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Ignorance and Illusion – Obstacles to Enlightenment

August 11, 2009

“Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

– William Shakespeare, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Act 3 scene 2

I don’t tend to delve too much into politics. Having spent a large portion of my professional life in government contracting, I was able to see the ins and outs of a system that I believe is broken (with its corporate lobbying, deals over cocktails, and the ‘you pass my bill, I’ll pass your bill’ way of doing things – to say little of the polarization of the parties, etc., etc.) and I don’t feel like wasting my energy on it. However, it is hard to avoid politics completely when you have to live with the system, and so I turn to the likes of Jon Stewart (kinda sad that the fake news is the best news) and Bill Maher to get my daily and weekly updates on all things politico (probably because they are entertaining commentators on the drama). Maher recently wrote a New Rule entitled: New Rule: Smart President ≠ Smart People that I found pretty spot on about this country we call America (although what is expressed is symptomatic of a lot of the world). The main part of the New Rule I want to focus on is the following:

And before I go about demonstrating how, sadly, easy it is to prove the dumbness dragging down our country, let me just say that ignorance has life and death consequences. On the eve of the Iraq War, 69% of Americans thought Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11. Four years later, 34% still did. Or take the health care debate we’re presently having: members of Congress have recessed now so they can go home and “listen to their constituents.” An urge they should resist because their constituents don’t know anything. At a recent town-hall meeting in South Carolina, a man stood up and told his Congressman to “keep your government hands off my Medicare,” which is kind of like driving cross country to protest highways.

– Bill Maher from New Rule: Smart President ≠ Smart People

Daniel Boorstin once said that “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.” And this where the bit from Maher ties into this whole enlightenment thing. Take the guy from South Carolina – he is so whipped into a frenzy by what he’s been fed (I’d guess he’s probably been feeding on conservative talk radio), that he doesn’t even know the facts about his own Medicare. And so, he will storm the town-hall and trumpet an agenda, full in his righteous knowledge that is only an illusion of his ignorance, and end up as an example for Bill Maher’s thesis on American stupidity, unaware of the fact that he is his own obstacle towards discovering the reality of the situation.

What’s really scary is, even in the face of facts, there are those who are unwilling to look at the error of their previous thinking, standing in their resolute pride, ignorant of the fact that it is not their pride they are standing in but their own bullshit (such as those who still think that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11). Ignorance in itself is not scary as it cannot stand up to the light of truth. What is frightening as hell is the illusion of knowledge because that illusion maintains the ignorance.  And until you wake up to that illusion, you’ll have no chance in hell of overcoming ignorance, let alone becoming enlightened.

Illusion is Maya, a force with a sole purpose of distracting you from the truth, and it uses the illusion of knowledge as one of its main weapons to keep you ignorant of the real. And the only way to overcome this Maya, to rid yourself of its grip, is to find out the truth for yourself, not take someone’s word for it just because they have a credential, or a talk show, or a bestselling book, or write a daily blog. This is where you come in, this is where you realize that you are central to the story, this is where you come to terms with the fact that its all about you, and nobody else. It is up to you, and you alone, to find out the truth for yourself.

The fact is, many in this world are sheep, led by shepherds that are as blind as they are. They believe everything their chosen shepherd tells them, never questioning, never thinking for themselves, just bleating on about what they are told by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill Maher, a spiritual master or guru, or their church, parents, or book club. And they will continue to be sheep until they wake up to the fact that they are so. This vital step is the beginning of the awakening that leads ultimately to enlightenment.

If you want the enlightenment, you gotta wake up, quit being a f**king sheep, and start to think for yourself (all of which require work, accountability, and a whole lot of deconstruction of previously held beliefs). But think of the alternative – sleeping through life and/or being led to slaughter.

Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 15:14 –  Leave them alone. They are blind guides of the blind. If one blind person leads another blind person, both will fall into a ditch. (International Standard Version translation)

And generally speaking, nothing good comes from falling into a ditch. Especially if you are blind and can’t see to find your way out.

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