Saturday, 16 August 2014

Sun setting on the Knowledge Society? Part 1

Imagine a situation where you are confronted with a grave problem. So grave that solving it in a smart and concise manner becomes a life and death situation. Can't think of any? Allow me to offer some scenarios; on an International level the current Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa is one. On a regional level the current crisis in Iraq would qualify as a life and death situation for many people living there and even beyond. Or at an even smaller scale, the current escalation of conflict between Israel and the Hamas-led political entity in Gaza would constitute a life and death situation for the Israelis as well as the local Palestinian Arab population.

Now imagine further that you, the knowledgeable problem solver in one or more of the above situations, in the course of fulfilling your analytical duties are interrupted suddenly by someone of equal or even greater erudition than you and is told by said person that you are solving all this wrong and that you will fail. He even offers an alternative plan and insists that you use follow it instead. 

Now you being of good sport decide to listen to his idea and quickly decide that is in error due to perhaps some erroneous or even naive assumptions and you engage your polemics gear and start to explain to him the true nature of the problem. But your friend remains resolute. In fact he might even engage in ad hoc arguments or throw around straw man arguments and after a long, tiring and utterly pointless battle (meanwhile the problem persists), you finally shout:

Now what just happened? Lets look at our erudite friend's assumptions that so pissed off our knowledgeable problem solver; for the Ebola scenario, the erudite declared unabashedly that Ebola doesn't exist. What?! 'You must be mad', you say. This has unfortunately happened before with regards to the AIDS pandemic in South Africa, a most embarrassing scene to say the least.

Scenario two, the Iraqi problem; ISIS, the Islamist militant group that has resurrected the old Islamic Caliphate is declared a Zionist plot (without evidence) to make Islam look bad. But anyone who reads about ISIS's origins knows that that cannot be true.

Scenario three, Hamas isn't a problem; it is the Israelis who are doing indiscriminate killing. While we can acknowledge that the war's civilian casualties on both sides are regrettable (while remembering that it is a war and wars are always cruel no matter the guidelines), we must also acknowledge that this statement is utterly false not just because of what the Israelis say but because of what objective statistical evidence says. 'But look at the dead children', you might shout at our poor problem solver but he might have every right to tell you to look at the evidence and reconsider your stance objectively.

All these examples (and there are plenty more in various fields) are based on real life, not fiction and they serve to illustrate what a certain ancient Greek philosopher said over 2300 years ago and to explain why we might have left our burgeoning knowledge society open to potential calamity. We shall see what Plato had to say about our problem solver' societal problem in part 2.

Good day to you all.