February 09, 2006

We have trouble with the why.

All the other "core" questions -- who, what, where, when, how -- have nice, factual, testable answers, and thus fit well within the scientific methodology which evolved them and was evolved by them: what results can be duplicated, what will work (toward an end, because what is the point otherwise?), what won't, train oneself accordingly. Why does not, being directly relevant neither to the methodology or the goal of a methodology\goal-polarised society, and (thus?) is seen in our technology-based society as irrelevant except where its outlines can be superficially approximated by a combination of the other questions: creating pseudo-"why" questions which are really a disguised what/how/who: externally "objectively" descriptive, a morass of detail (disguising the absence of any substantial content) ... completely isolated, each from the other, as though nothing were connected or even should be connected that is not "objectively" replicable.

The how and what which so often substitute are questions of technology and of human beings compressed into technological molds: not why something is the way it is, but only by way of what it can be broken down and approximated into and how it can be made to be of use within a consumptive model of production. When the minimum-average becomes the norm, narrow skillsets replace even the attempt at mastery. We don't need to care, we don't need to understand, we just need to function within our narrow space -- and at all costs we must be discouraged from venturing outside that space: creativity, imagination, empathy is inherently inefficient, perhaps even the antithesis of efficiency. Just as the questions it hides within, the pseudo-why aims to narrow the question until it can be contained within a few discreet and potentially quantifiable datums, an objectified "is", the trait observed by the outsider ... all the outside explanation that should ever be needed. Narrowed down to de-contextualised meaninglessness, the various quirks of our society, primary "self-evident" values such as efficiency, every action taken becomes its own isolated cause and its own isolated effect.

Why , in contrast, is inherently a human question: entrenched paradox which arises always whenever outside observation tries to contain another living being. Thus, true why questions expand, and are inherently non-containable.

Having learned to be accustomed to control (of our environment, of those around us), we are uncomfortable with that idea. Maybe we are even afraid of it.

Even imaginative fiction, that last bastion of the inherently non-containable, increasingly abandons the why in favour of the how and what of plotline ... and nothing but plotline. On a popular level, at least, we seem to have been taught to accept that this is all that imaginative fiction should be: no longer ourselves seeking anything other than superficial events of plotline because expectation of anything deeper has been utterly amputated; no longer questioning even whether empathy is the responsibility of viewer or creator because empathy, as one expression of the why , is seen as increasingly irrelevant. Certainly there will continue to be ever greater sophistication of the how and what and who and where in all the various formats of art -- but of the background why , nothing: and no one even noticing that it has vanished.

Having as a reasoned and rational society removed the original primary Why, the Dieu le volt "because" of Job and a hundred other religions that sustained us through the Middle Ages and through some inertial time afterward, we seem after all not to have reasoned it into and through the vacuum that remains. Remove a greater guiding being from the equation and (faced suddenly with a yawning, unanticipated nihilism) quickly replace it with goal-oriented scientific methodology, quasi-or otherwise -- only -- and then further define process (isolated series of isolated units) as its own goal -- and suddenly the perceived relevance of why evaporates ... along with any real need to wonder why another person would act as they do, the only relevance of another person now being whether or not the outcomes of their actions are relevant to us, and in what manner. How [can we make them do what we want]? ... and if we can't, how can we get this clearly irrational being (because we cannot apply to it our rational how) out of our rational way?

Having found these substitute answers to these substitute questions, what need to go any further? Question, Answered, End.

But what happens when we finally discover our objective, rational, reliable, isolated Answer, doesn't?

Comments:
This piece is well-conceived and well-written. Even though I am well into adulthood, I still ask "why" a lot - simply because I like to know how things work, especially the mind.

My friends tell me to grow up. Hopefully, that will never happen. :-)
 
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