My father Arthur “Art” Jarvis died of a heart attack 29 years ago in a world very different from the one we now live in. He was at work in a business that sprang from his lifelong love of learning and a desire to share that love and its many benefits with others. Among the benefits was the ability to make logical, informed decisions that might, on average, improve the lives of the people they affected, what he considered and hoped would be “common” sense. I was working with him at the time and shared a darker motivation for trying to develop and share a better way of learning than what was being taught in schools: avoiding life in a world where people could not distinguish fact from fiction, a society whose lifetime would consequently be brutal and short.
Now more than double my age at the time and just six years away from his age when he died, I have lived to see the world we feared begin to emerge. I continued the work in my own way after it became impossible to follow our common path, becoming aware in the process that we were taking for granted that people would choose to make good decisions if they had reliable information and could apply logic to determine their consequences. In short, the definitions of “good” and “bad” were not being explicitly considered. It was among the most consequential blind spots I have found in the search for blind spots that has been an integral part of my life. The most consequential and deeply personally blind spot was that moving to higher altitude would not adversely affect my father’s health, which it did and likely contributed to his death.
Environmental effects on health are now a major part of everyone’s lives, just as environmental concern has grown to be a test of values (“good” and “bad”) that are shared by - and therefore defining - groups in our diverse and increasingly fragile global society. Since the fates of everyone are tied to how we affect our common environment, with varying and considerable degrees of power bestowed by technology, the survival of our entire species and countless others that we share that environment with, depends on us having a core set of common values that is consistent with that survival. That is: we need “common sense” based on common values and a common understanding of reality.
One of my father’s insights, and the essence of his approach to learning, was that the process of discovery provides a common experience that can be a basis for effective communication and accelerated understanding through collaborative application of logic to the observations made in that discovery. Open-ended learning by small groups can scale to larger groups and their members (us) perceive and value the relationships between each other and between them and their environment. If knowledge and understanding are inherently valued, then the process and the growing membership of those who follow it, will be inherently valued. For my father, and for me, that was self-evident and enough. To reiterate what I learned later, what we value is arbitrary; and (in my view) to ensure that the process can continue or reach a mutually agreed end, we must include discovery of our values along with our discovery of the rest, beginning with the value that makes all values possible: our continued existence.