Are You Hip?
“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.”
When I mention those words to people these days they often wonder, as I did when I encountered the phrase, “Who said that?” in the back of their minds, with an inquisitive countenance. The answers that float to one’s head differ from person to person but carry the same common thread. Some wonder if it’s Gandhi, Plato or perhaps Einstein. The beauty of the quote lies in the answer to that query. One way to approach it is to ask them have they truly listened to “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix would not be considered by the masses to be a “thinking person” of the highest quality, but this simple fact belies the great lesson taught here. If one’s mind is open to truly listening, then and only then can wisdom be gained by it.
Wisdom is needed more than ever in our time. We live at a time where the whole world seems polarized in a black and white construct replete with a new age good guy “cowboys” and the dark skinned bad guys, or “Injuns”. More than any other time in history we need dialogue, but most leaders instead speak these days with hands over their ears, never listening what the “other” side has to say. People claim to have knowledge, what the world seems to need more than anything else is wisdom. Wisdom to prevent wars and genocides from occurring unnoticed by mass media, wisdom to stop discrimination of all forms, and wisdom to help us to learn to truly understand each other.
Growing up in secular America, I came to accept two lies passed off as universal truths as true statements just like everyone else. I accepted them as true knowledge, and dismissed any voice that said otherwise (yes with hands over my ears). However something happened in two decades, I started to listen (my hands got tired) to the voices around me as incident after incident showcased to me that I really didn’t know anything; rather I was just good at memorizing the lies I was taught from a very young age. I struggle now to scrutinize everything, to get at the truth behind what is presented, and that process begins just as Jimi so eloquently puts it with listening.
So I listened. And perhaps I listened with the ear of a musician, or a person who yearns for the story to be more complex than a simple black and white explanation. Either way, overtime as I listened, those two truths became elucidated as the lies they truly were. The first universal truth of secular America is the following: Religion is bad and is the root of all wars and suffering humanity has faced. The number one case example that is often given to us is that of the Crusades. ‘The Crusades’, my state stamped history teachers argued could have been prevented had it not been for one factor: religion. This was corroborated by liberal media and conservatives who accepted the polarized worldview, and swallowed whole-heartedly by the masses around. Liberals denounced religion. Conservatives on the other hand embraced religion as a truth that helped them identify their side in an ‘us against the’ world constructed as a Clash of Nations.
The oxymoronic nature of this is that there is more in common between the three Abrahamic traditions than they have different and the Crusades itself is not about religion inasmuch as it is about economics. I understood finally after pouring over primary source after primary source as a student of history and an instructor of it, listening to what the voices of the past that lived the Crusades were truly saying. There were schisms in the Church, anti-Semitism in Europe, and a speech by Pope Urban of Claremont which for the first time seemed to justify violence via Christian religious argument, yet all the players in the grand game to follow were motivated by the universal evil, money. The wisdom I received from these voices was that even this iconic event that the pundits blame on religion was more about the basic human evil of greed and economics than it ever was about faith. Religion in many ways tempered what could have been even more horrendous of slaughter in instances.
Read Anna’s voice in the Alexiad, Solomon Bar Simson, the Fulchre of Chartes, and keep reading until you find Ibn Athir. There are accounts upon accounts of atrocities, but it goes further back than the even the Battle of Manzikert, into Western Europe, where there simply was too much in fighting amongst the Franks and Normans because of one simple fact: there was not enough land to go around. The Crusades were about conquest and religion became the excuse and instead of challenging that notion throughout the ages, we have accepted it.
Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying the flip side isn’t true, that religion cannot be distorted as a truth without dialogue and used to justify in the minds of mindless adherents that violence is the key… but it’s not religion that is the problem, it’s the interpretation that people put upon it. Religion itself would dismiss those arguments of those same interpreters, if people listened to the voices around them… for example; just take this universal truth in all religions: killing an innocent person is wrong.
The problem lies in the fact that we don’t listen to each other, the voices from the past or critically ask questions anymore. In addition it’s difficult to engage in a conversation with those who had not read the same material, travelled to the same places, and only know what they’ve been told and believe it to be true because a state sponsored system of simplistic education which seeks to explain the world as one of opposition. This black and white, polarized model certainly makes it easier for taxpayers to shell out money in support of cowboy like policies around our planet. No Child Left Behind, unless of course it’s an “Injun”.
What I’m seeking to pose from this stream of consciousness is not an answer but the need for us to question. This can often come across as an antagonistic approach so I turned to a means of communication that speaks to the human heart that explores these commonalities through sounds that human beings have embraced throughout the ages, in music.
More simply put I turned to Hip-Hop, the subaltern voice of the streets and language of the backpacks, basements and shadows. I called up Shabazz the Disciple of the Sunz of Man, known for being able to take what was Biblical and put it to the mic, and gave him a beat that we birthed, with my man Ian Heung on the horns. Our goal was to keep the song Abrahamic and showcase to the world that these traditions have more in common than they have differences. So we came up with “Basic Instructions” which can be seen here:
This brings us to the second universal truth taught to us, which ultimately was just another lie; the lie that science and religion were/are mutually exclusive. This is the greatest farce of the two lies. Considering that all of the greatest thinkers, scientists and mathematicians have been people of faith, and have found their creator in the study of the creation around them is all too often missed by those who do not study their scholarship in context. What has happened instead is their works have been simplified into highlighter versions and then those statements have been further repackaged for the masses to create a simplistic understanding of the world. An understanding where a higher power is marginalized and the highest power/or supreme law of the land is manmade. Isn’t it in the interest of a secular government to be the supreme authority in the minds of its citizens, instead of a higher being who they cannot control?
The song “Metaphysics” was the result of my process of engaging in that dialogue by bringing forth from the same subaltern lens, using boom-bap language that is hip-hop to the core and to delve into the minds of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and Rene Descartes and great thinkers, mathematicians and scholars. I meet them at the intersection of science and faith, exploring their mathematical proofs for the divine. The video can be seen here:
I hope that in these efforts to use the language that speaks to listening and by inviting dialogue that we can at a grassroots level grow and cultivate true wisdom. So let me end with the following consideration: please listen and share, and by listening I hope you find wisdom in the process of questioning in a world which presents false truths as ultimate answers and subsequently as real knowledge. I welcome dialogue with any and every one on both the issues here and beyond in hopes that by truly listening to each other we become wiser and the world around us becomes a better place for it. RIP Jimi, and thanks for inspiring us, we’re still listening!
— Professor A.L.I.