August 29, 2010
Theatres of Wisdom
(More from section two of Citizens Without Borders)
We have seen that Comenius proposed hiring coaches and advisors to assure that each and all do the right thing at the right time. Like Plato, he thought that wisdom is best taught through the arts. Comenius suggested for this what he called "theatres of wisdom,"
"I mean that all men should be wisely guided from the earliest age and constantly thereafter through the theatres of wisdom, and should all have endless opportunities of exercising their senses, their reason, and their faith." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 9, para 11, pp. 146-147)
These theatres seem to be combination of drama, simulations, games and experiments designed to allow each new generation to see the world with all their faculties of sense, mind and faith. Once we see all aspects of life from a balanced perspective, wisdom will come naturally. In that way, theatres of wisdom would inculcate an intimate appreciation of what he called pansophy, being universally wise.
Since Comenius' time, Buckminster Fuller experimented with what he called the World Game, a simulation using data about global resources designed to help youth grasp the complexities of running an entire planet. More recently, Jane McGonigal, director of games research for Institute for the Future at Palo Alto, California, has suggested that we tap into the vast pool of time and talent expended by gamers -- according to her there are now half a billion gamers who average 25 hours a week solving difficult problems. (Serious Fun, by Samantha Murphy, New Scientist, 22 May, 2010, p. 37)
McGonigal points out that we would do well to tap the resource of games and the vast army of gamers who have sprung up along with computers and the Internet, to solve some of the technical challenges of the present hour. For example, stopping climate change demands painful sacrifices -- right now -- for benefits that are long delayed, uncertain and all but invisible. This demands major lifestyle adjustments and offers few immediate rewards.
This problem was mastered long ago by the authors of computer games. They know how to tie long term needs with short term incentives in very compelling ways. So effective are their techniques that many find the games addictive.
Some computer and video games are already available specially designed for directly solving global problems. These include "Chore Wars," an online game designed to bring the clever incentives of computer games to the domestic problem of persuading family members to help with housework. Other games in the works include World Without Oil, which helps people think how to adapt to oil shortages, Food Force, for disaster relief, and Fate of the World, where players steer the planet through 200 years of a warming planet.
Undoubtedly, this is an excellent suggestion. Enlisting a vast army of clever problem solvers may well help alleviate some of the dilemmas caused by creeping climate de-stabilization. But the problem is that they attack a purely technical aspect of the problem. We cannot ignore Plato's crucial point in "The Laws" that we must above all concentrate upon becoming wise.
Once we grasp the harmonies of wisdom, we find joy in implementing justice. Long term thinking will become the default.
What is Wisdom?
Wisdom describes what happens when how fits why, when partial knowledge somehow comes together to form a harmonious whole. For most of us, an entire lifetime is barely enough to learn wisdom.
Wisdom is also a positive force, an energy source that induces love, attraction between the whole and its parts, between each part and its whole. In the Republic, Plato says, "Him we call wise who has in him that little part which rules, (which has) knowledge of what is for the interest of each of the three parts and of the whole." These three parts are found in both the soul and the state, and each must reflect the other in order for there to be life. "How can there be the least shadow of wisdom where there is no harmony?" Wisdom takes us beyond questions of directives and obedience; rather than force, its watchword is love and common feeling, the conformity of the dancer to the music.
Towards an Infrastructure of Wisdom
The next section of People Without Borders will be about the infrastructure that will result from the foundation of a democratic world republic. The first object of such a government will be to house every human being, and to see to it that everybody has all the necessities of life at hand. In order to do this they must initiate a globe-encircling building project with wisdom designed into the very brick and mortar of every home, structure and road. In order for this transformation to come about, we must be very clear on what wisdom is, and what wise leadership implies.
Why Elders are Excluded
In the West we tend to value the energy and skills of young people while marginalizing the old. We arrogantly proclaim that the reason we do this is because we put such a high value on technological progress. Old folks value a past that is dead and gone while young people break the bounds of what used to be thought impossible.
While nobody can deny that knowledge is exploding, or argue that technical progress is not proceeding faster than ever before, the fact is that we are not doing what we must to survive. We can make our handcart to hell move faster, but we have no control over its direction. Leaders refuse to respond to the destruction of the biosphere that keeps us alive and the heating up of the planet's climate. Instead of banning burning and all use of hydrocarbons outright, as a wise, sane leadership would do, we sit back and watch as our world leaders dither and stall in summits and international climate talks.
Why are we so paralyzed when survival requires quick, decisive action? I would argue that the real reason we have been putting young people first and ignoring the lessons of our seniors is simply that we are corrupt. The first sign of a corrupt society is to value youth before age, technicians before statespersons. A wise elder knows that it is foolish to concentrate power and wealth into the hands of a very few. A sage would suggest democracy. The wise, who ask "why" instead of "how," are the last people an oligarchy wants to set the agenda.
We associate wisdom with the sunset of life because in retirement a certain calm often sets in. We see what is otherwise obscure. The turbulent waves beating the pond of life settle into a smooth surface that reflects the whole of experience. Plotinus wrote that,
"Wisdom is a condition in a being that possesses repose. Think what happens when one has accomplished the reasoning process; as soon as we have discovered the right course, we cease to reason. We rest because we have come to wisdom." (Plotinus, qi Wisdom, Mortimer Adler, the Great Ideas, p. 939)
However, it would be a mistake to think that because the weak, sickly and old become wise that wisdom is weak, or a sign of weakness. The reverse is the case. Wisdom, like the sunlight hitting the earth, could -- if only we learn to use it -- become a far more powerful energy source than the dirty hydrocarbons we now burn.