Chelsea: The Truth Will Set Me Free
Booth presented a lot of really interesting arguments about education and freedom. He explains that college is not necessarily the best place to really learn because it’s so based on vocational training and social climbing. Part of learning is understanding people’s meanings, finding out what other people believe and how they live their lives based on those beliefs. This understanding is hard to achieve in school, but I’ve done a lot of real learning outside of school. One of the places that has been the most educational for me is the Dominican Republic (DR).
I have spent the last four summers traveling to the DR on mission trips. While there I have learned more Spanish and confidence in speaking it than in all of my years of Spanish classes in school. I’ve also learned more about people than in any psychology class and more about God than in any religion class. People who lived in nothing more than shacks invited me into their homes to share their scarce food with them. They offered me the best that they had simply to shower love and blessing on me. They served me like no others have served me before, and in being served I learned what it really means to be a servant. I sat in the floor of an orphanage and held a tiny boy named Joan whose body was so broken and his mind was so trapped but I learned from that quiet thirty minutes more about God’s strength and His overwhelming love for His children than I have learned in my entire life up to this point. I can’t even explain how much I have learned and freed my mind, to use Booth’s definition, from spending only two weeks in a village and never even entering a classroom or opening a textbook.
The Dominican Republic and her people also taught me a lot about truth. Just like Plato illustrated in his allegory of the cave, it’s often a lot easier to live with lies than with truth. He talks about the man who was able to escape the cave, experience reality, and then returned only to find his fellow prisoners trying to kill him for telling them the uncomfortable truth that the place they lived was only a shadow of the real world.
This scenario is really applicable in today’s culture, and I’ve experienced it first hand in the DR. It would be so much easier to live our comfortable lives in the U.S. than to realize that there are destitute and starving people living in the dirt, that there are people who throw their children in the garbage (literally) because they have disabilities. It would be easier to ignore the fact that young women are sold into the sex trade every day, and that men come specifically to places like the Dominican Republic to participate in it.
The problem is, once we learn truths about the brokenness of the world, it’s impossible to go on ignoring them. When we learn hard truths it’s difficult to share them with others because people don’t want to have to feel responsible for truth, to learn things that disturb their perfect lives.
I don’t want to live a comfortable life. I don’t want to hide from truth just because it’s hard to handle sometimes. I want to “attack my ignorance” like Malcolm X. He spent time reading and learning other people’s beliefs and truths about the world so he could figure out what it meant and reconstruct those truths in his life in order to find freedom. I too spend time reading, listening, and watching so that I can learn and walk in the truth I discover. I want to know the things other people don’t necessarily want to know, things that are painful and hard and beautiful and incomprehensible. I want to know why people believe and behave the way they do. I want to know God and follow His way. I want to experience His reality and then bring others out from their caves of lies no matter how difficult it is. I want to be truly free – the way God created us to be.
Micah: Unnatural skills
Wayne Booth proposes four “R’s” that are vital to the liberation of the mind. He states that in order to be actually, intellectually free to make any choice, we must first be informed and educated, otherwise our choice exists only as illusion; unless a liberal education in its literal sense makes us analytical and critical enough to think well, we can only pursue causes and passions based on our whims. Booth identifies the tenants to a liberating education as Recovery of meaning, Rejection of falsehood, Representation of ideas, and Revolution of thinking.
Recovery is not the first facet of education by mistake. It is foundational to the pursuit of intellectual, intangible liberty, and it is the aspect of education most susceptible to attack, in my generation even more so than in Booth’s.
In order to free our minds to make intelligent decisions, we must be able to understand what our choices are. In a world where wars are fought to win minds, we must be able to perceive, to identify with and truly comprehend the causes we are being called to. What Booth calls the “recovery of meaning” I understand to be the development of the skill called “listening”. When a man presents an argument, when a cause calls for our support, when a movement makes its intentions known, we are only equipped and freed to invest and devote ourselves if we have cultivated the skill of taking in and understanding what we are being taught.
I use words such as “development” and “cultivate” because this skill does not grow naturally. Rather, as Booth points out, the natural man tends to understand intimately just how much of an imbecile his neighbor is. Each of us must fight against the tendency to understand our own selves (ideas, thoughts, emotions, etc.) as the noblest and wisest selves against which the rest of our race ought to compare itself. That tendency appears within us subtly. Rarely are we possessed of such arrogance to give words to the notion that others probably exist in some lesser, smaller sense, but the self-centered inclination is still there. That is why Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is so readily embraced in word and so rarely enacted in deed.
That is why in this season of political campaigning it is so easy to find people entirely eager to demonize and blame all of our national ills on a contrary political opinion and its adherents. This willingness to cast aside ideas as worthless without truly investing in and comprehending them must be combatted in order to win freedom. That training of the mind to understand, that combat against our natural tendency towards immediate dismissal is what Malcolm X referenced as “attacking your ignorance” by seeking understanding.
In Booth’s society, and frightfully more so in ours, the recovery of meaning, intentional understanding, is cast away as a remnant from a backward educational past as opposed to the hope for mental liberation. Our age of massive, overwhelming waves of information referred to often as “the internet” wipes away the immediacy of our need to truly comprehend and seek meaning. There is so much information available, so much quantity, that the most natural thing to do is to withdraw entirely and passively drink from the infinitely wide and insipidly shallow streams of information. Acceptance without question leads to the simultaneous adherence to contrary systems of thought that Booth describes and that George Orwell called “double-think”.
The recovery of the meaning of messages saves us from the intellectual bondage of ignorance. From that recovery flows the concept of rejecting those concepts discovered to be disjoint from reality. Then when the dross is rejected, the representation of a more perfect and useful thought resurrects the originally recovered message. Finally, when these three skills are honed enough, a completely new revolution of thought becomes possible. But all must begin with recovery.
- 1984 by George Orwell
- The Gospel of John
- “There is a War Going on for Your Mind” by The Flobots (song)
- What’s Supposed to be Going on Here? By Wayne Booth