silos in terra incognita
understanding expert as limited
I’m not certain about what the objective is, but I have my theories. Over the years, we have been meticulously molded to accept the voices of experts over our own. It wasn’t always so. Now, our education system, the media, our ‘healthcare system’, and virtually every corporation and organization in the world hold up their anointed experts to convince us all of our inadequate knowledge or opinions on any given subject. We are outsmarted and overridden. We can no longer come to know things through our own paths, each of us contributing a piece to the whole. Instead, we are given the knowledge to know in the way the people in power want us to know it along with a side of directions on what we should do with it.
I didn’t notice how much this thinking had pervaded the collective until the so-called “pandemic” appeared. We had been conditioned to accept the experts for decades and there, amongst the fear and uncertainty, they made their grand debut. They came out in droves, taking the spotlight, centre stage, with their blasting microphones. All of us sat captive in the darkened seats of the audience. We were told to keep quiet, applaud when the sign told us to, be mindful of our neighbours. We were told that our use was in obeying orders, being the well-trained, dutiful, polite audience the experts needed us to be. And we did it. Most of us did it.
At intermission, many stood in line for the refreshments. Not all, but many. Some balked. Those that didn’t get in line were cajoled and harassed by those that did. There was an uneasiness. Finger pointing and venom became more acceptable than questions. Some walked out of the theatre and never looked back. Those that stayed laughed at their ignorance. Had they not listened to the experts? Who did they think they were?
But, in time, the experts revealed themselves to be mere mortals like the rest of us. Some were well intentioned. Some corrupt as hell. Some took their role just as the audience had, dutifully repeating what they were told to say. The longer the show, the more uncomfortable the audience became. Intermissions kept being called and the audience had to get back in line for more refreshments whether they wanted them or not. When they started mumbling to one another in their seats, the experts started wearing more intricate costumes and telling more terrifying stories with a whole orchestra accompanying them to drowned out the murmuring. It didn’t work.
Slowly, more and more of the audience members, lifted from the illusion. They left their seats and looked for the exit doors. One by one the audience members shuffled out of the playhouse. Some a little sheepish and achy from sitting so long. Others tried to quickly run out and not be noticed. Others had left earlier, in a cloud of bewilderment. But others stayed. You can still hear them yelling, “Encore! Encore!”
We are all, in some way, culpable. Without us, the stars of the show could never have been in the first place. An empty theatre doesn’t keep playing.
I have a thing for old children’s books with first hand accounts around pioneer life and the natural world. I have a nice little collection now. They’re books I didn’t read as a child. I didn’t read many books then, but have come to in my adult years either as books I read with our children or just ones I’ve enjoyed myself.
Many of these old books speak to skills and ways of being that are long gone now. I’m continuously in awe of the knowledge and deeply woven connection the people have with their place in the world. Their work is their life. They have a depth of experience and knowledge that only comes from necessity and the doing. They have lived and observed and learned. They each have their roles and expectations. People depend on them and they depend on others. There’s reciprocity and trust.
When the hogs and beef are harvested in the fall, every last bit is used. Everything from brined hams to the animals’ hides for boots to the tallow to make enough candles for a year is utilized. Each woman and man knowing their parts, taking on their roles to ensure each other will be well fed for a year. There’s a collective and that collective is the family and the neighbouring families that come to help and leave with their share of the bounty.
There were no books to tell them how to do things. There were no workshops or courses to take. Their knowledge was passed down and came with the driver of survival. On the shelves of their cellar were medicines made from roots and plants. Who told them that such things would be effective medicine? What’s the proof? Where are the studies and the references?
Again and again in these old stories, little peeks are given into a time when we were simply different humans. I hear we’re advanced today. I don’t buy it. I think we’ve lost something profoundly precious. Sometimes I’ll read a simple line like “The winds were howling. Pa looked up from his dinner plate and said, ‘There won’t be any outdoor work tomorrow. Looks like there’ll be snow for two to three days. We’ll go do the threshing in the barn’.”
Would any of us know from the sound of the wind on the walls of our house that there would be a blizzard for three days? Or would we need to consult the online weather channel?
In “Farmer Boy”, one of my favourite stories (mostly because they go into detail about how bobsleds and farming boots, wool suits and all of their food was made) there’s a simple few sentences that exemplify what I’m getting at. “Father was pleased. The soft snow was six inches deep, but the ground was not yet frozen. ‘Poor man’s fertilizer,’ Father called such a snow, and he set Royal to plowing it into all the fields. It carried something from the air into the ground, that would make the crops grow.”
Now, let’s just pause here shall we? I did when I read it. I read it and reread it and then read it to my husband, Troy. It seems simple enough, those few sentences, but they really captivated me. First, it’s the comfort with the mystery of it. They didn’t know what was in that snow, that specific early snow that blanketed a soft ground, that made it so special, but they knew it was. And they didn’t need to know all the whys in order to work with the gifts of nature. Is that not its own type of knowledge? It seems to me that today we are thick with the details and slim on the actions. Then, there were no studies or references or experts going from farm to farm, teaching them the latest facts, telling them what to do. There were no consultants to verify their findings. The ‘fact checkers’ were waiting to be invented. A person could confidently share what they knew and others were left to use their good brains and common sense to decide for themselves if this was worthy of practice in their own lives.
Another part in one of my old books speaks to a day in the fields. The men are working under the stifling heat of summer to scythe their hay and the women bring them cold egg nog, thick with raw milk and eggs. The tired workers devour it, each taking turns sipping the drink from the ladle in the full tin pail. Then one says, “Ah! That puts heart into a man!” and they continue on, going “back to work with will”, making the “scythes sing gaily”. Today, we measure the worth of our nourishment by its components, its nutritive value, it’s vitamins and minerals and labels. I’d rather find the value in how it “puts heart into a man”. How profoundly beautiful - that