I swear I can be the most long-winded person ever. I really need to quit being so wordy. Eh. Perhaps next week. If there's anything Americans love, it is handouts.
(Have no fear, I am not about to get political. There will be a point somewhere below this)
There is this very strange psychological condition that goes into the system of consumption that is so engrained in our American culture - that price = quality. I was talking with my friend John about a business venture he's trying to start where he's building custom, incredible quality, fantastic sounding (I've played one) guitar amps to try to get his foot in the door of the boutique guitar gear world. We were talking about how to price them, and we had two thoughts: one, completely drop the bottom off it and sell them as cheap as costs and labor can allow so that whoever wants one can afford one. It could spread with Walmart fervor as soon as people realize how cheaply they are getting a product of immense quality.
The other thought was the complete opposite: load it with all of the premium parts money can buy and shoot the price through the roof to put it in the hands of a select portion of the market while at the same time creating a brand image of finest quality tubes, transistors, body, tone, and therefore the finest quality amplifier. The jacked up price would put it in a price bracket along with BadCat, Matchless, Dr. Z, and a whole slew of long-established, globally-recognized, top-of-the-line guitar amplifiers. All because of the price.
Why was this second option even considered, much less favored? Because as Capitalists we associate price with quality, especially in the guitar world. And the car world. And the breakfast cereal world. In the America world.
(This is not my point either. Stay with me.)
It has been proven in countless case studies that I have read in various advertising and economics classes that brand loyalty and the price = quality association that this is how our brains have been wired in our ingenious Capitalist system. So it is interesting, then, how obsessed with "free" we are. Pulses quicken, hands become hungry and whet with the desire to obtain whatever it is that will be given to us at absolutely no monetary or physical charge, regardless of the quality of the item. Really, regardless of the item. I'm guilty of it too! It is embarrassing how many books I will never read I have taken out of the "free" bin at McKay's until I realize that I have no need for them and reluctantly resist the urge to take what is given to me and eventually place it back in the basket. When something is free, we disregard quality almost immediately and snatch up whatever is being given away, knowing we can at least stash it on a shelf in the basement.
The Information Age So if the above is true, and my experience has told me that it is, what does this say about us who are consumed in the Information Age, more importantly, the Free Information Age? A large group of people bent on acquiring knowledge through whatever means necessary. They'll listen to whichever voice gives it to them at the least cost to them: whoever is funniest (requiring less effort to remain alert), most interesting (requiring less energy to get excited), and most accessible (requiring less energy to search out truth) is the one who gets the audience. They are the tap to the dried sponges of the masses. We are by nature looking for something to believe in and so when the most eloquent and the most captivating come along with a viable option with enthusiasm and incredible intelligence to back it, before you know it you have the Third Reich and an army of passionate robots ready to follow their leader.
Knowledge is the most dangerous word in our language, simply because it has become incredibly unstable. Its roots get all tangled and people get confused about what is real. Pretty soon the point of knowledge is winning arguments or making it look like you deserve those Buddy Holly glasses and ripped jeans and the tattered copy of "On The Road" that you keep in your back pocket. Enough people start flexing what they call knowledge about what they call truth and pretty soon everybody's twisted versions of what truth actually is don't add up. So then they start believing that there is no truth, because everyone's ideas are all floating around in the most vast of wastelands supported by nothing but their assurances of "Trust me: I'm right."
It surrounds us. I did a case study in a class on Propaganda (which was far less conspiracy-theorist than you may think) on the way that news is reported by mass media. I took examples of news stories covered by international corporations and used only the largest names in the industry: Fox, CNN, MSNBC, BBC and Al-Jazeera, and found that it is next to impossible to just get what happened. Everybody decided to spin the story their own subtle way using emotional language, sly omission of details, selective inclusion of interviews, etc. It reflects our culture which is more interested in hearsay than in truth.
Knowledge is often associated with opinion, which it is not. Knowledge is often associated with emotion, which it is not. Knowledge is often associated with wisdom, which it is not. "Knowledge," writes Foucault, "is not for knowing: knowledge is for cutting."
We must not be receivers of it, we must be searchers of it. I don't know how it became acceptable to take something as you hear it and recite it again in the future as if it were fact or to assume credibility. How often have librarians been pounding it in our heads to check our sources and how often have we been too lazy to even FIND sources for what we say? For crying out loud, there is an entire site devoted to people who have taken stories from The Onion and become outraged that PETA is now murdering meat-eaters or whatever.
Finally: The Point Paul tells us to do do this exact same thing in 1 John 4: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world." He is talking about matters of Spiritual things (where it is infinitely more crucial to not accept at face value a single thing that you hear), but a more broad application still fits: we must test everything that we hear, read, see, learn, discover.
It is a dark time for belief in anything; one where a lot of people like to believe that there is no such thing as Truth, where it takes less effort to say "I do not believe" than it does to say "I believe" because it means you'd have to think and tremble and spend nights awake in cold sweats. Belief in God comes after knowledge of God, which we will not be ready for as long as we are accepting our hearsay handouts. It is common knowledge that most of the secular world sees Christians as shallow-minded incompetents incapable of thinking for themselves, and in a lot of cases they are right. We fall into the trap of listening to words from books and pulpits and immediately accepting the ethos of the speaker and taking the words as truth.
I am so happy that my pastor constantly tells us "Please do not take my word for it. Take what I say home, check it against Scripture and determine that it is truth that way." He meets with teams of people after preaching to make sure that every little thing he says is accurate. He encourages an environment of searching, for he knows without struggle for the knowledge of important things, you will never retain it and therefore never apply it.
True belief cannot come from blind acceptance just like victory cannot come without struggle. How then can we be content with mediocrity?