I like to read, and on occasion comment, on various weblogs I find interesting, thoughtful or amusing. It helps when doing this to keep in mind that for all of us who have opinions, “reality” is a somewhat subjective thing. Anyone who has read much history knows that “history” basically comes down to something that someone thought was important enough to remember. Of course, each person that sees something that’s important enough to remember sees only some limited portion of the event, and remembers only some limited portion of that. Initial accuracy of observation, as questionable as it might be, is still greater than accuracy of memories, as over time things are added to or subtracted from the memories, until the memory of the event may be strikingly different from the event itself. We can get around that to some degree by consulting as many independent eyewitnesses as possible, so as to get more closely to the core of the event. The trouble is, that as you go farther back in time, the number of actual eyewitnesses to history becomes smaller and smaller. It soon becomes the case that much of our history is based on the memories of a very few eyewitnesses, overlaid by the modifications of years and of other interpreters. This can actually lead to a dangerous situation where we can consult a variety of sources about a past event, and not realize that all or most of the sources we consult can be traced back to some very small number (perhaps even one) original eyewitness. All the variation we imagine we’re sifting through to get to the core of the event is simply the overlay of generations of other people’s errors and interpretations. And that’s the best case scenario – what if all we have to work from are some individual’s memory of the accounts of one or a few eyewitnesses, which memory itself has spawned a variety of subsequent, slightly different “sources”? It’s all too easy to consult a variety of “sources” and imagine we’re getting close to “the Truth”, when all we’re doing is collating the results of a big old game of “telephone”. Man, what would we do without “quotes”; I don’t think I could write. Them and (ellipses).
Anyway, there’s a reason for this – fill out with bit on comments, over-simplification, limited world view, and the line from warped assumptions (“is it true or false; that’s all that matters”) to meaningless or misleading conclusions. Also, how tiresome and time-consuming it is to try to communicate, even with close contacts who can accurately grasp ambiguous threads of meaning. Explaining to people who want to learn is hard enough – explaining to people who “already know” has become more than I can stomach, even if I had the time to go back and forth in comment threads with people I’m pretty sure I would dislike in person.