Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Archaeology of Knowledge

Here's an interesting exploration... Historically, what is the origin of each idea or belief that we have today? What is the origin of democracy? What is the origin of our right to vote? Think about it. This was not always a "right" and so it must have appeared at some point in history. That is, there was a time when people did not vote or have a say in who ruled them and made the laws that governed their lives.

And even then, when the notion emerged, only some people had that right. Women did not have this right. Nor blacks. Which means that at a certain moment in time this changed. And both of those things changed in a very recent point in time in this country.

This kind of meditation was stimulated for me by Michel Foucault's philosophical explorations in his difficult, but not totally inaccessible, The Archaeology of Knowledge. He strives at one point to probe into who decides what behavior is acceptable, and what is not. In particular, how did some behaviors get people cast into "snake pits" (nickname for insane asylums) and others were not thus treated.

Part of his focus has to do with moral behaviors. Who makes the rules? Had Oscar Wilde lived today there is no way that he would imprisoned (two years) for his homosexual behavior. Today the thorny issue is not whether homosexuals should be imprisoned but whether they should be able to get married.

These are but examples of how the world is in flux.

One of the difficulties today is the disruption certain ideas have as they collide with other cultures. I think specifically of the empowerment of women. We've come a long way since women's suffrage and the right to vote was given to the fairer sex. Women run for office and run many organizations and corporations today in the U.S. Simultaneously, we see women in many parts of the world still treated as second class citizens. And it wasn't that long ago in this country that the highest many women were expected to aspire for was to provide offspring and heirs.

What seems obvious at one point in time is not always so obvious from another point in time. In many Muslim states certain Western ideas are a great threat to the balance of power within the social structures which are interwoven throughout the fabric of their lives. How liberate women without the destruction of men? Or is the very notion itself absurd in this context?

Life is complicated. My waking thoughts took me down a different path today as I pondered where certain ideas come from... and how we should never take anything for granted.

Think deeply, embrace life fully. And have a great day.

1 comment:

Adee said...

a mind-opener to say the least.
and i need to get hold of this book now :)