Accepting change

More than 2,000 years ago, a Greek thinker, a “philosopher” is reported to have said that “panta rei” — that is, “everything changes.” Or another supposedly said, “You can’t step in the same river twice.” It was probably a shock to the people in those days.

In the English language there is what I consider a nice distinction between “ignorance,” meaning “not knowing what one should know,” and “nescience,” meaning “lack of knowing,” or “not aware,” of something.

In human history people knew what they knew from the experience they had and the knowledge available to them. For humans as hunters, fishermen and people who gathered what was around them to survive their local area was their “world.” For them, and for many generations, what they saw was that the “sun rises and sets.” As time went on, they coined the term for a body of water as the “Medi-terreanean”, that is the middle of all lands. When Copernicus and others said that the universe did not revolve around planet Earth, but that Earth was simply revolving, it was a shock and many rejected the idea. Now we know that is the reality.

There comes a point then when “nescience” becomes “ignorance,” that is when people realize that in light of new discoveries, that can be tested and verified, what they had accepted as true in the past was no longer true but refuse to accept the facts, they become “ignorant.”

Among human beings, we like to cling to what we have been told by those older and more experienced in life. We want to hold on to what we have come to accept as an explanation when we learn that our ideas are out of date. It is hard for us as humans to admit that “maybe I was wrong.” There are, of course, those who keep defending the old “wisdom” in the light of new discoveries, because they have a vested interest in keeping the “status quo.” They benefit from the way things are. It is often those on the fringe of society, the young, those who suffer and do not benefit from the system, who become open to change and new ideas, new ways of seeing things.

I am not saying that we must reject the “wisdom of the elders,” because there are some basic things that people have learned from experience about human life. When my old Tlingit friend Walter Williams told the story of how Raven created humans from the beach grass blowing in the wind, he sometimes said that explains why “Our leaders change their ideas, like the grass blowing in the wind.” Or, when the Book of Genesis in the Bible says that the temptation presented to Adam and Eve was that if they ate of the apple, they would “Be as God determining good and evil.” These are still concepts that apply to human behavior today.

And so for me, as I learn that our planet is just like a speck of dust in what we call the Milky Way galaxy, and that we are now learning that there may be trillions of similar galaxies, I realize that I was “nescient.” I just didn’t know these things. When we see a world population of 7 billion people, not just tribes or nations, I see that things are going to change around the world. When I see that our weather, our climate is changing, I have to admit that change is happening.

And so, I guess that puts me in the position of being a “liberal,” that is one with an open mind accepting the changes I see in life. I am also a “conservative,” accepting that there are some things we have learned from the past, from our ancestors, that are still the best explanations we have.

But is the idea that one has to be either a “liberal” or “conservative,” the absolute truth? Must everything be black or white with no possible middle ground? Or could it be that as change takes place we have to learn to accept and live with the real world around us?

We have to move from “nescient” to trying to understand things, without becoming “ignorant.” Our ancestors were not stupid nor ignorant; they were simply nescient.

• Olson, is a professor of anthropology (emeritus) at the University of Alaska Southeast.

What’s on your mind?

The Empire welcomes your My Turn column. Please limit your submission to 700 words. The Empire only publishes one letter or My Turn a month per writer. Send yours to editor@juneauempire.com.

More

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 11:53

Stand with Alaskans and stand with Planned Parenthood

I appreciate Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s recent decision to support repealing the Trump administration’s global gag rule. The global gag rule bans federal money for overseas family planning programs if the programs also provide abortion, or provide information about abortion. The global gag rule puts thousands of lives at risk, and Murkowski has rightly recognized that. I praise Murkowski, and want her to know that Alaskans stand with her in supporting access to family planning services. This means that we support Planned Parenthood, and we hope she will stand with us in the coming weeks by refusing to vote for any changes to the Affordable Care Act that include defunding Planned Parenthood. Read more

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 08:42

Alaska editorial: The opioid issue

This editorial first appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News:

Read more
Wed, 02/22/2017 - 08:41

Expanding apprenticeship in rural Alaska

We are proud to announce a new statewide training initiative: the Alaska Maritime Apprenticeship Program. Over the past year, the Calista Corporation, in partnership with the state and federal government, has built a Registered Apprenticeship program to train Alaskans for careers on deck, in the engine room, and in the galley, earning both a salary and an industry-recognized credential. Working with a group of companies including Brice Marine and Yukon River Towing, we are expanding career and training opportunities for Alaskans in the maritime industry.

Read more
Wed, 02/22/2017 - 08:40

Transboundary mining: Defending Alaska’s interests

It is a big week for Alaska’s capital city. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan are in town to address the Alaska State Legislature, the United Fishermen of Alaska (UFA) Board of Directors, and all Alaskans. There are a number of issues on which the state of Alaska, including our elected decision makers at both the state and federal levels, can show unity. One of those critical issues is asking the U.S. federal government to defend Alaskan interests in the Alaska-British Columbia (B.C.) transboundary mining issue.

Read more

CONTACT US

  • Switchboard: 907-586-3740
  • Circulation and Delivery: 907-586-3740
  • Newsroom Fax: 907-586-9097
  • Business Fax: 907-586-9097
  • Accounts Receivable: 907-523-2230
  • View the Staff Directory
  • or Send feedback

ADVERTISING

SUBSCRIBER SERVICES

SOCIAL NETWORKING