2004/12/04

Knowledge parts roads with power (3)

In the last post, we came to the conclusion that power and knowledge had gone their separate ways sometime at the end of early modernity and the start of modernity, but was this really the real story?

Men of power were decidedly not in control anymore over men of knowledge as was the case in the past. The spirit of knowledge had fused with the rationality of the logic of capital but so it appeared had done the spirit of power. Thus the rationality of the logic of capital had succeeded to insert itself at the heart of knowledge making and also of power management. From this we deduce that power and knowledge were surfing on the same wavelength, they acquired a common language and they also started to speak about the same subjects.

In this process of parting ways softly, the men of knowledge have nevertheless lost the support of the men of power to impose their newly acquired knowledge upon all members of society, here lays I feel the major differentiation between modern societies and pre-modern societies.

Authoritarian imposition of worldviews has been broken down by democratization that resulted out of a double need experienced by the rationality of the logic of capital: survival of the State system through power representation and increase of demand for mass production goods. Democratization did not miraculously emerge as a human ideal of justice and equality, it is only the historical conclusion of a long process:
- by which the merchants and the “burghers”, the well-off citizens of the cities gained the power that the clergy and then the aristocracy were losing
- by which ultimately the rationality growing out of the activities of the merchants and the burghers tumbled upon the double need for political stability and increased economic demand.

The present day idealization of democracy is no more than the transformation into ideology of the conclusion of a historical process, a long and chaotic historical road that was followed in Europe from the crusades till modernity.

Here we are now in modern societies: we elect our political representatives and we freely consume the industrial products of our choice but we have lost our ways, we surely can't say that we are happy, we seldom laugh, we seem to be in constant rush running after material possessions and illusory prestige. We have abdicated our free will and have become slaves of desire and greed, our new masters.

Having no worldview imposed upon us, everyone wants to give his own take on reality and explanations multiply, groups of belief, of opinion, form but short of knowledge much of the discourse is pure non-sense. Pre-modern societies were cohesive, all their members shared a common worldview and generally speaking, even if they did not share our level of material well-being, they appeared much, much more happy, they were laughing sharing their time with the others while we are crawling alone...

I'm not trying here to praise the past at the expense of the present, I just want to point to one of our modern societies shortcomings. Without a shared worldview, modern societies are atomizing, becoming more divided and facing ever more resistance against the evolving rationality emerging from a rapidly increasing body of scientific knowings. Our modern societies are faced with a dilemma:
- in the past, the visual signs of knowledge were imposed on all members of society which had the effect to cement all individuals into the unity of society. Nowadays everyone is free to believe what he wants but scientific knowings, as a consequence, only reach limited segments of our societies and even more limited segments are getting the chance to share in the knowledge derived from the combining of scientific knowings with philosophy.
- knowledge is growing and evolving faster and faster while in the past, knowledge was static or at least evolving over the long run.

Very few have the chance to share in modern day's knowledge and what is worse, modern day's knowledge does not have the benefit of visual signs that could spread the spirit of its essence among the population at large. What I mean here is that we derive our worldview from knowledge or from its visual signs thus I posit that in the absence of knowledge or visual signs about it, most of us are left free for sure, but absolutely ignorant about what our time is all about.

Fast evolving knowledge that is not shared by all is the best recipe for disaster. A society can't survive without a common worldview that cements it, it is indeed bound to atomize and then to dissolve and most likely before to dissolve, it will fall victim of last resort authoritarian impulses at conservation by some groups of interest that will want to preserve what they have, what they perceive as their privileges.

When this reasoning becomes crystal clear one feels the urge to do something about it.
It seems that I enter here in the most exciting part of this book. I have surely some ideas about what to do but I just don't know how the next paragraphs will come out in words on the white page.

The feel of urgency to do something to rebuild some cohesion in our modern societies is coveted with danger, one could indeed easily be led, for reason of one's so perceived truth, to justify what in normal conditions is not justifiable at all.
Let me be very clear, I do not believe one second that going back to the solutions of the past has any chance to solve our problems. Wanting to re-institute practices of the past is absolutely counterproductive. It can only lead a society to spend the energy of all in divisive debating while the real problems are left worsening. An authoritarian regime taking the power to impose a past worldview on all has no chance to succeed for this simple reason that it could only want to impose on the most advanced sectors of its society a stepping back from actions it already took to adapt to a changing worldview. How could such a society not land into trouble asking its most advanced sectors to step back from what it sees as the future?
Now what about an authoritarian regime that would want to impose a worldview in the shaping? There is just no way that men of power could master the knowledge derived from the combination of scientific knowings with philosophic wisdom and there is not an inch more chance that thinkers who, after much research and experimentation, landing on such knowledge would be willing to follow men of power in such an authoritarian endeavor.

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