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Archaeology of Knowledge

Archaeology of Knowledge

No dust rises from the covers of the library books that meet my counter top with fresh chaos. No longer lined neatly on shelves, they will confound me as I search for some rib of truth. No dust rises, but the unearthing has begun—a dig for even one vertebra of new knowledge, one ray of light which might illuminate the animal we can neither fathom nor ignore: not the past, but the future.

I haven't always loved to read. I do not read quickly, nor do I retain many details from my reading for more than a few days. The shifting sands of distraction and time rapidly obscure what has been freshly revealed on pages birthed by passionate authors. Frequently when I enjoy reading, it is the experience I relish as much as the content.

Still, some words stop the sands of time and arrest my attention, like this unexpected meta-analysis illuminating a passage from The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson in Steven Pinker's writing manual, The Sense of Style:

We live in an era of social science, and have become accustomed to understanding the social world in terms of "forces," "pressures," "processes," and "developments." It is easy to forget that those "forces" are statistical summaries of the deeds of millions of men and women who act on their beliefs in pursuit of their desires. The habit of submerging the individual into abstractions can lead not only to bad science (it's not as if the "social forces" obeyed Newton's laws) but to dehumanization. We are apt to think, "I (and my kind) choose to do things for reasons; he (and his kind) are part of a social process."

For a moment, more than a rib is revealed. Individuals aggregate as social movements fracture into a mosaic of humanity. Another book and author pile onto my list for my next library trip. A paradigm shifts as I vow to read social science with the critical eye of a fervent humanist who frequently feels powerless. A social movement is happening right now, and while not a single one of us constitutes a movement, the movement goes nowhere without every single one of us together.

So keep digging. Keep reading. We may unearth different shards of truth, but bedrock is down there somewhere, and it will hold us up.

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