He was an economist who loathed an over-reliance on data. Data can say anything we want it to say; it can be twisted and turned and reinterpreted to suit any hypothesis. To really understand a situation, we’ve got to pick our heads up, knowledgeable of the current data, though able to correlate it to easily expressed principles and moral values.
This morning I started reading Keynes: The Return of the Master by Robert Skidelsky. From the very first words, I re-discovered how important it is to read original theories and primary source material, not just interpretation of that material. As I got out of the subway, I thought about the other books I’m currently reading. I’ve started to gravitate toward these primary sources: books of Yogic scripture to prepare for my yoga teacher training class, works by John Dewey to understand the underpinning of our education system, autobiographical accounts of world events, and original documentation that established our government.
While it’s one thing to observe, practice, and read the works of experts and influencers, it’s only in reading the original grounding work of a philosophy, of a movement, that we can develop our own views and deep observations. If all we do is interpret and translate someone else’s interpretations of primary material, eventually we enter into a game of telephone, and the original beliefs are likely distorted beyond recognition.
To truly understand an idea, we have to go to the source, to the seed that gave that idea to the word. As Keynes so brilliantly stated and Skidelsky rightly echos, “ideas matter profoundly…indeed the world is ruled by little else.” The roots of those ideas matter profoundly, too. Get to the root.