The Myth of Knowledge

I was reading my journal and came across this following piece, written back in 2014. Given our current political tension, I think it is more relevant now than ever:

Intelligence is both information and the capacity to absorb information. It is also the quality that separates humanity from the rest of nature. Our capacity to understand abstract information has led to the development of language and civilization. This quality is the very essence upon which humanity is built.

When intelligence becomes intellectualism, however, it becomes much less beneficial. While intelligence is a naturally occurring process, intellectualism is a deliberate pursuit with emphasis on abstract matters. Many who are critical of this pursuit points to its lack of proper consideration for emotions.

It’s most dangerous attribute, however, is not its emotional absence. At the core of intellectualism its the emphasis on knowledge. This is problematic because knowledge are facts but facts are not necessarily truths.

Facts can be misleading in many ways. They can be selective to show only one aspect of a larger story or they can be manipulated to misrepresent a situation altogether. These unethical uses of facts can be demonstrated through the perception of crime in the United States back in the 1990s. While violent crimes went down, sensational news reporting of crime went up, leading the public to believe that crime had worsened during that period.

Aside from facts being misused, another problem with seeing knowledge as the end all be all is that they are meaningless in of themselves. For example, it is a fact that Americans of Mexican descend has a high school graduation rate of approximately 86%. This figure can be good or bad depending on the larger context. If we are speaking about graduation rates among all children of immigrants, then it is low compared to Asian Americans. However, if what we are looking at is the generational progress within the Mexican American community, then this is becomes a huge success story.

But perhaps the most dangerous thing about being knowledgeable is the common misconception that being in possession of facts is equivalent to being well informed. Most people think that facts produce beliefs, when in reality, they are just as commonly used to support beliefs already held. Since facts are so easily manipulated, anyone who cares to do so can find mountains of facts to support almost any belief.

In our information age, it is easy to believe that we are well informed but reading volumes of information alone doesn’t make that true if the sources all come from other like minded people and organizations. Being well informed requires one to be diversely informed and to be open minded about opinions that do not concur with one’s own.

We must always keep in mind that knowledge and truth aren’t the same thing. When intelligence becomes a goal in of itself instead of a tool for understanding, truth gets lost.


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