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On the discursive gap: a story about why stories are so scary in education

elder race of manThe words below are the opening paragraphs of  a sacred scripture describing the second age of the elder race of man. The elder race of man, were an ancient civilisation who inhabited middle earth in a long forgotten age.

These extracts are from a larger text found in an earthenware pot in the desert. It is not clear who this race were or what happened to them. These passages of text are all that remain

In the beginning

In the beginning there was power. During the first age of the elder race of man Power usurped the name of God. Power ruled over the people benevolently albeit no one dared to say otherwise. For many millenia all was well. Everyone knew their place. And so, somewhat abruptly, the first age of the elder race of man ended.

The second age of the elder race of man

Later the Gods became aware that the people had become discontent. Stories were rife that all was not as it should be. Men known as philosophers and free thinkers had dared to dream of a better and fairer world. This bothered the gods. They had noticed that it was the stories of man that made them so dissatisfied.

The Gods sought counsel. “Our empire is crumbling. How can we stop these stories” they said “It is true we own the material world; the earth, water, air and fire but we fear the sophistry of the philosophers and free thinkers their stories, dreams and aspirations?”

After  much thought the Gods sought out the priests, whom they had previously despised and often persecuted, saying unto them: “we own the material world and all is well. We bequeath to you the transcendental world; the stories, dreams and thoughts of man.”

“That’s fine” said the priests “but please, you really must stop calling yourself Gods. There is only one God and the Word is with God. Anyway come on guys it is, you know, a bit embarrassing”

The Gods pondered this impertinence and agreed that there was nothing remotely embarrassing about it. “Not likely” said the Gods, though in time they did.

In truth, the priests knew that man would always create new stories and dream of change. “Look” they said to the philosophers and free thinkers “Our scriptures are based upon “the best that has been thought and said by you” though that was only partially true. “Why can’t you just stick to the scriptures?

“We seek knowledge and the truth through thought and “word”” said the philosophers and free thinkers who somewhat expediently had dumped sophistry for something more practical. “You (the priests) already have “the Word”. What is there to think about? We will be made redundant”

“Oooooh darn it good point” said the priests to themselves “for among their number there were some who had once been philosophers and free thinkers. For what seemed like millenia but was probably only a couple of weeks the priests pondered the problem. Eventually they returned to the Gods:

“We have a solution to the problem” they said

“Excellent, excellent what is it” asked the Gods

“We will take the new works of the philosophers, the free thinkers and we shall tell them what is right and what is wrong with the best that has been thought and said”

“The plan will never work” said the Gods “for they would surely not agree”

“Who would disagree with power?” the priests said slyly for they didn’t want to appear too clever “if Power was to impress upon the philosophers and free thinkers how much it would benefit them to agree I am sure they would see sense.”

The Gods remained silent and so the priests continued.

“We shall take the work of the philosophers, the seekers of knowledge and truth and apply it to the Word. They  can do the seeking but as we already have the knowledge, the Word it will save them an awful lot of thinking. Or, at least, if they want to do some thinking they can do it  as far from the material world as possible. It is a win-win situation really”.

The Gods gave this much thought: “And if they don’t agree we can burn them to death or put them in prison?”

“If it pleases” said the priests “secretly they were rather pleased that, for once, someone else was being put to death”

The Gods declared, “We have an agreement. So began the relationship between power and the priests. It wasn’t a full blown love affair being mostly Platonic. “What will you call this new “best of the best”, the greatest hits of the philosophers?” they asked.

“We shall call it the “the meeting of the three” and the “the four ways” the priests announced somewhat enigmatically”. “Jolly good” said the Gods though in truth it was all Greek to them.

And so after some persuasion, albeit not that much for power can be very persuasive, it was generally agreed that anything new would largely agree with the Word. In time the philosophers and free thinkers were bequeathed great edifices to knowledge, which they called Universities. The priests were only too happy to offer guidance and advice to the philosophers and free thinkers who set about proving that the scriptures of the priests made sense. “We concern ourselves with the facts of things” they said “Knowledge and the truth according to the Word”.

The priests were content. It is better they said that men concern themselves with the spiritual world. It is in the discursive gap, the spaces in between the material and the transcendental, that men make stories that matter. They forge dreams of progress not based on what was but what could be. It is not, by its very nature, possible to know the facts of progress. We must, they said, fill that space with the transcendental, the facts of things, based upon the Word.

Epilogue

Some now consider that the second age of the elder race of man ended, at least partially, because of the pact between the “so called” Gods and the priests. Eventually though, as it turned out,  even the philosophers and free thinkers could not ignore some of the claims made by the priests though they tried as hard as they could to do so. The priests, as ordinary mortals are won’t to do, ignored their own advice. They created stories from the transcendental world about the material world.

It is not in the transcendental that priests fall but in the discursive gap between the transcendental and material worlds particularly after someone, or other, discovers the significance of fossils. The claim that God created the world is not open to factual dispute; that God created the world in a few days is a somewhat unfortunate claim if you are a priest. No amount of clever discourse could save such a claim.

The priests were not to know, not being gods. Eventually they were replaced by the philosophers and the free thinkers who created a new set of scriptures called journals and made men pay to read them. The priests were furious. By this time they could not even give their scriptures away free. The philosophers and the free thinkers still made claims about truth and knowledge from the transcendental world but no longer believed in the Word.

“It’s not just priests that find old habits difficult to shake off” some pointed out. Others considered that in tradition and history the new priesthood had re-sculpted the transcendental , or the Word, in man’s image. Either way there was little room for the stories of men and none, at all, for women.

The Gods were somewhat surprised by the turn of events. Their empire humbled by the stories of man, though not as yet woman, eventually crumbled as the practical pursuit of progress ended and the greatest minds of their civilisation set about rote learning, the Word. It is, the Gods eventually came to think, one of the ironies of tradition that its greatest lesson is to value tradition but not to the detriment of progress.

And so began the third age of the elder race of man.

Note

Scholars noted that the word transcendent, loosely translated from the language of the elder race of man, is used somewhat vaguely in the Kantian sense of the word. Not so much a going beyond but in the  “realm of possibility”.

Note to the note

On reflection it’s used on both contexts – context is all

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