All I know is that I know nothing.
Socrates has supposedly said something along those lines. In Ancient Greek: Ἓν οἶδα ὅτι οὐδὲν οἶδα.
We live in an age of strong beliefs, values, and judgments, fiercely fought over on battlefields real and digital.
Social media are engineered to transform healthy communication into addictive connection and appraisal seeking; and rational into irrational, highly emotional decision making. Even to the extent that it influences voting outcomes.
Beauty standards taken to extremes, with digital retouching creating demigods and goddesses setting unobtainable goals for unfortunate souls who seek to resemble them.
Material wealth and the prestige of fake selves and fake lives are forming the foundations of a new religion, lacking, however, meaning and purpose, damaging the environment, and increasing the gap between the rich and poor.
The increasing disconnectedness of digital connectivity and the meaninglessness of many 21st century endeavours create a void that is filled by fake news, fake beliefs, unfounded claims, and fancy cults that pretend to aid humanity but in fact hide a network for sexual abuse and exploitation.
Seemingly religious people dressing like religious people, without the heart of virtuous people, promising those who do follow them extrinsic rewards before or after death, but preaching hell and damnation for those skeptical minds who seek the intrinsic reward of pure truth and virtue by becoming virtuous for the sake of becoming virtuous.
The void of meaninglessness is also filled with the claims of spiritual people who pretend to be “scientific”, without really understanding science.
And even scientists seeking prestige or needing funding commit intellectual sins by publishing “fake” science funded by stakeholders, or science without meeting proper methodological standards.
The lonely voice voicing rare truths cries out but is overwhelmed and silenced by the majority of voices who seek only the confirmation of beliefs they are invested in too much.
We are deafened by the shouts and noises of irrational manifestations, the suppressing totalitarian regime of the fake and judgmental, and the pretensions of ignorance.
Only in the silence of the acknowledgment of ignorance, the knowledge of not knowing or pretending to know anything, do we find the clarity of consciousness to answer the question: what do we truly know? For although we may well be inclined to believe many things – and to some extent rightfully so – we are ignorant of many, if not all things predicating by truthfulness and reality.
Socrates might have known a thing or two, but never claimed to know what he did not actually know. He challenged people with fixed beliefs who claimed to know what they did not know. And he was, if we may believe Plato’s narrative, poisoned for it.
Descartes came to cogito, ergo sum. Only knowing that he existed through his thinking, starting from an almost nihilistic standpoint of not knowing anything.
We may learn many things, but shouldn’t we be skeptical, be humble about what we truly know?
The world is full of stakeholders that want us to belief something, because they make money out of it, because it increases their status, or because it makes them feel more elevated as a social, religious, or spiritual idol.
Always return to the void, and keep asking yourself the question: what can I truly know, and how does it – whatever it is – truly benefit me and others?
Painting: François-Xavier Fabre – Museum of Art and History, Geneva
© 2019 Marcel van Delft