Thanks to all who’ve commented so far on the Introduction and taken the polls. Your enthusiasm means so much! Additionally, it’s helpful to learn that you would share the book with others, what parts resonate strongly, and where I’ve been less than clear.
I thank two readers in particular (one who posted here and one who wrote me privately) for commenting on the paragraph that begins, “Knowledge may well have been freedom in the 19th and 20th centuries as Frederick Douglass famously said. But there’s little evidence for that equation today.”
One reader read me as dismissing the ways that African Americans were and still are denied access to knowledge. The other reader said I needed to give knowing more credit before I exposed its limitations. I’ve rewritten the opening section to address these concerns. Take a look.
Knowledge may well have been freedom in the 19th and 20th centuries as Frederick Douglass famously said. But there’s little evidence for that equation today. To rephrase psychologist James Hillman who wrote a book entitled, We’ve Had 100 Years of Psychotherapy and the World’s Getting Worse, I say, “We’ve had The Information Age, The Digital Revolution and The Knowledge Explosion and the world’s getting worse.”
Slaves were forbidden to read in Douglass’ day. Today, African Americans are denied access to the world’s knowledge in other (often insidious) ways, Yet, I believe that the problem of freedom goes beyond unequal access to knowledge. Whether white, brown, black, yellow or red; female or male or other; rich or poor; heading up or heading down; young or old, what keeps us all unfree in all kinds of ways is how organized our lives are by the ideology of knowing and its institutionalization. (Think: being in school, applying for a job…)
Knowledge became “king” with the birth of the scientific era and it helped humankind accomplish incredible things, many of which have been of invaluable benefit (extending life, curing disease, advancing agriculture, sharing information, discovering and preserving cultures…the list almost never ends). But the depth and breadth of scientific and technological discovery has come with a price, which is that “knowing” has become ideological. An ideology is a worldview, a way of looking at things, a set of ideas that underlies beliefs and understandings and guides actions—that’s become “how things are” so we’re usually not even aware of it. The knowing ideology is simply this: human life and growth, solutions to social problems, and world progress require and depend on knowing.
But what if they don’t? What if it doesn’t “go without saying” that we must know in order to get anything done? What if the knowing worldview is stifling creativity and discovery and closing off other ways of understanding—not only in the human and social sciences, and health care and education, but also in how we relate to ourselves and others (and even how we relate to knowledge)?
We live in a mass culture obsessed with the need to know at a time of such instability and unpredictability that knowing is of little good. If there is a way out of this predicament—and there is—then people need to hear about it and take part in what is no less a conceptual revolution than the Scientific Revolution, which is what gave us the knowing paradigm in the first place.