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The Fear of Knowledge

The Fear of Knowledge

I was on Davis Aurini’s Sunday Livestream a few days ago, and one of the many subjects we discussed was how, particularly in religious circles, the pursuit of purity can actually be harmful:

Aurini: “Where there is a contradiction between faith and reason, one or both are at fault.” Thomas Aquinas pointed that out. One of the things that frustrates me about the — how to put it — those Christians that choose to blind themselves and follow what they think are the dictates of their religion. The dictates of Christianity are to be as innocent as doves but as wise as serpents. This does not mean blinding yourself. This does not mean doing precisely what the church tells you without thinking about it; that’s what Islam commands. It’s like that old song, even if you choose not to choose, you still have made a choice. We are called upon to be wise, and to put it frankly, you don’t become wise without making a few mistakes along the way […] Fear of knowledge does not lead to erudition. Does not lead to godliness.

Robertson: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. One of the most depressing spirits I feel is creeping through our society is this fear of knowledge: “I don’t even want to explore this topic because the conclusions I might arrive at, or even might momentarily entertain, will put me in jeopardy; better leave that alone. Better not be too curious.” […]

Emerson once said that anyone who wishes to be an adult must be a non-conformist, and that in pursuit of maturity, we should not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore whether it be goodness.

So far as I can tell, the tricky conflict to navigate here is between loyalty and knowledge. If I explore the ideas of Marxist communism seriously and objectively, am I being disloyal to the principles and values of America? Am I being ungrateful? The answer is not simply an obvious “no.” Seriously appraising an idea that runs contrary to those of your own group means running the risk of accepting that idea, which could put you in conflict with other loyalties. Its a real concern.

But loyalties to other people are best served with the truth. If it were to be demonstrated that communism was not only feasible but superior to capitalism, then it would be a service, and not an attack, to bring this knowledge to those you care about, even if they are strongly prejudiced against the doctrine. They may reject your arguments, of course, and this rejection may lead to conflict, but this predictable conflict is not evidence of ungratefulness or disloyalty. On the contrary, the honest pursuit of the best interests of those to whom one owes a debt is the highest form of both loyalty and gratefulness, especially when this pursuit is unpopular. All revolutionary progress (the overturning of old paradigms) will be met with disdain and disapproval, but it is only through this kind of revolutionary change that societies can survive, because the world doesn’t sit still. Tradition is an absolutely critical component of managing a society, but it is not sufficient because the problems we face are always changing.

But perhaps more importantly, you will never truly be able to defeat an argument if you do not understand it, and you will never truly understand an idea unless you observe it with impartial openness. If you hope to destroy communism, you have to first really understand communism, which is perhaps why former Marxists like Thomas Sowell are always the most powerful and effective critics of Marxism. If loyalty to your people and their ideology means defending it against attackers, then becoming the most effective defender means learning about the attackers.

So if you want to criticize Islam, or Anarchism, or Atheism, Christianity, German National Socialism, Paganism, Liberalism, White Nationalism, or any other -ism which you hold to be in grievous moral error, it simply won’t be enough to come at it armed solely with your preconceptions, without interest or curiosity. The fear of knowledge, or of association with tainted knowledge, will not get rid of the problem. It can only rob you, of either a perfectly safe and good idea, or of the understanding necessary to defeat it. In both cases, the fear won’t protect you.

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