A Crisis of Knowledge

Decades ago, sitting in a YMCA room in Calgary, Alberta, I read “Self Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson. It was a time in my life when I felt unable to take another step. Emerson’s essay helped me to recognize that—with no job, no home, and no obligations—I was exactly where I had yearned to be, while stuck in a cubicle writing computer code and pacing the streets of Montreal like a caged animal. This fearful not knowing what would come next was actually offering me the freedom to reinvent myself. Later that day, looking into the face of an unknown future, which was peering back, I got three jobs and felt like Lazarus newly arisen from the ground.

Moments of realization don’t last forever, and when we only see what we ‘know’ then it is time to renew our subscription to an ‘unknown’ future.

Last week, talking on Skype, my friend in England quoted Leslie Bradburn (a contributor to “Inside Knowledge”, the first new TSK book to appear in a decade): “Our world is in the midst of a crisis of knowledge”.

This phrase (‘crisis of knowledge’) has reverberated in me ever since.

It’s true isn’t it? I don’t think that we need to be students of the TSK vision to recognize that something is off about how our society relates to knowledge. Jack Petranker observes in “Inside Knowledge”: “There is something fundamental about who we are, about our world and our place in this world, that we are failing to understand.” (IK 3)

Nothing could be more evident. We see this crisis in our inability to know our own good and, if we do know it, to realize it in our lives. Everything has become so complicated. Mechanical forces are propelling us through time. We feel frustrated and helpless when software and devices don’t work. Taxes, health care, livelihood, and our inability to protect our families; everything requires more time and knowledge than we know how to access. In our daily lives, we oscillate between the boredom of repetition and the stress of working with a technology that makes us feel incompetent.

Perhaps the saddest part of this ‘knowledge crisis’ is that we have forgotten the inexhaustible knowledge that blooms in us and in our world.

In “Self Reliance” Emerson exhorts us to trust our own minds, saying that if we don’t follow up on our own insights and illuminations:

Then, tomorrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinions from another.”

Even that may be saying too much. How often do we even know what we are capable of knowing? We seem to have handed over to strangers the task of understanding and conducting our own lives.
(Next Tuesday I plan to write a review of “Inside Knowledge” as my Blog.)

2 comments to “A Crisis of Knowledge”
  1. Thanks for your comment, Sharon, and for your suggestion that these blog posts might provide the seed for a book. I must confess that the thought has crossed my mind. But with 20 or so blog readers, something else would have to nudge me into the effort and expense it takes to put a book together.

    I’m sure you know that better than me–with your own books, articles, and presence in the community.

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