Precepts to use in everyday life

1. Think for yourself, 2. Be yourself, 3. Speak up, 4. Feel free to agree and disagree, 5. Be honest with yourself and others, 6. Be open-minded, 7. Avoid being judgmental and 8. Question everything - even your own thinking.

TOK Essay Titles May 2018

Friday, August 16, 2013

ToK Prescribed Essay Titles (November 2013): Question 5

“…Our knowledge is only a collection of scraps and fragments that we put together into a pleasing design, and often the discovery of one new fragment would cause us to alter utterly the whole design.” (Maurice Bishop)” To what extent is this true in History and one other Area of Knowledge?

 
Following on from the last post, imagine you’re a historian living a thousand years in the future and that you came across this remarkably well preserved written document:
Don't start me talking
I could talk all night
My mind goes sleepwalking
While I'm putting the world to right
Called careers information
Have you got yourself an occupation

CHORUS:
Oliver's army is here to stay
Oliver's army are on their way
And I would rather be anywhere else
But here today

There was a checkpoint charlie
He didn't crack a smile
But it's no laughing party
When you've been on the murder mile
Only takes one itchy trigger
One more widow, one less white nigger

CHORUS

Hong Kong is up for grabs
London is full of arabs
We could be in Palestine
Overrun by a chinese line
With the boys from the mersey and the thames and the tyne
But there's no danger
It's a professional career
Though it could be arranged
With just a word in Mr. Churchill's ear
If you're out of luck you're out of work
We could send you to johannesburg

CHORUS

And I would rather be anywhere else
But here today
And I would rather be anywhere else
But here today

If very little or no knowledge existed of that distant world, then you would have to piece together what knowledge you can from the ‘scraps and fragments’ which you possess – this document being one of those scraps.

However, can you see that the document in itself is built of ‘scraps and fragments’ which seemed important to the writer (look at the highlighted expressions)?  Presumably, at the time it was written, someone considered it to have a pleasing design – consider the rhyme and repetition implied by ‘CHORUS’, as well as the organisation of the words into four main blocks (excl. chorus).
What sort of questions need to be answered about the text?

How would you go about answering them?
Can you piece together some sort of meaning from the details you have?

Are the writer’s intentions an important consideration when reconstructing this meaning?
Of course, today you can easily google the key words and work out the meaning of the whole – you can even discover that the text is a song and when it was written and what inspired it.

Nevertheless, the key point about historical knowledge is that even then, the narrative of meaning you construct will always be open to further interpretation – a better, more refined narrative might come along at any point.  To this extent, any historical narrative is similar to a scientific theory that explains how the world works...
To read more about the recent political controversy regarding this song, see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/9940194/BBC-criticised-for-censoring-Elvis-Costello-lyrics.html

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