The late Marshall McLuhan liked to use the word “probe” to describe his favoured forms of intellectual and conversational exploration. Meditation on this word led me to look it up, and then to look at other words that might in some sense be related. In particular I looked at words beginning with “prob”, and relish the resulting association with words such as probity, problem, probable, probability (in the mathematical sense), probate (that is, to prove or verify), probation, pro bono (a small stretch there), and proboscis. Some of these, including “probe”, have their roots in the Latin verb probare, meaning “to test”, and some do not.
So much for the dictionary of meanings. Then I reached for my book of rhymes: daube (meat stew, a favourite meal of mine), Job, globe, robe (along with enrobe, or even better in appropriate contexts, disrobe), strobe, aerobe, microbe, saprobe (an organism living in putrefied water, also perhaps air or earth), and various applications of the suffix “-phobe” signifying systematic fear or loathing. Well well well, such an intriguing list.
I am particularly struck by probe’s association with proboscis. I think the nose is a highly undervalued sensory organ. We are told that the human olfactory sense is weak, compared with other creatures. We live in a world of sight, sound, taste, and touch. I wonder. Is it that we cannot smell things, or simply that our sense of smell is but weakly connected with our capacity to articulate our sensory findings? We pick up obvious smells, of course, but not the subtle ones. Is that a sensory deprivation, or simply an intellectual or verbal one? Most people can see, hear, taste, and feel not only the obvious, but also the subtle, if they take the trouble. Is a sensory experience not there just because we cannot connect it with words, or because we don’t take the trouble to pay attention?
Perhaps our bodies are constantly picking up all kinds of signals and reacting to them in ways of which we are unaware simply because they are not connected to our powers of speech. Do I respond to my natural surroundings, or to my lover, because of what I see and hear, which I can describe if I make the effort, but also because of what I smell? Does the real wonder and joy lie there? What about a “sixth sense”? Could that be working too?
I am gradually working my way around to a tentative probe into the sense or senses with which we detect and articulate our cultural (in the anthropological sense) surroundings, the totality of the social, economic, physical, and political environment in which we live. We undoubtedly grasp the obvious phenomena, but do we get them all? What happens to us if the most critical, the most rewarding, the most dangerous parts of that environment live in the subtleties that we perhaps detect subliminally but cannot make articulate, or perhaps do not even detect?
This musing began when I read this morning an article by Mike Lofgren published on Truthout (www.truth-out.org). He wants us to be aware of the “Deep State – the hybrid association of key elements of government and parts of top-level finance and industry that is effectively able to govern the United States with limited reference only to the consent of the governed as it is normally expressed through the formal political process.” Are we in Canada governed by a pervasive, powerful “Deep State”? Its ways, although not necessarily its effects, would be subtle if we were. How would we sense it? By the smell, perhaps?
“Ideas matter; education matters; morality matters and justice matters in a democracy.” That’s Henry A. Giroux, in a different article in the same source.