Faith in the Power of Knowledge

I was continuing to think more about knowledge, learning and communication.

I’m always reading and researching. One thing I love about my Kindle is that it allows me to do a search of terms across all of my books, excluding the physical books on my shelves. I have enough ebooks now that doing searches is more fun activity.

That is how I was wasting my time recently. I was doing various searches just to see what would come up. I was looking up terms like “Anti-Federalism” and “Articles of Confederation”, but also terms such as “eligible” combined with “vote”. Doing this kind of activity reminds me of how much there is to know and how little I know in comparison.

With those last search terms, I found my way to Liberty in America’s Founding by Howard Schwartz. I always have so many books I’m meaning to start reading or finish that it is nice to have books brought back to my attention. This particular book I had almost entirely forgotten about. My search first brought me to a section on Jefferson and Locke, and then looking at the table of contents I noticed the author had a section on John Dickinson. Oh, what a lovely find/rediscovery.

Just reading a few short sections really did get me excited. The author was presenting a very original perspective. The guy is obviously well informed and he brings so much together. It is books like this that demonstrate the power of knowledge to shift one’s perspective. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if knowledge were to shift the perspective of our entire society, a shift to a new understanding, maybe even an entirely new paradigm.

That is why I so often return to the Axial Age, the Enlightenment, and the Revolutionary Era. Those were fulcrum points in history when entire worldviews shifted like plate tectonics. At the heart of those shifts were new understandings and perspectives. Beginning with the Axial Age in particular, books were what much of that hinged upon, books as a technology to transfer knowledge and insight from one mind to another, across boundaries of nations, religions and ethnicities.

I read and write so much because I have this genuine faith in the power of knowledge. I wish I had endless amounts of time to do nothing but read and write.


2 thoughts on “Faith in the Power of Knowledge

  1. There are a few books I’ve read that have been transformative.

    In light of what I wrote above, one example that comes to mind is A Language Older Than Words by Derrick Jensen. That is a book that beautifully combines knowledge and insight with a heart-wrenching moral force. The author put his soul into that book and by doing so touched upon the experience of suffering and injustice we all share.

    It’s not that all writing needs to achieve that. But when it does there is nothing greater.

    For me, knowledge expressed with insight can become a moral force. That is its power to force change, not just in individuals but for entire societies. We spend most of our lives in ignorance that even a small dose of knowledge can startle us awake.

    A single authentic expression of truth is beyond estimation in value. Its value might not even be immediately apparent. Many of the greatest of artists were unknown or barely known or simply poor while living. There rarely is much monetary value in expressing truth as one knows it.

    We can never know what impact we have on others. That is even more true for the written word that can spread beyond those we personally know and can last far beyond our lifetimes. Someone could spend their entire life writing utter bullshit and then at the very end write one absolutely honest thing that has an impact beyond any possible prediction. Words can speak to people, sometimes in ways the author couldn’t guess.

    Take another favorite writer of mine, Thomas Paine. I doubt he thought too much about the distant future of the world we now live in. He was the most widely read writer alive at that time and yet he died despised by even many of those he had previously inspired. Then he was largely forgotten about. Yet his words now resonate in a way that he never could have imagined. It would probably shock him to think that his vision would remain radical centuries later.

    When we write or simply speak in passing, we don’t really understand what we are putting out into the world. We’ll never fully know the impact, both positive and negative, we have on others from the way we live our lives. It isn’t just our words that are expressions of our personal truth (or else our personal lie). It is rare that we express in words even a fraction of what is in us as potential to be expressed.

    This is why I so often contemplate my own writings and what they mean to me or to anyone else. It matters what we say.

  2. I mentioned Howard Schwartz in my post above. I was curious to learn more about his book and so did a web search. It turns out he has his own blog. He wrote one thing that amused me:

    “It is a great paradox that even those who supposedly believe in and gave us the conception of self-evident rights may have had doubts about their self-evidence. I’ve written extensively already about Jefferson’s doubts that were reflected in the Declaration of Independence.

    “But it may also be the case that even the preeminent seventeenth century philosopher of natural rights, John Locke, may have harbored doubts as well. Who cares? Maybe no one but me.”

    That is something I wonder to myself: Who cares? I’m sure there are plenty of people who care, although it doesn’t always feel that way. This isn’t the type of thing one normally comes across anywhere in the MSM.

    In another post, Schwartz discusses the superficiality of so much ‘discussion’:

    “One of the great disappointments in life is how much superficial prattle dominates our public discussions. Our politicians and pundits throw out great concepts of liberty, rights, and God. But there is so little deep reflection on where these concepts come from, what they mean, or their histories. Political discourse today stays on the surface, like a skater on ice, and forgets that there is a vast amount of liquid below the ice.”

    [ . . . ]

    “One longs for a deeper, richer discussion by public officials. One longs, for example, to hear some serious discussion of what liberty is and should mean. One wants to hear a real debate about what it means to live in a liberal society where not everyone agrees on what truth is, whether God exists, when life begins, what our natural rights are. One of the most obvious examples of this superficiality is evident the use of the concepts of “liberty” and “rights.” Politicians and the average person use the terms as if they are self-evident. And despite the Declaration of Independence and John Locke, they are anything but.”

    By the way, to connect to some of my own recent thinking, he makes what maybe should be an obvious comparison to more people:

    “The recent attempt by EU leaders to create a common fiscal union across the eurozone with strict and enforceable rules embedded in EU treatises reminds me of the American States trying to come to common ground with the Confederation. Without the power to enforce economic practices, one wonders whether the EU will face the problems that plaqued the American States before they created a national government that had the power override the states and force compliance on key economic matters.”

    If we were a more well educated, better informed and generally more thoughtful society, such comparisons would come naturally to mind as a regular part of public discourse. There is an advantage to deeply knowing about and genuinely understanding what came before.

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