I am told that successful blogs have to have strong graphics for the same reason that people need to shout in a crowded room to make themselves heard. The idea that the size of the audience can affect the message is an interesting one. Think about the mainstream press. The larger the circulation of a publication the more likely it is that the editorial content is going to be targeted by special interest groups, PR agencies, advertisers and and other ‘interested’ experts. The result is that most content in the mainstream press today is not original to the publisher but has been ‘placed’ there by one or more outside interest groups.
It is possible that this relationship between the message and the size of the audience holds true for most spheres of human activity. Take politics for example. A young idealist decides to go into politics wanting to reach as many people as possible, and hopefully change the world. But, having made that decision, his or her focus now has to change, from personally exploring and living the vision, to selling it. To do so, the young idealist has to make compromises, cut deals and spend valuable time massaging egos. The vision itself has to be cut and shaped to fit the distribution channel. Sometimes it is pounded completely out of shape and occasionally it metamorphoses into a monster. But more frequently, the vision is simply gutted of substance until all that is left is appearance. What went wrong? It’s not just the nature of politics. There is a deeper truth here, which is that if you attempt to reach out to a mass audience your message is likely to be distorted.
Let’s forget about changing the world for a minute and just think how difficult it is to teach even one person anything. My experience as the parent of a teenager has convinced me that nobody ever really learns anything unless they experience it for themselves. You certainly can’t teach anyone the really important things in life, how to be a good person, to love learning, to appreciate the simple things in life such as friends, family and community. These things have to be experienced. Furthermore, the experience has to include making mistakes. Betray a friend’s trust and you possibly lose a friend. Goof off on your homework and you will not go to the college of your choice. Cheat on your wife and …well, you get the idea.
If it’s true that we can’t communicate with very large numbers of people without distorting the message and if it’s also true that, even if we were able to communicate with them authentically, no real learning would take place, what are the implications? Here’s one for thoughtful contemplation. Imagine for a moment that we could design a perfect world, with no suffering, no illness, no need to work and material plenty for all. What would the citizens of this world be like? Would they be good people, who loved learning and appreciated the simple things in life? Or would they be spoilt know-nothings who lacked character because they never had to strive, to suffer or to work hard to achieve anything? Just think how much time, effort and money politicians already spend trying to build this ‘perfect’ world and you will understand the importance of the answer to this question.
If we can’t teach the really important things and if it turns out that it’s just not a good idea to hand the good life on a plate to people, (even if this was possible) what hope is left for an improvement of the human condition? I am reminded of the last sentence of a book I was forced to read in college, Voltaire’s Candide. At age 19 I could not appreciate the genius of Voltaire, who had his chief character, Candide, ignore the insistence of Pangloss, that this is the best of all possible worlds, and say simply, “we must cultivate our garden”. There is much debate about what Voltaire meant by this but I read it as a prescription to get on with our own lives, improving society not through vast schemes of social engineering, but one unit at time, starting with ourselves. Isn’t that challenge enough?*
*Members of the remnant will recognize the distinctly Nockian themes in this post.
“The reason there’s so much ignorance is that those who have it are so eager to share it.” Frank A. Clark