We live in a world of which a few of us know more and more, and billions of us, a majority of us young, know less and less.
People are more and more separate in regard to what they know, or don’t know. This is not the old separation between the political left and right, between the liberals and conservatives, capitalists and socialists. It’s the even older separation between knowledge and ignorance, between those who know and those who don’t.
There may have been a time in the past when people did know more or less the same things.
And if there ever was a Golden Age, a treasured time in the distant past, it was probably the time when we all knew if not the same things, much the same things,…about the earth, the movements of the sun, the planting seasons, the harvests, the warmth and the cold, and yes, birth and death. When common knowledge, as well as beliefs brought us together.
Was such true of the members of the hundreds of Native American tribes? Was it true of the Hunters and Gatherers who came before our Age of Agriculture some 10 to 12000 years ago?. Did these and others of our distant ancestors share pretty much the same knowledge of their worlds?
In any case this is not longer true. Today there is endless talk about just how unequal we are, but inequality in regard to income, wealth, and life’s chances. These inequalities are probably greater than ever before. And without a doubt these inequalities separate us, create the class structures that we talk about so much. But is this that which most separates us? our respective incomes, our assets, our life chances? I don’t think so.
That which separates us the most has to be something else. For many of our most sought after possessions, smart phones and big screen televisions for example, if not high-end cars and boats, and many of life’s chances, are now within the reach all of us, and in fact in respect to the reach of our mobile phones and the size of our tv screen we come very close to being equal,
No, today that inequality that most separates has to be not that of wealth but that of knowledge, what we know and how much we know, and then the fact that just a very few of us (probably less than the much talked about 1%) know so much more than the rest of us.
The knowledge inequality dwarfs the income and wealth inequalities. And it’s been with us for hundreds, if not thousands of years, probably since the rise of agriculture when for the first time individuals broke away from their communities and began to work for themselves.
The knowledge inequality, more even than the poverty of the Russian working and peasant classes, is probably what accounted for the rise of communism in Russia some 100 years ago. The people’s ignorance is what most enabled first Lenin and then Stalin to impose throughout the land their own destructive ideologies. The people just didn’t know enough to prevent collectivization from happening and breaking up what had been their lives up until then.
And it’s much the same in the Middle East and North Africa today. The people’s ignorance makes they unable to resist the Jihadists who would return them to a time a thousand years earlier and be forced to follow Islamic dogma selectively drawn from the words of a book that is almost without any relevance in today’s world. Much the same could be said about the Evangelicals and their Bible, no less out of date and relevance.
As in communist Russia so in the Middle East the leaders of their respective ideologies, while not necessarily poor and ignorant themselves, in order to work and fashion their deadly and destructive schemes needed, and now still need, pliant and ignorant subjects, and given the failure of most nations of the world to educate their peoples they have that in spades.
Today huge numbers the young fail to learn in the schools. The schools have done little or nothing to reduce the knowledge inequality that is everywhere. We do seem totally unable to prepare our young people to function productively and responsibly in the world.
In brief, following schooling (not education that which is something other than schooling) there are no jobs for many of the graduates, let alone the growing number of dropouts. And while we seem to be able to produce and provide any material good that anyone could ever possibly want to possess we don’t seem able to provide appropriate jobs for more than a minority of the people.
It is my belief that the problems we confront today stem not from wealth inequalities but from knowledge inequalities. Somehow our great technological revolutions, beginning with those of agriculture, industry, information, and now robotics, artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and now innumerable others, and with no end in sight, somehow all these wondrous achievements have benefitted only a minority, while leaving further and further behind an unattached majority.
More and more people are leaving school without having learned anything of real value to society and as a result they are not only jobless, but become easy prey to the ideologues.
The ideologues, including today most of the Republican presidential candidates, are more and more really demagogues, attempting to clothe themselves in the ignorance and prejudices of the people in order to be elected. And by so doing they are not doing what they should be doing, bringing out what is best in the people, best in all of us, promoting our humanity, our civility, our good sense , that sense that we should share or have in common.
No, they are doing just the opposite, the result being that young people, bereft of common sense if not their humanity, are now by the thousands following the ideologue, and not history, the knowledge of the past, that should instead have been their guide
And this is happening, not because of wealth and income inequalities, but because we have set loose in the world millions of our young who are without the knowledge that might have protected them from the persuasive ways and pressures of the ideologues.
And not only here but world-wide, young people, even very young, almost teens, are being set loose among us with little knowledge of the world, with little knowledge of what men have learned since the time of the ancients, and most of all since the rise of modern science in the 17th. century, with little knowledge of science, history, let alone art and music.
Set loose to do what? Kids from the Arab lands in the Middle East, but also from Europe and other countries of the developed world, to follow the Jihadists,
Just today, among the thousands of young Tunisians who are flocking to Syria to join ISIS there’s probably not a handful who are at all knowledgeable, who for example, and like Mohammad himself, are even aware of Darwin’s grand idea, — the idea that some 5 to 10 million years ago our planet was the planet of the apes, and that these so-called apes were our ancestors, —who are even aware that the earth turned about itself and about the sun, and that the sun and the planets turned once again within the Milky Way galaxy, and at the same time with the billions of other galaxies was hurtling off into space..
Having learned about Darwin in a real educational institution, having learned about the size and the splendor of the cosmos, about the origin of our solar system, having learned about who we are and from where we come, would the young Tunisians then have gone to Syria to help ISIS destroy the ancient city of Palmyra, while in the process blowing themselves up?
Too many of us still do not accept evolution, the biological fact that, as Lewis Thomas said, “we are all in the same family—grasses, seagulls, fish, fleas, and voting citizens of the republic…. the life of the Earth is more intimately connected than we might ever think.”
Governments ought to be in the business of redistributing knowledge (not at all a zero sum game), not wealth (a zero sum game). And in any case new wealth will result more from the acquisition of skills and knowledge than from government handouts.