A Cape Town resident seen reading a pamphlet on Covid-19, provided by the City of Cape Town.
A Cape Town resident seen reading a pamphlet on Covid-19, provided by the City of Cape Town.

Pandemic brings up our choice in how we accumulate knowledge

By Rudi Buys Time of article published Jun 7, 2021

Share this article:

Have the lives we live truly changed forever? Are we really seeing a third wave? Are children in fact safer from infection? Are the vaccines safe? Who should be prioritised to receive vaccinations? Should I get vaccinated, or not?

These and other questions flood almost every conversation we have as we move about our daily lives. Simply as people, but also as citizens and workers, we answer as best we can, but our comments are hesitant.

They offer half-hearted comments of what each one considers to be the facts regarding the pandemic at that point in time. We walk away, still wondering. When we reach some form of clarity on a particular question, we build lobby groups to advance the argument.

Arguably, to do so offers us a measure of initiative and a restored sense of resilience to combat the ruin that threatens our society and the world. It is as if a new form emerges of how citizens reflect on the world around them, and as members of a society who have a voice.

While on the surface of social and political debates the emphasis is on making sound decisions, underneath it all a hidden dynamic is at play – a wave of citizens for themselves finding new ways of asking questions, seeking truth, and building knowledge.

Read in this way, one could argue that the pandemic causes the core project of schools, colleges, and universities – asking questions, seeking truths, and constructing knowledge, from the campus to every street of each community.

It also means that more than being citizens, the pandemic, in social-political terms, makes each one a “knowledge worker”, each collective a “knowledge community” and each attempt to find answers a “knowledge project”.

As knowledge workers engaged in knowledge projects, citizens however face the threat of limits to, and limiting, their search for truth. Counterintuitively, it is the freedom to build your own project and choose for yourself that threatens the quality of the knowledge worker’s questions and answers – the freedom to choose who one will talk and where you will hunt for information to build your knowledge.

At the one end of the struggle for sound ways of knowing is the choice to hear the voices and find the places that amplify only those questions you value and truths you have already accepted – the “echo-chamber” of knowledge. This notion refers to the ways whereby citizens and their collectives deliberately only talk to those who hold similar views, those who echo what they have already adopted as fact.

As a strategy for finding answers, the choice for echoes draws the boundaries of new knowledge very close. At the other end of the struggle for meaningful ways to know the world is the choice not to arrive at definitive conclusions, but to keep the flow of information open – the “open fields” of knowledge.

This refers to ways whereby citizens and their collectives seek and engage without end as many diverse perspectives and avenues of information as may be possible. As a strategy to find answers, the choice for open fields makes the boundaries of new knowledge fluid and draws them wide.

It is the “hallways” of knowledge that offer a bridge between the intimate conversation of the echo-chamber and the freedom of thought of the open field. This refers to the intentional ways of finding those people most different from you in the questions they ask and the truths they debate.

This choice offers the resilience of arguing a view, listening for the wisdom of others, and arriving at knowing and new knowledge that keep on growing.

* Rudi Buys is the Executive Dean of the non-profit higher education institution, Cornerstone Institute.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

Do you have something on your mind; or want to comment on the big stories of the day? We would love to hear from you. Please send your letters to [email protected]

All letters must have your proper name and a valid email address to be considered for publication.

Share this article: