The Knowledge Paradox

I am and always will be a strong proponent of education. I think that knowledge is power, if not physical power, than personal. It’s one of the keys to wisdom and understanding, something that we all lack.

Wisdom = Knowledge + Experience + Empathy (not a verified equation, just a theory. Work with me here.)

Knowledge and Experience are relatively easy to come by. You study. You live. That’s all there is to it.  Empathy? That’s harder to come by. There’s a danger of elitism that comes with knowledge and experience, a “Dark Side” you might say, (especially if you’re a geek like me) and the enemy of Wisdom.  It’s something that all people should be aware of.

As people grow in knowledge and experience (what I call “leveling up”), the path can diverge several ways:

  1. They develop critical thinking skills to match their new knowledge, and are able to discern truth from misinformation.
  2. They get full of themselves, drunk on their own knowledge. They see their point of view as the only valid one, and anyone that disagrees is either stupid or crazy.
  3. They find the wisdom to allow other points of view into their mind, process them, and find empathy for those other people.

One of these things is not like the other. One of these things is far too common. Can you guess which one?

i'm smart enough to realize i'm dumb


I mentioned a couple of weeks ago how my browser and social media sites were sending me articles based on my interests and views. The new information (usually from dubious sources, so many that I’ve added Snopes to my bookmarks bar) I received reinforced what I wanted to believe, rather than what was true. I could’ve fallen into that trap, of having food for thought regurgitated and redigested until it became “truth.” I didn’t. I was lucky to realize what was happening. Unfortunately, I think that most people–no matter how intelligent–don’t. The number of bogus articles and memes posted daily on Facebook reinforces this.

I’m not saying that I’m smarter or somehow better than other people, because I’m not. I’m not a special snowflake, just a regular one. None of us are special snowflakes, we’re all equal. I’m an ordinary guy with virtues and flaws and occasional humor. I had a moment of clarity. But I did learn something:

Knowledge does not make you better than other people. Experience does not make you better than other people. Nothing makes you better than other people. You don’t know others’ lives, their experiences, or their fears. You don’t know what made them think or act a certain way. The moment that you think that you are “better” than someone, you have fallen into the “knowledge paradox.” Your knowledge made you ignorant and dangerous.

A wise person realizes that the more you know, the more you realize how little you know.


you know nothing jon snow

So let’s cut the crap and stop the snark. Be kind to people and listen to what they have to say. Even if you don’t agree. Especially if you don’t agree.

Oh, and buy one of my books 😛 (here for The Watchmage of Old New York, here for Song of Simon) Because true wisdom comes from giving me money (kidding…but still, buy a book).

cosmic-cat tripping balls redux

The Sixth Estate

I’ve been watching the news, and I noticed a distinct change. Now every story has surveillance video that goes with it. It doesn’t matter if it’s an attack, a car accident, or police brutality, there’s always someone taping.

I don’t know if this is good or bad.

Let me clarify: Big Brother is watching us, but it is not some super-powered dictatorship. We are Big Brother.

The surveillance tapes I see on the news are almost always from stores or cell phones. We are recording (and policing) ourselves. The internet surveillance that we usually deal with comes from companies trying to better target product to audience, though we can be sure that the govt gets a hold of it too. We are casually revealing information about ourselves on social media without thinking of the ramifications. The govt doesn’t have to watch us, because we give them what they want.

I don’t know if this is good or bad.

Of course, the govt and law enforcement can always subpoena these tapes, but they rarely have to. What store owner isn’t going to let the cops look at them? If there’s a crime near their store, they want it taken care of or else it could hurt business. I’m more concerned with the govt looking at our info, but again, we choose to give it away. We let them into our lives, because we feel that the tradeoff is worth it.

I believe that human curiosity, the need to connect with other people, and the thirst for information is stronger than our desire for privacy. We want to know, NEED to know, and we’ll trade knowledge in exchange for knowledge.

The thing is: while they’re watching us, we’re watching them. Groups like Anonymous consistently reveal information on shady doings. Civilians record police acting outside of the law, and apps allow you to send it straight to the ACLU or (usually) Youtube. Fights get recorded. Hate-filled rants get shared and shamed. Powerful Tweets and memes get passed around and open eyes (or at least open a dialogue. Whether the dialogue becomes people comparing each other to Hitler is up to the debaters).

We’ve become a second layer of police. If the media is the Fourth Estate. and bloggers the Fifth Estate, than we are the Sixth Estate, keeping an eye on what the others miss. We might be the most powerful of all.

I don’t know if this is good or bad. I do know that we have the power if we want to use it.


cosmic-cat tripping balls redux