This morning, I threw myself into resolving one of the biggest problems. A friend of mine wanted to start a study group on revolutionary thinking, and he asked me to lead it.
Ten of us showed up. I had asked people to work the first three modules from http://lilleskole.us/school/abcs/abcs.htm. I don’t think any of them did. The Little School has short essays and 3-4 questions on each page. Students are supposed to read the essay, if needed, and then take a shot at answering the multiple-choice questions. I don’t think any of them figured out how to click on the choices until I showed them personally. Even after that, they were critical of the format. One of them offered to re-write the school using better formatting, and I gladly agreed.
Still, they were a nice bunch of young revolutionaries with memberships in various organizations around town, especially the largest group: Democratic Socialists of America. They listened to me rave on for ten minutes or so.
I said that we can expect a large vote for Donald Trump in the next election, even though it makes no sense. People do all kinds of things that make no sense, because they aren’t necessarily using common sense. Common sense is just the sum of what we have experienced so far. It’s usually adequate for most situations.
But many people, possibly most people, don’t even use common sense when deciding political questions. They use superstition, religion, or what they might call their “sense of right and wrong.” In other words, they use their feelings.
Both our feelings and our common sense were formed, I argued, under the rule of our present system. Everything we read, hear, or view was either written by our bosses or approved by them before it got to us. Every textbook, every movie, every song, every TV newscast, and every radio program.
So if we are going to start thinking rationally, we have a lot to overcome. Even more interesting is the fact that some things have never happened to us and therefore are not represented in our “common sense” at all! How do we go about understanding things that are entirely new?
I went on to contrast the two fundamental branches of philosophy: Idealism and Materialism. Materialists believe that truth comes from the real world. Idealists believe it exists somewhere else and the real world is just an imperfect version of it. The exact location of this ideal world is unknown and probably doesn’t matter, they might say. But the truth is that it exists in their heads and is just another way of saying their feelings.
I warned the class that they would have a hard time with the rest of this study group if they did not accept materialism, at least for the purposes of this sequence of events.
Then we went around the table with questions and answers. When it came my turn again, I answered. Students asked why we had to study tiny little steps on things that we already knew. The best question was “Why do we need to study this stuff at all?”
I surprised myself with what I consider a very good answer. I said that we study this stuff, even these small building blocks, because we would like to unify all the newfound revolutionaries that are peopling America since the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign. They don’t agree on much and they don’t even have a framework within which they could seek agreement.
So we are studying this framework. Eventually, we will have a way to make sense of the world to ourselves and to others. Then we can help unify this factious movement and move on toward victory. Until then we will be discussing things forever, just as other movements before this one have done. A good example, I said, was the Occupy movement of a few years ago. Pretty good answer I thought.
We’ll meet again in two weeks. I asked them to study the next three modules on why people think what they think, change is constant, and how to understand history. I also suggested they read the short version of the booklet, “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific.”
Yes, these are small steps. But I’m leading up to something!