Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Knowledge: Liberating or Debilitating?

I'd rambled on about knowledge and freedom a while back. I went back and re-read it after an online friend paraphrased Paula Poundstone earlier today -- a quote about the potential effects of knowledge. I found the original in a Mother Jones article: "What moron said that knowledge is power? Knowledge is power only if it doesn't depress you so much that it leaves you in an immobile heap at the end of your bed."

She's right. Sort of. There's more to it, though. I've had conversations that have danced around this notion with my dear friend J. who (for the record) personifies the term 'piece of work' in more than one of its aspects, and for whom learning is like breathing, with knowledge his oxygen. J. introduced me to the issues surrounding Peak Oil, including its probable implications in terms of industrial food production. We've talked about the differences between denial and saturation points, about indifference and that 'deer-caught-in-headlights' sensation that can leave someone seeming avoidant or shell-shocked. The manner in which J. approaches knowledge is contagious and consistent, regardless of how dark and radical it may appear, or of the hot potato that bit of knowledge may actually be. J.'s response to the scenario presented by Paula Poundstone would be to tell the person left in an immobile heap at the end of the bed to "get off the cross" -- to get over it, because there's no time for wallowing.

In a sense, this takes the onus off of the knowing and puts it on the doing. You don't avoid knowledge because it's too depressing. If it's too depressing, then there's a reason for its being depressing. It's information about something which you feel or think isn't right. If you can do something about it, then do it; if you can't, then walk away from it. In avoiding the 'knowing' in the first place, though, you can never get to that point where you can -- and need -- to make this decision for yourself. Then you really need to ask yourself what's motivating you to avoid making that decision. Fear? Apathy? Laziness? Who wants to be motivated by that?

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