The truth about world affairs

06.04.2016 |

by Ralph Pettman


In this lesson, you’ll learn the truth about world affairs. You’ll learn whether the half-truths about these affairs can be brought together to reveal the whole truth. 

There’s an old story about some blind people trying to describe an elephant. One person feels the trunk and says it’s a snake. Another feels a leg and says it’s a tree. Another feels the tail and says it’s a rope. Another feels a tusk and says it’s a spear. Another feels a flank and says it’s a wall. Another feels an ear and says it’s a fan. If you put all these descriptions together, you get a very odd elephant. It’s not like the real thing. The various accounts of world affairs are the same. Those who describe and explain how world affairs work are like these blind people. Even a summary of their half-truths can’t tell the whole truth.

Another story likens analysts and practitioners to those climbing a cathedral tower. Little windows open onto the surrounding city. Each climber peers through a dusty opening, saying, “You can see the whole city from here.” Some say that a tower like this is built on sand or in the sea. It doesn’t have a solid foundation. Others prefer to liken the way world affairs work to gardening. Plant analytic seeds, they say. Foster the shoots. Harvest the fruits. Turn the stalks back into the soil as fertilizer for the next season.

Some believe in absolute scientific truth. They keep climbing in mental terms, assuming they’ll reach a room at the top of the tower with windows all around where they really will see everything at onceat least, everything the scientific outlook allows. No one’s managed to get there yet, but many keep climbing in the hope that they’ll eventually be able to transcend secular relativism.

Some believe in absolute mystic truth. They go deep-diving in mental terms, assuming they’ll pierce the “cloud of unknowing” where they’ll see everything at onceat least, everything spiritual insight allows. Very few get there, but many keep deep-diving in the hope that they’ll eventually be able to transcend religious relativism.

The alternative to absolutism of either kind is the cycle of knowing. This means standing back to look, then standing close to listen, then taking part, then standing back to look again. In the end, you can’t know how world affairs work by taking a course. You have to go into the world to listen and take part. After that, you can stand back and take a second look. What you’ll see won’t be what you saw the first time, though. It’ll be informed by all you’ve heard and done in between.

That’s it. To learn more about how world affairs, you should try Ralph Pettman, World Affairs: An Analytical Overview (World Scientific Publishing, Singapore, 2010).


Recommended books

“World Affairs: An Analytical Overview” by Ralph Pettman

“The Prince” by Niccolò Machiavelli


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