A fellow geographer, Dr. Charles F. “Fritz” Gritzner, has just published an interesting book, North Carolina Ghost Lights and Legends. During his academic career, with a span longer than half century, he taught dozens of different courses and tens of thousands of students at various institutions of higher learning. I, too, was among the students—initially as an undergraduate, then as a graduate—who listened to him profess the importance of geographic methodology in today’s world. He also lectured on Geography of the Paranormal, perhaps the sole geographer in American academia to offer such a course at the time.
In his book, like countless times before in a classroom or during field work, Dr. Gritzner made sure that his message about geographic analysis is simple and clear. If we spend a bit more time to employ spatial thinking about the issues we face, we may get closer to the truth regarding most, if not all of them. An obstacle in this process, however, is bifurcation of choice in our analytical path: do we choose to believe what we see, or do we choose to see what we believe? If we focus on former, then most mysterious ghost lights are easily explainable. For those who emphasize the latter, ghost lights remain an inexplicable and unsolvable phenomena.
Figure 1. Dr. Charles F. “Fritz” Gritzner in pursuit of truth, photographed by the author.
Prior to his retirement, the good professor Gritzner also taught a graduate seminar on the Geography of Conflict, a course I found exceptionally valuable as a part of my intellectual development to this day. It revolves around a notion that everything in the world is in states of conflict (see my Cultural Systems and Conflict); hence, applying the geographic methodology in addressing conflicts helps us better comprehend their causes and potential outcomes.
Looking at the world today, in terms of local, regional, and global affairs, I now realize that these two courses should be combined into a single seminar. An overwhelming presence of attitudes about conflicts in all aspects of life comes from people who choose to believe what they want regardless of the contradicting factual information available to them. Like true believers in paranormal phenomena, these people almost exclusively rely on emotion to guide their analytical principles—however they define them—and fervently reject anything that falls outside their package of intellectual convenience. It should not be surprising to anyone that frequency of conflicts, widening social and political polarizations, and overall moral and intellectual degradation worldwide represent an extremely serious problem, leaving us with very few optimistic feelings about the future. Dr. Gritzner identified the progress in that direction decades ago and, in his amusing way, laid it upfront in the Geography of Conflict syllabus:
Increasingly, Americans are unwilling (and perhaps unable!) to clearly identify, analyze, and intelligently articulate their thoughts and perspectives pertaining to critical issues. Positions taken and the individual defense thereof often are based much more on emotion than they are on reason. As a nation of peoples, we seem to be expert at scapegoating (“It is [someone else’s] fault!”), obfuscating (“Why am I right? Because!”), and whining (“How dare you question my beliefs!”).
An educated citizen must be aware of issues; he/she should understand and be able to thoughtfully analyze the various “sides” of important issues, as well as to assess the relative merits, shortcomings, and consequences of each. A mature citizen should be able to rationally explain and defend her/his beliefs and/or positions on issues. Certainly, a productive citizen should be able to understand reasonable means by which conflicts can be resolved. This course is designed to provide both a framework for and experience in attaining these goals.
The key word in the above excerpt is not “Americans” but “Increasingly.” Apathy in all spheres is rapidly increasing among the Americans and others alike. To think about conflicting issues, to understand them on a basis of reason rather than emotion, to question popular fallacies, and to doubt and question official narratives by articulately defending one’s positions, has become as enjoyable as field researching ghost lights during daylight. This widespread condition has transcended to the point that we would be almost better off by looking at all conflicts as a form of paranormal activity, rather than the product of regular human interaction. Like true believers who cannot accept that most ghost lights, in North Carolina and elsewhere, stem from simple human activity as elaborated by Dr. Gritzner in his book.