Ban Xah Lee

Haines Brown brownh at
Sun Mar 8 12:26:53 CET 2009

A glance at Ban Xah Lee's web page reveals that he is what is called an
autodidact - someone who is self-taught. While this is an admirable
achievement, it carries with it certain dangers.

One is that it gives the illusion that learning is not a social
activity, but an individual one. This is not the case. The autodidact
merely abandons conventional structures for his education and pursues
his own course. However, from the moment they are born, our development
arises through social contact. If you study library books in your garret
entirely on your down, the book is still a social communication. What
autodidaction shows is that there is more than one way to develop
through social contact, not that it can be done without it.

If the bulk of one's development necessarily takes place through social
communication, then one depends on the effectiveness of that
communication. This is why we use conventional words, familiar concepts
and accepted facts to build an argument. When we cannot do so, there
should be good reason. 

That is why, when we seek to challenge conventional wisdom, we ought to
do so in a manner least likely to offend or confuse. Rudeness,
unnecessary obscurity, novel words or concepts that are not mandatory,
reliance on contested facts rather than conventional knowledge,
insensitivity for one's intended readership, threaten the line of
communication that makes it unlikely to bring others over to our
position and also ultimately unlikely that we can develop ourselves. 

Another danger facing the autodidact is that it is too easy to acquire a
contempt for others. If we have studied a field obsessively for some
years, it is natural that we end in a position where our knowledge will
generally be superior. But this does not make us superior. We don't live
in a world in which social relations arise from a private possession of
expertise, but in a world in which we develop ourselves through our
relations with others. As any teacher will attest, you often learn more
from the ignorant than from the expert. It is our social solidarity that
gives rise to potentials that allow us to exceed our private capacities,
not our being able to acquire and privately possess intellectual riches
for ourselves.
       Haines Brown, KB1GRM


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