Friday, June 10, 2011

Dialog toward truth: Educators and the public

In his call for scholars to become public scholars in the Buberian dialogic model, Piki Ish-Shalom (2011) writes, "Truth is a living entity constructed in an engaged and dynamic process and should be treated accordingly" (p. 839). What does this mean for those who live in the teaching and research world?

Gandhi also called for an ongoing and collaborative search for truth, which is to say, everyone has a piece of it and no one owns it all. Martin Buber asked for three levels of dialog and search for the truth: intrapersonal, interpersonal, and the public dialog that helped scholars and civil society more completely help each other learn those larger truths. Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Buber disagreed about Israel, though they did so before Israel was founded, which was interesting, because Buber seems far more reasonable than does Gandhi in their 1938-9 disagreement, yet Gandhi proved correct in his assumption that founding Israel would require conquest, which it did.

Truth is infinitely complex, of course, because it is natural. Anyone claiming to completely understand any natural system is overestimating his knowledge, just as is anyone asserting he understands the absolute truth about any matter. There are always more factors and more complexities in any natural system and in any human reality.

Does this lack of total certitude about the truth stop us from acting? That is another question, of course, since the first order of business is to seek enough evidence from enough sources to justify action. But no, it wouldn't stop a person of conscience from acting on belief. Belief, supported by a preponderance of fact, crosses that threshold when it does--when the individual believes it does.

Buber (1878-1965) understood what happened when scholars either supported the state or were silent. He fled Germany and his academic appointment in protest of Hitler's election, eventually teaching sociology and anthropology at Hebrew University. While he was a Zionist in Germany and in pre-Israel Palestine, he was not a Greater Israel Zionist and took whithering blasts of criticism for his staunch support of a binational, or two-state, solution that was both sovereign Israel and sovereign Palestine. His life is an exemplar of what it means to be a public intellectual unafraid to pose dissenting views and seek greater and greater truth.

Ish-Shalom, Piki (05/01/2011). "Three Dialogic Imperatives in International Relations Scholarship: A Buberian Programme.". Millennium (0305-8298), 39 (3), p. 825.

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