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Saturday morning quotes 8.32: Reason and Knowing

January 8, 2022

Now that we have transitioned into a New Year, it seems appropriate to take stock (without probing too deeply) of the the past year and look toward the possibilities of 2022. We have to face the fact that the world is not a better place today, but certainly not because of the reasons barked daily from the news correspondents ensconced in their caged kennels. Mostly, we are worse off today because of the news and the irresistible urge on the part of newscasters and their owners to define and control the message.

But enough of that for the moment. Our favorite mode of escapism is indulging in old music—a labor of love but a pursuit that is sadly much less relevant to the modern world than ever before. Lockdowns, quarantines and general isolation are modern realities that have indeed forced many to turn inward and concentrate on more quiet and personal music, but it turns out that many lute players today are just as obsessed with modern technology as they are with the ancient instrument, and it takes a unique personality to shut out the distractions of the modern world and concentrate on the message gleaned from dwelling in a subtle sound world of meaningful music. That means play the lute for yourself and others in close proximity and stop messing about with making vanity project videos to be posted on social media, for heaven’s sake.

We have discussed the personality of today’s lutenists before, and the years that have passed since that writing surely confirm our observations, but today we check in on the 17th-century lute evangelist, Thomas Mace. We have mentioned Mace and his 1676 book, Musik’s Monument in previous blog posts but we revisit the floridly printed pages of Musik’s Monument to share a few more liberally capitalized and highly italicized gems.

“…My 1st. and Chief Design, In Writing This Book, was only to Discover the Occult Mysteries of the Noble Lute, and to show the Great Worthiness of That too much Neglected, and Abused Instrument; and by Good Will to All the True Lovers of It; in making It Plain and Easie; (as now it will certainly be found) Giving the True Reasons, why It has been Formerly, a Very Hard Instrument to Play Well upon; And also why Now, It is become so Easie, and Familiarly Pleasant: And I believe, that Whosoever will but Trouble Himself to Read Those Reasons, which he shall find, in the First Chapter of the 2nd. Part of This Book; and Joyn his own Reason, with the Reasonableness of Those Reasons; will not be able to find the Least Reason to Contradict Those Reasons; But must needs Conclude with Me; That the Lute is a very Easie Instrument.”

Clear as mud? The final few extended clauses bring to mind that famous hoof-in-mouth specialist Donald Rumsfeld and his multi-layered obfuscation from February 12, 2002:

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns- the ones we don’t know we don’t know.
Donald Rumsfeld

Such intentionally confusing grammatical structures are put into play when members of the modern political class wish to say nothing useful despite their frontward projectile expulsion of words delivered while ardently covering their behinds. Fortunately, we have intelligent voices capable of parsing this language:

If Rumsfeld thinks that the main dangers in the confrontation with Iraq were the ‘unknown unknowns’, that is, the threats from Saddam whose nature we cannot even suspect, then the Abu Ghraib scandal shows that the main dangers lie in the “unknown knowns”—the disavowed beliefs, suppositions and obscene practices we pretend not to know about, even though they form the background of our public values.
Slavoj Žižek

The late Rumsfeld and his ilk represent an embedded criminal class that control public policy utilizing public funds, but remain entirely and flagrantly unaccountable to the public. How is it that our public policy is skewed by aggressive authority figures who promote their own interest above the good of the public? We live in a new age of authoritarianism, and the state of the world is reported in carefully crafted language that is meant to convey and reinforce a particular point of view.

We get more of our beliefs from the testimony of our fellows than from any other source. Little of our knowledge of the universe is directly tested by our own intuition, reason, experience, or practice. We accept on trust nine-tenths of what we hold to be true. Man is a suggestible animal and tends to believe what is said to him unless he has some positive reason for doubting the honesty or competence of his informant…We may say then that the prevalence of authoritarianism as a method of acquiring and testing truth depends first of all upon the limited nature of the individual and consequent dependence of each on the testimony of others; and secondly, upon the fact that authority makes its appeal to the suggestibility and credulity that is universal throughout the human species.
– Wm. Pepperell Montague, The Ways of Knowing, Macmillan, New York, 1925, p. 39.

There appears to be no substantive change on the horizon for 2022. Given the current state of the world, Reason and Knowing can only be attained through questioning authority. Returning to the words of Thomas Mace, we close with these important words on finding peace and preparing children to embrace the unknown world:

“For this Quality of Musick is a Gentile Quality at the very worst: And it will adorn your Children much more than ten times the cost can be worth, which you shall bestow upon them in the gaining of it.”
“Besides, it will make them acceptable to all ingenuous people, and valued among the best.
“They will be more capable of Preferment in the world, in case of any necessity.”

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