Knowledge is a collection of facts, information, skills, understandings, connections, and applications for personal, professional, and societal use. We gain knowledge through life experiences and formal & informal education.
The body of knowledge is everything humanity knows – the width and depth across a vast sea of topics and generations – yet, nobody comes close to knowing everything. However, I ask a few questions: Is knowledge power? Is knowledge valued? Is knowledge authority? Does knowledge have a role in accountability?
There is no doubt that humans are wired for discovery, learning, thinking, and interactions. To interact within the human world, we have a variety of communication skills; the ability for critical thinking, decision making, and reasoning; and display a wide range of emotions. We are also protective, selfish, biased, and even prejudiced.
Being social beings, humans form tribes for sharing, reciprocity, protection, and identity – tribes based on politics, religion, nationality, race, age, gender, philosophy, and other associations – plus a dogmatic creed to follow.
Today’s world is one with 24-hour news and social media with instant feedback and opinions – a world of alternative facts, biased news, cancel culture, conspiracy theories, dark money, deep state, disinformation, echo chambers, elitism, fake news, misinformation, paranoia, political correctness, postmodernism, revisionist history, trolling, and woke – a world dominated by the obnoxious and biased partisans – some are even bigoted – let alone the distortions and brazen, prolific lies by elected officials and tribal zealots with a microphone. Given all the above and more, today’s world clouds the public’s ability to determine truth.
Life surrounds us with information: truths, falsehoods, distortions, misconceptions, misleading conclusions, and probably more. Think of our environment as a “marketplace of ideas” where people can individually select items to determine what they think is right. It may not be the same as deciding which spaghetti sauce to buy, but a person does select what to believe.
Today’s world is one where tribal identity polarizes and promotes animosities by driving ideology and perception. While demonizing other tribes, does anyone see themselves as biased and prejudiced? Then again, that’s nothing new because history provides many examples from our past of dominating others through human selfishness, power, and greed.
What is new is that today’s world lives in the digital age – a time when news travels fast and people quickly react before getting the facts – a time when tribal members select a news source stating what they want to hear while software notes our clicks then feeds information supporting one’s preferred views. Today is a time when we reward quick, impulsive, emotionally anonymous responses over authority, reliability, and professionalism.
Gone are the days of agreeing on shared facts while differing interpretations and suggested solutions. How can we have meaningful dialogue without agreement on the facts? How can we find meaningful solutions without meaningful dialogue? Is knowledge still power? Do we know the difference between right/wrong and agree/disagree? Are opinions knowledge? Can people challenge their own biases if it threatens their tribe or identity? Have we muddled the difference between ignorance and stupidity? Do we live in a time when people demonize authentic and accurate resources because their information is counter to the tribal creed? Are people believing anything because they trust nothing?
Although this post is not a book review, The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth by Jonathan Rauch is interesting and thought-provoking. I found it in my local library. However, I’m confident reader biases will influence their opinion of the book.