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(#74, Version 5.0)
Again, I can see the eyes glaze over, the boredom taking hold when people see this phrase. And again, I will proffer that this topic is not as boring and complicated as it may seem. It actually has relevance in our lives, especially if we wish to live according to the Gorean philosophy. It continues the formation of the necessary starting ground for our exploration of Gorean philosophy.
Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of belief, why we believe what we do. Epistemology touches on many fundamental questions such as: What is truth? How do we know what is truth? How do we know what is reality? It is a discipline that extends back to the ancient Greeks, who wrestled with trying to define truth. The term epistemology is derived from the Greek word episteme which translates as knowledge and logos which translates as the study of. Thus, epistemology is the study of knowledge.
Most people give little thought to epistemology, simply accepting certain matters as the truth without really examining the foundations for why those matters are true, or even whether they are in actuality true. We may occasionally touch upon epistemological issues when we discuss the rationale behind some of our specific metaphysical beliefs, such as a belief in God. We may try to convince someone else why we believe in God, thus exploring the epistemological reasons for our acceptance of that metaphysical belief. Though even then, we often fall back upon relying upon faith to prove the existence of the truth about God. But, the currents of epistemology run through much of our life, despite our avoidance or ignorance of its existence.
There are two key aspects to Gorean epistemology, both of which have their analogues on Earth. First, Goreans tend to believe what can be sensed, like the old cliché seeing is believing. They often do not look beyond the surface of what can be observed. They often see little need to question appearances. Second, Goreans tend to accept and believe what they have been taught, relying upon tradition and accepted lore. The latter of these two aspects is the more significant on Gor, and it is an area that has been largely unexplored in modern philosophical discussions on epistemology. When an entire metaphysics has been fabricated for the mass of people on Gor, why the masses accept those lies as truth is obviously very relevant to any discussion of the nature of belief. And it will have some important ramifications for our own lives as well.
We should note that the Goreans of the books do not generally discuss epistemological issues. The epistemological stances of Gor have existed throughout their history and no one appears to be questioning or analyzing these matters. What exists is simply accepted. Though there may be Scribes who philosophize over these issues, they have not yet been presented in the Gorean series. It does seem though that the common Gorean will not discuss such matters. That does not mean though that we cannot discuss these matters.
We will first explore the epistemological belief that Goreans believe in what can be sensed. This philosophical stance has an ancient tradition on Earth, extending back to the ancient Greeks, especially the Epicureans and the Stoics. This is a very naturalistic view of epistemology. We can consider the advice of the Tuchuks to Tarl Cabot, to not assume that Pa-Kur was dead unless he saw the corpse. Even though Pa-Kur has not seemingly resurfaced since Tarnsman of Gor, the possibility of his return is real. There is even the possibility that he has resurfaced in the books, though in a more subtle way. Consider the mysterious gray-faced man who works for the Kurii. Does not his gray-face resemble the description of Pa-Kur?
When many Goreans observe an act of magic, an illusion, they tend to accept the reality of the magic rather than believe it is only a trick. If they see someone vanish into thin air, they tend to believe it truly occurred because they witnessed it happen. This applies not only to the Low Castes but some of the High Castes as well. And if they can witness magic occurring at a local carnival or a Sardar Fair, they will tend to accept all magic as a possibility. Thus, they are prone to believing the stories of magic that circulate, such as the tales of Anango, because they have been a witness to an act of magic.
Goreans believe that the Priest-Kings exist because they have witnessed their power, specifically the deadly Blue Flame. The Blue Flame, which incinerates its target, is a highly visible sign of the power of the Priest-Kings. It appears out of the sky, its source unseen, and destroys those seen to oppose the will of the Priest-Kings. But, not only do the Priest-Kings use the Blue Flame against individual violators, but sometimes they even use it on a grander scale. The Priest-Kings occasionally destroy even an entire city with the Blue Flame. The Priest-Kings most often choose such a city at random, just to prove their power to the Goreans. They know that the Initiates will be sure to find reasons to blame the destroyed city for standing in opposition to the Priest-Kings, of seriously breaking their tenets. Who can dispute that the mysterious wielders of the Blue Flame are not vastly powerful beings? The Blue Flame makes it very easy to accept the existence of the Priest-Kings, especially as the Blue Flame is clearly not a natural phenomenon.
Though sensory information is important, it still is far less important than the acceptance of what Goreans are taught is the truth. This is most evident in the institution of the Double Knowledge, where the Low Castes are taught to accept a fabricated reality, to accept a pack of lies as the truth. They learn these false truths as young children in the public nurseries. It is also very evident in the teachings of the Initiates who also promote lies, especially about the Priest-Kings and the power of the Initiates. There is little questioning of these purported truths by the Low Castes. These truths are so pervasive within the society of Gor that even some of the High Castes, who should know better, believe some of the lies of the First Knowledge or those told by the Initiates. The best example is that the belief in the efficacy of divination is common throughout all Castes, High and Low.
Part of the reason for this blind acceptance of these false truths is that Goreans often rely on tradition. Much of Gor is slow to accept change, preferring to rely on the wisdom and lore of their ancestors. Goreans are not taught to question tradition, but are taught to accept its validity. Thus, as the Double Knowledge and the Initiate Caste have a long history, an extended tradition, there is little reason to question them. They have the weight of hundreds or even thousands of years behind them. And those who possess the proper truths about these matters, the High Castes and the highest-ranking Initiates, have little incentive to advocate enlightening the Low Castes. Their knowledge gives them power and they are not about to diminish that power by spreading that knowledge to the Low Castes.
It is possible that the Low Castes could rely on certain sensory information to learn the truth about some of the lies of the First Knowledge. They might be able to figure out by observation that Gor is round or that it does move in an orbit. But, the strength of tradition is so powerful that such sensory evidence would likely be ignored or excuses made to nullify any ideas that ran contrary to established tradition. And a Low Caste individual would generally gain nothing by trying to contradict the First Knowledge. It could lead to a conflict that would cause more problems than were resolved. A Low Caste person could also learn the truth in the libraries of Gor. Gorean libraries contain the truths of the Second Knowledge and are open to people of all Castes. But, as most Low Caste people are illiterate, the likelihood of them obtaining the truth in these libraries is not high.
Why have these false truths been propagated? What is the purpose of the First Knowledge? Why do the High Castes and the highest-ranking Initiates continue to support this fabricated metaphysics? Why is there little incentive to advocate change? Why should these ancient traditions be upheld? Why has this false epistemology been created?
Essentially, everything devolves down to the issue of power and control. The First Knowledge was created as a means of social control, to control the Low Castes. The lies help to perpetuate the power structure where the High Castes remain on top, above the masses of the Low Castes. The Initiates promote their own falsehoods to maintain their own position of power, being the highest Caste on Gor. In addition, other people, such as Ubars may use the Initiates as an additional form of social control over the Low Castes. There is little other reason for the existence of the Double Knowledge. Those in power have obviously no incentive to surrender or share their power with the Low Castes. Thus, a fabricated metaphysics was created, relying upon an epistemology of acceptance by teaching and tradition, to perpetuate the power structure of the Gorean cities.
(This issue will resurface in a later essay detailing the connection of Gor to Platos The Republic. The Double Knowledge takes its inspiration from that work.)
The Low Castes have even been taught, as a part of the First Knowledge, that if a Low Caste person comes to rule a city, that city will come to ruin. Part of the opposition to Pa-Kurs conquest of Ar was that he was an Assassin, a Low Caste, and that violated the First Knowledge. If he were to come to power, the city would come to peril. And Pa-Kurs reign was very short, helping to support that myth. Curiously enough, Kron, a Low Caste Metal Worker, became the Administrator of Tharna after the abdication of Lara, the ex-Silver Mask. The books did not mention any opposition or worry about his coming to power though it too violated the First Knowledge. Maybe a future novel will deal with this issue.
How does this discussion on Gorean epistemology impact upon our own lives? What is its relevance to those who wish to live by a Gorean philosophy? As to the sensory epistemology, this has value mainly if one is concerned about the deeper philosophical issues of the nature of truth. For most of us, this is generally an area better left to philosophers to debate. Many of us do rely on our senses to determine the truth about many matters though we may also accept some matters on faith, even if we try to cloak them in a guise of sensory information. This would apply to our religious beliefs which are often faith based rather than fact based. We realize that not everything we see is the truth and that may be sufficient.
But, it is the other aspect of epistemology that we have discussed that actually impacts upon us the greatest. An important key is to understand exactly where our beliefs may derive from if they are not based on our actual perception. This is not an area traditionally broached in discussions concerning epistemology. But, the situation of Gor should serve as a cautionary tale to us. Just because we are taught something does not mean that it is true. This is true in many respects. Just because we see something mentioned in a newspaper, or hear it on television or the radio, that does not mean it is the truth. Just because something is considered common knowledge does not mean it is the truth. Just because we receive information from a reliable source or an expert that does not entail that it must be true.
For example, if we examine any number of historical incidents, we will find that what is commonly known about such incidents often turns out to be inaccurate to one degree or another. Yet tradition often supports these inaccuracies. Consider all the traditional lore about the first Thanksgiving and then realize that much of it is actually incorrect. Any good history book will show the significant differences between that lore and the truth. A recent poll showed that a substantial number of Americans believe that primitive humans coexisted with the dinosaurs, despite much scientific evidence refuting that premise. Those Americans have been subjected to too many television shows and movies that mixed humans and dinosaurs in the same time period. There are many important historical details that were omitted from our educations. When we were in school, we often received a sanitized education, glossing over some of the actual truths to promote the traditional knowledge that has existed for hundreds of years. Popular culture has also mythologized many historical incidents and people have accepted it as the truth.
Yet how many of us take the time to delve into historical matters to determine whether what we have been taught is accurate or not? In general, it is a small minority who seeks such verification. Far more people prefer to watch television or a movie rather than read a book. Yet the truth of the matter is not that difficult to locate. There are plenty of resources that could be consulted to ascertain the truth of the matter. There are many books, magazines and other resources that provide a more accurate view of such historical matters. Yet, many people are satisfied with the sanitized version they learned. They do not want to question this traditional lore. Does that not sound like the Low Castes and the First Knowledge, satisfied with what they have been provided?
If we examine areas of great debate and controversy, we will often see people trying to distort the facts to their own advantage. Statistics are a significant tool in such distortions as an intelligent person can twist statistics to whatever result they require. The same statistics, used in devious ways, can be used to prove contradictory positions. Quotes taken out of context can be used to twist the facts. Such quotes are often used to impugn a persons character, to make them say something that they really never meant. The tools of such disinformation are diverse and numerous. And the individuals who use such deception are basically seeking to control people, to control their opinions on certain issues. And some people, because they are thought to be reliable are trusted in whatever they say, even if they are actually incorrect, even if they purposefully twist the truth. Does that not sound like the High Castes and the Initiates?
Even though our society does not possess an exact duplicate of the Double Knowledge, similar ideas are inherent in our world. Some people do accept traditional lore as the truth without delving deeper to ascertain whether they were taught correctly or not. Some individuals do twist the truth to gain power and control. There are levels of knowledge in our world, with some happily accepting whatever they are told to be the truth. The idea of the Double Knowledge is not really that foreign to our world. So, how do we determine truth? How do we learn to avoid the pitfall of blind acceptance of what one hears or reads? How do we avoid our minds from being controlled by others?
Most importantly, we need to approach life with some skepticism, a willingness to question matters. We should not accept important matters at face value. We should delve deeper, seek additional confirmation and clarification. We must constantly ask questions, even of our most sacred beliefs. Nothing should be too sacred to question. We should be wary of bias, or skewed statistics and quotes taken out of context. It is imperative that absorb as much information as possible. We must be like a sponge, maintaining a critical eye over all that we absorb. Instead of following the second aspect of Gorean epistemology, we must actively oppose it. We must follow an epistemology where critical thinking about the veracity of matters is essential. Mindless acceptance of traditional teachings and commonly accepted lore must be avoided.
So lets apply this analysis to Gor and the Gorean philosophy. First, we will note there are some noted experts in this area, people thought to be extremely knowledgeable concerning Gor and its philosophy. In general, such experts do exist as some individuals have devoted much time to studying Gor. There are a few websites as well that are seen as authoritative on the subject, based upon significant research of the books. Based on these matters, there is a body of commonly accepted lore concerning Gor, information that is rarely questioned. Second, we note that there are a large number of less reliable websites and authorities, pushing their own version of the truth. Many of these sites and authorities are less than accurate in describing elements of Gor. The devotion of these experts and websites can be found lacking. Third, we note the online myths of Gor that circulate among the various communities without anyone understanding the source. These myths, even though they are incorrect, are simply accepted often due to the fact they have a long online tradition.
Someone who is new to Gor, and comes online seeking to learn, will confront all three of these aspects. Yet how do they know which to trust? How do they know who is speaking the truth? How do they determine who is actually authoritative concerning Gor? If they ask others online for their advice on this issue, they will hear a variety of opinions about who is reliable. And even the most reliable authorities will be denigrated by some individuals. The person seeking to learn is thus stuck within a quagmire of conflicting ideas. They will be unsure of whom to trust, what to believe. They know nothing about Gor so they have no basis to judge. So what can they do?
This is when a person must apply a more critical eye to the truth. Any search for the truth should start as close to the original source as possible. In the case of Gor, it should start with the twenty-five books in the Gorean series. To understand the truths about Gor, one must read the books. There is no other way to guarantee that the information you acquire about Gor is accurate or valid. Even if you consult the most reliable authority concerning Gor, that person can still make mistakes. And the only way to know if mistakes have been made, is to know what the books actually say. The only guaranteed way to determine whether someone is knowledgeable about Gor or not is to know what the books say. Unless you rely on the books, you are only relying on hearsay, second hand knowledge. And you have no way to judge the veracity of that hearsay. If you are truly concerned about learning the truths about Gor, then your only option is to read the Gorean series. And reading the entire series is the most efficacious because each book adds something to the truths of Gor. But, is reading the books the end of your quest for the truth? Absolutely not.
Knowing what the books say and fully understanding them is not the same. True comprehension requires even more critical thinking. This can be enhanced in various ways. One important method is through discussing the issues with other knowledgeable people. Such discussions can offer different points of view that you might not have considered. If someone states something different from your own belief, question them about it. Seek their source for their belief. Ask them how they derived their opinion. What you will finally end up with, is an understanding of what the Gor books say, of the messages within the series. You will have relied primarily upon your own critical analysis for your information, supported by your proactive discussions with others.
Yet, this is only one form of the truth. It is the more factual type, a catalog of the ideas and concepts embodied within the Gor books. It may provide a guideline to the philosophy of Gor. But, there is a second level of truth that can also be considered. This involves the validity of the philosophy that was uncovered. Now that you understand what the philosophy says, after your reading and analysis of the books, is the philosophy true or not? This is another area where tradition has a strong grip over people. There is more often an acceptance of the validity of this philosophy without an actual analysis of that validity. Few people who claim to follow a Gorean philosophy question or provide proof of its validity. It is almost as if the philosophy is accepted on faith.
So how does one go at verifying the truth of a philosophy? That can be considered a rather complex philosophical question, one that philosophers have struggled with for over two thousand years and still continue to battle. For our own sake, we can at least make some efforts in the direction to prove the validity of the Gorean philosophy. As the Gorean philosophy is considered to be based on some scientific and natural principles, we can at least look there for some support for the philosophys validity. Thus, reading and studying works on history, philosophy, science, evolutionary psychology, sociology and more can be of great benefit. They may provide some of the supporting evidence for validity. It is not an easy task and it is unlikely that many people will actually go that far. Most people seem content with just reading the Gor books. They will settle for accepting the validity of the philosophy without extended proof. They believe they need nothing more than the Gor books.
Yet, can one confine their reading to the books to prove its validity? Lets consider one example of some proof provided within the novels for a philosophical principle of Gor. One of the supporting facts for the principle of male dominance is that all other species of primates are male dominant. You will even hear people citing this proof when they discuss the issue of male dominance. Now, this fact could be accepted as the truth. Who wants to question the author of the books? Should he not be the ultimate authoritative source? Yet, this fact is actually incorrect. There are at least two species of primates that are female dominant. This simply shows that everyone makes mistakes and that a critical analysis of any and all purported facts may prove beneficial.
Without outside support for the philosophy of Gor, then it truly devolves down to a matter of faith. It is simple acceptance of the validity of the philosophy without a requirement for supporting evidence. In some ways, that is similar to a religious belief. I do feel though that if the Gorean philosophy can be supported by additional evidence, then that evidence should be sought. Why rely solely on faith if stronger evidence can be discovered? And such additional evidence will also serve as support against critics of the Gorean philosophy who wish to rebut its validity. If there any reason not to strengthen ones defenses against such critics?
In general, Gorean epistemology can be largely ignored without adversely affecting our
acceptance of the Gorean philosophy. Gorean epistemology actually serves us better as a
cautionary device to direct us to a more proper path to seeking the truth. We can easily
understand why a more critical analysis of truth is warranted. Mistakes and
deliberate deceptions can twist the actual truth. Only if we question these
truths can we pierce the veil surrounding it. And the only way to pierce that
veil is to critically examine what we see, read and hear. We must not be complacent in our
belief systems. We must take a proactive stance, to forge our own trail to the truth.
From the Gorean Voice, March 2002