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Meditations

Not Think Tanks, But Insight Founts
By Martin LeFevre
Apr 18, 2022, 10:03am

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According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the term think tank was first used in military jargon during World War II to describe a safe place where plans and strategies could be discussed." Given that we may be on the cusp of World War III, it's high time for a new concept, the insight fount.

The meaning of think tank "began to change in the 1960's when it came to be used in the United States to describe private nonprofit policy research organizations." The blending of governmental and commercial interests that "often involve planning social policy and national defense" made think tanks in America a main driver of the revolving door between supposedly public service and nakedly private interest.

Think tanks were once an almost exclusively American phenomenon. Today, when most people think of think tanks, they see them, at best, in "their role as bridges between knowledge and government policies." While most are still in the US and Europe, the concept and influence of think tanks have become, with local variations, global.

Think tanks have a number of characteristics in common, foremost being "their policy focus, which means that their objective is to bring knowledge and policy making together by informing and influencing the policy process."

Have think tanks produced a better society and world? With few exceptions, no. Despite think tanks "claim that their work is for the common good and to educate the public," in practice they are by nature elite organizations that serve the goals, stated or unstated, of whoever or whatever holds the purse strings.

Besides the strong tendency of think tanks to "recycle rather than produce academic knowledge," and given that "their aim is to make academic findings more palatable for busy politicians and policymakers," it's no wonder that think tanks have been of marginal benefit among grassroots and marginalized peoples.

At bottom, think tanks are by definition based on intellectual resources. They are limited by the concern about their image and reputation, or the specialization of their research, or by their dependency on contracts and donors. They are also limited by implicit philosophical assumptions about thought and knowledge. To challenge those assumptions would undermine their raison d'etre.

The basic assumption is that thinking and knowledge are the rightful, indeed sole basis of human action and societal development. The creation of insight founts challenges the idea that action must flow from idea, and that knowledge, however accurate in science and technology, is foundational to the individual and society.

The existence of this assumption is verified, though not questioned, by the emergence of "think and do" tanks, which, besides blurring the line with non-governmental organizations, attest to the unexamined division between idea and action.

Insight founts, by contrast, are based on the Socratic principle that when one clearly sees things as they are, and has insight into them, one's actions flow seamlessly from that perception, and one has no choice but to do the correct and fitting thing. Obviously the Western mind did not take the Socratic path, but institutionalized the division between idea and action. An increasingly hellish fragmentation of the earth and peoples is the result.

Insight founts are not based on the accumulation of knowledge and experience, or on generating and transmitting information. Rather, they are places to ignite shared insight through questioning and deep listening.

By its very nature, insight is a wordless flash or state of understanding that's new, arising from questioning, listening and observing in the present moment. Deeper insights are not stored in memory, nor do they become part of any body of knowledge. They are living things.

An insight may shatter one's entire worldview, or one may have the same insight anew each day. Since insight is a living thing, it's always new. That's what keeps the brain young and growing in understanding, rather than burdened with the accumulation of knowledge, and suffocating under the weight of human experience and suffering.

To grasp the essential difference between think tanks and insight founts, one has to understand the difference between insights appropriated by thought and turned into knowledge, and insight/action as the basis of right relationship with the earth and each other.

Insight flows into the still spaces between thoughts. Almost always however, thought immediately comes in and renders the insight into words, ideas or knowledge. Sometimes the insight shatters an old paradigm, and a new dimension of knowledge is created. Einstein's insights into the inseparability of space and time, which supplanted Newtonian physics, are perhaps the best example.

With respect to science, that is fitting and proper. However when insight is not rendered into knowledge, but remains wordless, it has a profound effect on the brain. One begins to realize that action from idea, which is all we've known, is always conditioned and unfree, whereas action from insight is unconditioned and free. This is the meaning of liberation.

Insight founts are concerned not with knowledge, influence and power, but with awareness, understanding and transformation. Like a water well, one has to dig to reach the wellspring of insight, and daily spadework keeps the well open and insights flowing.

******

Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He welcomes dialogue. lefevremartin77@gmail.com


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