Friday, October 29, 2010

Tabula Rasa?

Each of us is not born a blank slate onto which knowledge is imprinted. The cultural and experiential knowledge we gain in our lives interacts with those parts of us which are inherent - our urges, our strengths and weaknesses, our genetic predispositions - to form the rich tapestry that we call our personalities. Some of these interactions are to our benefit, and some of them are decidedly not. Compare the fiction of Santa Claus, which kickstarts the process of long-term goal-oriented planning in children, with the fiction that a member of one race is somehow less human than a member of another.

Those who imprint their children with the fiction of Santa Claus dismiss this simple deception, satisfying themselves that at some age they will remove it, replacing it with truth. They know that a child will need more reasons to be good than the reward of pleasantly wrapped gifts, or the threat of coal-black disappointment. In the future, gifts might become paychecks, coal might become the baton of a law-enforcer, but there will be times when a person must make the right decision without carrot or stick.

Some fictions imprint entire nations and cultures. These well-meaning parents are no longer around to replace the fiction with truth when we come of age, and we are left to our own devices, trying to reconcile what we find in the world with the fictions they have given us. Like the child who needs more reasons to be good, we need more reasons to exist at all.

Let my people go. Free them from the fiction of their ancestral parents. Free them from ignorance, and superstition. Bring them out of Plato's cave. Bring them out of the dark.

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