditioning inevitably playing itself out, why is it important to know the reasons, if there are ‘rational’ reasons for what is happening at all? Metaphorically, if the doctor’s unambiguous diagnosis is “terminal”, what is the point of understanding how and why the disease progressed to its current state?

We have been conditioned, not only in our beliefs, worldviews and behaviours, but also in our compulsion to ‘know’. If our social group began collectively to turn off the mostly-uninformed-opinion mainstream ‘news’, along with social media’s incessant belch of righteous indignation, and instead focused our attention on what is happening here, now, in our local communities, then that might condition more of us to do likewise. But I doubt this will happen — our compulsion to ‘know’ is now an addiction, and ignorance of ‘what is going on’, and failure to have an opinion about it, is socially unacceptable. Irresponsible even. How can we know what to do, and which ‘lesser evil’ to vote for, if we’re not tracking ‘what is going on’?

Of course, it’s not as if we have any choice. I’m likely to continue to read the doom-scroll, though more and more begrudgingly, selectively, and superficially. Still, I sense I am getting closer to breaking the habit. There are other ways to “chronicle civilization’s collapse” than through lists of links and pretentious analyses of our political, economic, and ecological crises. My local café is a much more interesting place to observe what are likely the final years of the human experiment, than are the dismal pages of the media, including the social and ‘alt’ media.

Perhaps it’s more important, and more useful, to just witness, first-hand, right here, right now, what is apparently happening, and not try to understand why.

Maybe none of it has to make sense.

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6 Responses to Why Do We Want to Know?

  1. ronald young says:

    superbly expressed – and thanks for the link to your 2021 post about the things you once believed in! To change one’s mind is a fascinating process we don’t pay enough tribute to. I wrote recently about it here https://nomadron.blogspot.com/2024/02/changing-ones-mind.html

  2. Ray says:

    A small band of hominims, exchanging useful “news” on the savanna, in order to better survive in their harsh surrounding, makes perfect sense.
    Anything beyond that is pathological.
    Those surviving hominims have now evolved into a totally fucked-up species.
    Anything goes. Even wanting to know things about non-related distant people has become widespread. Why is that, if such info, distorted or not, is utterly useless for surviving in your own immediate environment?
    Something weird must have happened in our evolution to produce such a strange, curious mind.

  3. Vera says:

    “Still, I sense I am getting closer to breaking the habit.”

    Me too. I quit following three sources very recently, alternative aggregators that — as far as I can tell — were conquered from the inside as it were, into black pill machines. I will miss them in a way, but I just will no longer tolerate this crap.

    “Hell, we can’t even manage something as simple as reversing the hare-brained idea of a Daylight Saving time adjustment twice a year, despite near-universal agreement on its folly.”

    I heard somewhere that the pacific rim states are bucking this? Let’s stage a rebellion. Hare-brained it is, and we are all sick of it. No mas.

  4. Dave Pollard says:

    Ronald, Ray, Vera — Thanks for the comments.

    Update on abolishing daylight time — Oregon has passed the bill, but it only comes in effect once both Washington and California approve similar bills, and has a 10-year limit. “You go first!” “No, you go first.” “I asked you first.” Washington’s bill to do the same “died on the order paper” as we say in Canada — bipartisan approval but not enough impetus to actually get passed. Don’t hold your breath.

  5. Brutus says:

    I certainly get the same sense of fatigue and demoralization over doom scrolling and the apparent inability to put right even the easy things like daylight savings time. I, too, write less and less about collapse as time wears on because, as some of us have concluded, it boils down to “no solutions, only outcomes” as you mention. Not in the slightest an easy thing to put right. My god’s-eye view of the dilemma is that the master resource that makes this civilization run lost the ROI that allows us building or even maintaining, so things instead run down. That relatively simple observation has caused some to accelerate their looting of state treasuries and wealth of the citizenry in a — what? — desperate but misguided attempt to enjoy the waning days of civilization in opulence. Kinda stupid, really, but human institutions are set up to enable such behaviors and many have responded to conditioning by maximizing opportunities at the cost of their souls.

  6. foglight says:

    I’ve Gaza doom-scrolled daily for the past five months. Thanks to various past & present life experiences, the ongoing genocide feels personal to me. I read every story. I can’t look away. Everyone in Gaza reminds me of a student, patient, or close friend; I feel responsible for them though I have no power to change anything – there’s a word for that, I think, feeling responsible but lacking authority; it’s common in certain jobs. I struggle daily with the question posed by my 9th grade teacher, as essay prompt: Man’s inhumanity to man – why? (he happened to be Jewish; the class was 30 years after the end of WWII).

    I’ve come to terms with ecological overshoot & its progeny, including ubiquitous microplastics, rising oceans, an upcoming silent spring; the prospect of collapse doesn’t make me sad or anxious. I believe in humans’ lack of free will – as a species, anyway, even if we have the perception of free will as individuals. But: by both avocation & vocation I’ve spent my entire adult life as a caretaker, & there’s no way I can rationalize away the trauma some humans are intentionally inflicting on others right now in Gaza, with “my” country’s wholehearted support. There’s no way I can or want to turn off social media – though I do still fit in plenty of walks. Free will or no free will, there’s no way I can come to terms with such overwhelming, crushing cruelty & not perceive it as sociopathic & wrong, & not empathize with the intense human suffering. I guess that’s just my conditioning!

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