Things everyone "knows"

I have a friend who, when the Snowden revelations came out said incredulously “Everyone knows that. This isn’t new.” I’ve heard things like this for different revelations, or problems or issues, for most of my life. You put to someone some facts, as it were - they know the facts and shrug.

A few comments come to mind. Firstly there is a world of difference between an abstract generality and a concrete particular. We might well have suspected or “known” that America, Britain and other countries were colluding to make a mass survelliance system. To know this concretely is different (that difference may come down to legality in the end). Its the difference between “knowing” a politician is corrupt and proving it, if you will.

Secondly, given it was put in a major newspaper and given the degree of surprise, its evident a lot of people didn’t know. There is a lot of heavy lifting done by the term “everyone”. What is meant really, is “I know. If you did not, you are an idiot.” This is to put lightly unfair; I would not assume every person has the time to keep themselves perfectly informed. To an uncomfortable degree our lives require a degree of trust that the things underlying them are ordered. Its that they often seem not to that our troubles really start.

Lastly; the things everyone knows, we don’t seem to know what to do about. That is, knowing seems a perfectly good excuse to see through things and thus not really see them. Everyone knows Johnson lies, all the papers know it. Yet its something else to see a list of those lies. We know our government is corrupt but we won’t acquaint ourselves with the details. The planet is in a dire state. But it is something else to read the IPCC report which gives us little time at all to change things. Its quite funny in a way because of course the distancing from details is a measure to avoid commitment. To know a detail is in a way to be morally implicated. “Politicians are untrustworthy” doesn’t seem to motivate action “this politician is corrupt” might well do.

I am not immediately suggesting that these things have a solution. We might say “I do really see this, but I don’t know what to do.” The difference there is we might one day see a way forward, because we’re open to it.

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