Friday, May 16, 2008

Fear of Knowledge and "Elitism"

As long as human beings have been around, and probably even earlier (among hominids like Neanderthals and perhaps even Homo Erectus), it is well known that individuals possessing a great deal of knowledge are very important for the preservation and continuation of society. These individuals, which we now call experts have spent their lives studying phenomenon that has lead to novel methods of illumination and revelation. As human society has expanded, so has the role and importance of experts. During the initial stages of human civilization, certain individuals we now call Shaman, or witchdoctors were trusted to possess knowledge that was seen as critical towards the survival of a tribe or even society. They were often entrusted to have knowledge of the natural phenomenon that occurred around their limited world-view. They were often found working with the beliefs that made logical intuitive sense. Their understanding of botany, atmospheric phenomenon, and geological changes was extremely imaginative and elementary compared to what we now know, but in their time and place, they had the wisdom and know-how that individuals trusted for their survival. Perhaps their understanding was limited compared to our own, but they far exceeded their peers, and thus, were often consulted as "experts". As humans settled and civilization matured, new niches were created within society for new kinds of experts. Suddenly, there were priests, astrologers, blacksmiths, geographers, agronomists, animal husbandry practitioners, etc. These individuals occupied important positions in society and thus, were frequently consulted for advice and even philosophical insight. With the advent of science and the scientific method, there are countless niches that are being filled with individuals possessing specific knowledge. Even in the recent past, such as during the Enlightenment, many retained generalized knowledge across vastly different disciplines, but as our base of understanding expands, newer and more specific frontiers are discovered and subsequently occupied by very wise and learned individuals. As an analogy, one can think of an elephant and octopus. An elephant has a single trunk it uses in various different ways, whereas an octopus has 8 arms, with each able to undertake a specific task. Modern day society is very much like an hyper-octopus, with millions of arms each obtaining some specific insight and adding to a thorough understanding.

The recent progress that science and technology have provided to society cannot be underestimated. Through the countless work of millions of driven and wise individuals, a large base of knowledge has been established that continues to grow and add through refinements in the scientific method and developments based on that principle. Concurrently, as fields of expertise have expanded, certain other roles are slowly becoming relegated to the past. Blacksmiths, whose role cannot ever be understated in past society have largely disappeared, with only a few individuals practicing it for the sake of art or very specific niches. Similarly, one would expect the role of religious experts to disappear. As science expands and contradicts the mythical and imaginative stories that many religions are based on, the individuals practicing this nonsense should theoretically be relegated to the role of mythologists. Yet, we see a growing sense of dread for billions of people in the possible loss of these "experts". I have already tackled the reasons many are unable to uncoil this reality numbing python wrapped around their minds in previous posts, but it must be restated that through ignorance, need for comfort, seeking of authority, group thinking, and indoctrination the sense of wonder and reality about the universe is snuffed away. These people grasp at any possible link that although false, may give them a sense of ignorant and blissful inner peace. They purposely close their minds or of those who are willing to tread the fence, stop just before fully crossing into reality and rationalism by purporting to feel empty without their indoctrinated belief system. Ultimately, this fear of the unknown is reinforced and continuously indoctrinated throughout the believers' lives. The fear of having only one chance in life, only one shot on this planet as a biological organism, fragile, and readily influenced through any whim of the cosmos stops many in their tracts, and in fact, results in their hatred towards those who are unwilling to stop at an artificial line.

The ignorant individuals who have developed a sense of fear and mistrust of knowledge eventually deem those who possess those specific traits as a danger to society and view their behavior negatively. The label "elitist" is tossed around these days, by congressmen, media pundits, and even a would-be presidential candidate. The proverbial camelid back breaking straw was when Hillary Clinton referred to Barack Obama's higher education and impassioned, educated speeches as elitist. Suddenly, half the country decided that elitists were evil, snobbish, and didn't care about the working class. Yet, when one really looks at politicians, most of them are traditionally elitist. They have power, money, influence, and most important, view themselves as privileged when compared to the rest of Americans. These people in such lofty positions are all elitist. The scientists, educators, inventors, researchers, and the like are modern day experts, not the elite. These are people who are working hard to further society, and help humanity, while politicians bicker and cause hatred and division among the populace to further their own egotistical agendas. They set the stage for their children to continue in their footsteps, as in the case of the Bush family. These are the elite that the populace should fear, not the learned, and educated individuals. Knowledge is nothing to fear when taken ethically and responsibly but unfortunately, few will ever come to understand this concept. Society will continue to treat children who possess the drive and will to learn as nerds, geeks, dorks, bookworms, etc. It's no surprise that the average American would rather have a President in office that they could share a drink with, play monopoly with, shoot deer, treat them like children, and continually police and suppress their free thought with the public's blind acceptance and enthusiasm. It should further be understood that not all individuals are born with the personality traits conductive towards acquiring all forms of knowledge, but most every individual has certain latent talents and behavioral characteristics that can allow them to occupy certain important niches in society. The shame of having so many people turn their back against knowledge is that many of them can be instrumental in embracing the future, but because of ignorance, politics, and intimidation or fear, they will take the easy road and become resistant towards personal growth and development. When they do seem to embrace personal growth, it's often directed towards useless endeavors like religion or spirituality. It's no secret that religion's greatest fear is knowledge, thus the story of the forbidden fruit and clich├ęs like "ignorance is bliss". Yet, the knowledge is there to be ascertained and the possibilities are both gratifying and infinite. If stating these facts make me seem elitist, then be it so, but there's nothing negative about it.

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