Are there things that we can know and say and be assured, not only of agreement from our listeners but of the truth of our assertions? Can it be that out of the many, out of the opinions of the many, there will be underlying truths that we all share?
We’d like to believe this, but so far our history tells us something else entirely, that out of the many there come many, even more than that. Well yes, that might be possible to find some shared values and opinions if we all spoke the same language, if we all believed in the same God. For in those cases there would be things we could all agree about. But of course that’s not our situation. We have many Gods, and we speak thousands of different languages.
Today some 7 billion people living on Earth speak some 7000 languages, that not meaning that 1 billion people speak 1000 languages but that some 4 billion of us speak some 20 different languages. Of these 20 the most widely spoken is Chinese (Mandarin), spoken by over 1.5 billion people, and perhaps if we were serious about wanting to improve our understanding of one another might we not set out to learn Chinese? Well no, at least we haven’t up until now.
Or maybe English, probably the first or second language of as many as speak Mandarin, —the number of countries where English is spoken being the largest at 112. Speaking just one language does have the power to bring the world together, to make us truly global, this thought being what frightened the God of the Old Testament and Steve Bannon, both seeing that men by coming together would not need them and quickly cut them out. Wasn’t that the story of the Tower of Babel?
The Tower depicts the Babylonians attempting to build a tower to reach God, a story that is recounted in Genesis 11:9. God frustrated their attempts by creating a confusion of languages so the builders could no longer understand each other and the work halted.
What if we tried to come up with an initial list shared truths and values, ideas that might gain universal agreement as to their truth? A Tower of Babel of our own built upon shared ideas. We could state, for example, that the Earth is round, and so much else, and expect to find universal agreement.
But then, just the other day I read about Kyrie Irving, who being in the news with his alleged desire to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers, was making even more news in middle school science classrooms. Middle school teacher Nick Gurol says his students tell him that the Earth is flat because an all star basketball player, Kyrie Irving, said so on a podcast!
Gurol: “And immediately I start to panic. How have I failed these kids so badly they think the Earth is flat just because a basketball player says it?” He says he tried reasoning with the students and showed them a video. Nothing worked.
“They think that I’m part of this larger conspiracy of being a round-Earther. That’s definitely hard for me because it feels like science isn’t real to them.”
Irving made his flat-Earth claims in February on a podcast hosted by Cavaliers teammates Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye, steering a discussion about whether aliens exist toward more conceptual matters.
Irving, who did spend a little time (in class?) at Duke before entering the NBA draft, repeated three times that, “The Earth is flat.” And he went on to say:
“The fact that in our lifetimes that there are so many holes and so many pockets in our history … History is history, and it’s happened long before us, and it’s going to happen after us, and it always repeats itself somehow, in some way. All these things that they keep giving to us, all this information, I’m just saying that these things that used to put me in fear, it makes you not want to question it naturally, because of how much information you actually can figure out and how much information there actually is out there. It’s crazy. Anything that you have a particular question on, ‘Okay, is the Earth flat or round?’ I think you need to do research on it. It’s right in front of our faces. I’m telling you it’s right in front of our faces. They lie to us.”
When asked who “they” is, Irving denied that it was “the man.”
“For what I’ve known for many years and what I’ve been taught is that the Earth is round, but if you really think about it from a landscape of the way we travel, the way we move and the fact that — can you really think of us rotating around the sun, and all planets align, rotating in specific dates, being perpendicular with what’s going on with these ‘planets’ and stuff like this?”
Irving later was asked by ESPN’s Arash Markazi about whether he’s actually seen a photo of the very round planet Earth.
“I’ve seen a lot of things,” Irving replied.
Then again, in March, Irving went on the Jefferson/Frye podcast to revisit the issue, and he seemed to pat himself on the back for starting a conversation about a question that was definitively answered many, many centuries ago.
“And then you got all these science experts, guys that have been studying the space, the earth, everything for so many years,” Irving said. “And I’m sitting back and I’m like, ‘Okay, the fact that, you know, that this is opening up conversation, I’m happy with that.’ The fact that it became a conversation starter and honestly people were asking me questions and they were looking at me like I didn’t have a brain on, or my parents didn’t raise me the right way, or something like that, there’s something definitely wrong with this kid — that’s when I started to kind of, I took a step back and I was like, ‘Okay, this is more than just what I just said.’ This right here opened up a whole bunch of things. A whole bunch of information as well.”
It was my intention to make other statements the truth of which we could all agree upon, such as the Earth is Round, building from the bottom up my own tower of Babel of shared truths. For example regarding the Press so much itself in the news today, we might say to agreement? that:
The principal roles of the Press are to hold government leaders accountable to the people, to publicize issues that need attention, to educate citizens so they can make informed decisions, and to connect people with each other helping to create the civil society.
But just making what seem to me reasonable statements like these four about the Press, in our time of untruth, in the time of Donald Trump and Fake News makes me realize I’ve hardly begun, and have no end in sight, for what could we today possibly agree upon? Where and what is the “unum” out of many to which we all pay allegiance? What agreement as to shared truths will I ever discover when for Irving and probably others the earth is still flat?… But I will go on with this.
To be continued.