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of stars and dumb humans

We are living in a world wide village; we have more access to information than ever in the history of the human species. We are so much bombarded with ideas like this that we take them for granted, along with the “fact" that nowadays we are wiser and more rich(1) than ever. Most people tend to consider the past as an era full of superstitions, lack of, or false, knowledge comparing to the modern era dominated by the infinite wisdom of science and the vast library of internet.
But as is usually the case, one has first to criticise and if necessary reject the truisms of one’s era in order to seek any truth. So even if I was not by instict defiant of all these facts that I am forced to believe, the first cracks in my belief system of our wiser than ever era would appear two years ago in a warm summer night in the beach of a greek island. Two people we met there were with us – both around 28, both working in athens, one also a graduate of a college, in a few words two common representatives of our time- and as the mood was, we made some unpolite comments about the stars and their insistency on spoiling the blackness of the sky every night to receive the amazing question by these two people: “what are the stars, by the way?". They were not joking: they had no idea what are these shiny points in the sky, no explanation whatsoever. And they were really surprised to be informed that almost all of them are in fact suns like our bright sun(2).
It just happened that I mentioned the fact while travelling in europe some time later only to receive the same comment, “but what are the stars, are they really suns, no, it can’t be". And then it became like an obsession to me to mention the fact around and ask people –people active in their city, musicians, art-people etc- and mostly I was getting nonsense like “then why are they not so bright as the sun?" or “then why are they so small?".
Try to think this: stars are something you watch almost every night, even if you live in a city, you can see them hanging above you, they are part of your everyday experience, people in love foolishly enough tend to offer them in their beloved ones and still most of the people have no fucking idea what are these lights! It is not that they have a false explanation, this might be ok, if they were telling me that they are explosing comets, or even the torchlights of gods, I would prefer it. What is worst is that most people have never bothered to find an explanation, have never wondered about it. This sounds more dumb than wise to me, wouldn’t you agree? In fact, it sounds pathetic, infinitely sad and stupid. To never wonder what is reality around you.
I was really depressed to explore a bit further this case of modern ignorance: from that sad new york artist girl who when asked replied that there were 20 billion (I insisted, billion, not million) people living in new york (what is more sad, she has never thought about it before), to the greek student who thought the various races of dogs are created through breeding with other animals (like bears and deers for instance), the vastness of human ingorance for simple facts related to their everyday experience, was devastating. What’s more, most of these people, ignoring vital information about their immediate environement, would contain detailed knowledge about useless nonsense like the new models of sony, tv serials or new trends.
How this generalised ingorance, this undisputable social poverty, can be reconciled for the supposed bigger-than ever affluence of information? Technology made printing of books and magazines much easier and cheaper thus widely available and radio, tv and lastly internet offer mass acces to information. But all this ingorance still happens and it is because and not depsite of all the technology of mass accessible information.
The modern man is bombarded by useless information. Every modern european city is flooded with "free magazines" and for most people these are the easiest things to read: and they don’t recognise the fact that all these crap is just advertisement leaflets; any article or feature there exists only to make you see the ads there and to trick you into calling it a mag and not an ad leaflet and thus preventing you from just throwing it away. Radio, television and –in a lesser extent- internet are means of power: thus all the information available there simply accompanies advertisements or has the only goal to keep the workers-producers calm and working and producing. Very few people make information available to the wide public for the sake of wisdom – most they do it because they are paid to do it and those who pay them just want to sell their products and secure the condition of the ever-repeating work-consume cycle.
People also tend to be conditioned to accept valid information only though mediatised information; I myself have witnessed the sad fact that many people after a riot in athens are anxious to return home and see what the television has to show about it. Thus, their experience is validated: it was true because the tv showed it, no matter that they, in the first place were present in the actual event. People are bombarded with so much useless information that they reach a state of apathy towards their environment: their brain tends to block most of the info leaving access only to the most canny and comfortable means; mostly television news and advertisements.
Moreover, less and less people have the time or simply the ability to just sit and wonder what is really happening around them or take a walk and observe things and try to find explanations for them. Walking in big cities is a case of danger of being run over by a car and noise and air pollution and besides, there is not much to see except advertisements, cops and shops. Driving is even worse: everything outside the car screen becomes unreal, like watching it from a tv screen. and anyway time is so fragmented and organised: there is not really such a thing as free time anymore- the time one is not working is spent on recovery from work or on consuming goods or experience (like holidays for instance). You don’t need to know what is really happening around you anyway; all you need to know is how to do what you are paid for best and to be socially acceptable enough in order to reproduce and offer capitalism some more workers-consumers (which you grow with your own cost).
Even when one’s studying something the spectrum of knowledge (s)he is bound to aquire is far more narrow than before: we live in the era of specification and one can be a really great expert in sub-atomic physics let’s say and still being competely unable to write a simple thesis. Let alone to understand some complex social relations and structures or philosophical matters.
So what passes for knowledge for modern people is some abstract knowledge of facts completely unrelated to their immedetiate experience. Most people know about the dinosaurs for instance but that is something that could be as well a fabrication – but the same people are completely ingorant of things happening in their own neghbourhood.
We live in an era of extreme information and extreme ignorance: an era of generalised spiritual poverty. Modern human is maybe the poorest human in history. In this aspect a primitive person of a let’s say hunter-gatherer tribe of south america is far wiser: she has a detailed knowledge of his immediate physical environment (plants, animals and their properties) and also holds a detailed explanation system of metaphysics or social machanics. And I am sure that she will at least have an eplanation about the appearance and disappearance of these tiny lights in the nigth sky.

1. The issue of poverty exceeds by far the goal and space capacity of this article, but:
a) poverty is mostly a social relation and not an issue of how many goods one is possessing
b) if we want to discuss poverty (and affluence) as absolut values then the only definition of richness/poorness we can accept is the amount of freedom or control over one’s reality. A member of the aristocracy of the western society of late 18th century was rich: (s)he could move free to vast areas of experience with vey few things unavailable to her. A “rich" manager of a multinational company of early 21st century is poor: (s)he has to work and suffer countless social and political conventions and have vast areas of experience completely restricted to him.

2. Just in case: (according to the scientists) stars are celestial bodies who produce vast amounts of energy through nusclear fusion. Our sun is a typical rather small star. Stars appear small in the sky because they are far-far away. Not every celestial body is a star though: we see venus for instance in the sky despite the fact that venus is a planet (like earth you know) because venus is relatively very close to earth and because it reflects the light from our star (sun). But mostly stars are like suns.

 

 

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