I was standing on a corner near campus, next to Maynooth’s 13th Century castle. At first I thought it was just an ABC [another bloody castle] until I noticed where its windows used to be. For whatever reasons they’ve been blocked through the centuries to become progressively smaller and smaller until they’re useless for illumination.
My doctor tells me to be careful in sunlight and we joke that I should only go out at night. Parents protect their children from all sorts of outside influences. Governments and churches also claim to protect their subjects, many times treating them like children, while their real aim is simply to protect an existing power structure. Sometimes it’s through a blackout – think press censorship or internet limits. Other times outside influences are simply interpreted and spun to the institution’s benefit. Think of a church’s stained-glass window. The outside light is the same for all of us. Inside, it projects different images and messages to its membership. Back in the days of limited literacy, these same windows served the function of outdoor advertising – billboards promoting a product. And when all we’re able to see is filtered by pre-selected primary colours, how does our worldview compare with that of others, who view life through other filters – or completely unfiltered?
Let’s face it. We all need filters. There’s more information floating around than we can possibly absorb in any sort of useful way. Think of the phrase “information rich and knowledge poor.”
But how do we let in useful, beneficial light? And how do we define it? Do we focus it with a lens – media or people and organizations –we trust? Do we block out all that we don’t care for, blocking up our personal windows, bit-by-bit, disagreement-by-disagreement?
So who do you trust?
Usually it’s the censor who’s succeeded in selling us the proposition that their world view matches our own. No matter the subject, all but the most egomaniacal of us look to people who we believe know more about a subject than we do. Too many of us prefer affirmation of our preconceptions to education to correct them.
The good news: in the long run censorship and barriers don’t work because wherever there’s a wall someone will find a way over, under, around or through it.
The bad news: sometimes breaking down walls takes a long time and means breaking down a lot of things we’ve become used to – the status quo.
We’re living in a time when a lot of walls are coming down, when a lot of bricked-in windows are being opened to allow in a lot of light and a lot of crosswinds. Let’s try to enjoy the view and the breeze without crouching down in the dank darkness of the way we think things used to be or ought to be.
And in case you were wondering what this piece is doing in the middle of a series on independent bookshops, I was standing on that corner in medieval Maynooth waiting for the traffic signal to change while walking between two bookstores. More on them next week.