…information and experiential awareness which can be transmitted through language, art, or other expressions
When the late Lory Roston introduced me to the work of Gregory Bateson on a cold afternoon in an office in the Trinity Building on Broadway and Wall St in New York, I had no concept of the gravity of the moment. As he sat at the end of the conference room table and adjusted his hearing aid, he looked at me and said, “Young man, the last time I was this fascinated with listening to someone was when I listened to Gregory Bateson.” I knew neither Lory nor Gregory. And, for that matter, as he was transfixed with his hearing aid for a good five minutes, I didn’t know how much of what I had said he had actually heard. However, I decided to glance at the book he rifled from his tattered briefcase and, in a few minutes with Steps to an Ecology of the Mind I was hooked. What followed was my voracious pursuit and contemplation of every book, article and lecture of Bateson’s I could find. Adding to the irony of Mr. Roston’s linkage was the fact that, like Bateson, much of my deepened consideration on values and epistemology was triggered by the exact same tribe in East New Britain, Papua New Guinea – interactions separated by almost 80 years!
Bateson presents one of the most articulate arguments for an integral view of knowledge – one that has the courage to challenge Occidental dogma emerging from Plato’s notion that knowledge represents a justification-based evidentiary belief. Challenging the Aristotelian notion that knowledge requires witnessed evidence of cause and effect leading to certitude, Bateson promotes the integration of somatic observation and experience with qualitative comparisons of ecosystem level symmetries and asymmetries. His concept of what he characterized as adductive scientific methodology to understand “a difference which makes a difference” encourages an expanding, rather than reductionist, view of knowledge. In Bateson’s view, knowledge was an expanding, abundant, boundless journey, not a consensus dogma.
I’m entertained by those who suggest that we live in a “Knowledge Economy”. I find this self-aggrandizing hubris oxymoronic and delusional. As the recent equity, debt and government financial implosions have shown, “experts” had no clue what the heck was going wrong before something went terribly wrong. And those who were hopelessly clueless on the way into the storm are now equally clueless on determining whether we’re getting better (though we’re pretty sure that we are not unless we’re an over-caffeinated promoter on CNBC in which case all we do is yell louder). What we do know with absolute confidence is that GREED uses KNOWLEDGE ASSYMETRY to take money from gullible would-be lottery winners and appropriates it to those who can avoid accountability. The very notion that propaganda has been labeled “Knowledge” and that “financial experts” are merely those who serve the thieves most efficiently shows that there is no responsible “management of the household” – the literal meaning of “economy”. This week’s Federal Reserve assessment is the punctuation in the obituary on the Knowledge Economy. We will now use our economy’s future to purchase toxic waste so that we can share the ownership of the lack of judgment of the few!
Knowledge is a vital component to Integral Accounting. What has been passed off as “knowledge” for the past thirty years has too often been willful deceit. Let me review a few examples. Since the Reagan Administration’s trade war with Japan, we were told that we were the most innovative country on Earth. We had to be told that because, regrettably, Japan was clobbering us at a game we thought we dominated. With cars, semiconductors, electronics, and certain energy technologies, our self reported superiority was being so thoroughly trumped that the U.S. had to waive it’s own anti-trust and collusion laws to regain a “competitive” position in fields that we knew we owned. While American institutions of higher learning boasted many of the world’s pre-eminent scientists and scholars, the students in the most sophisticated classrooms and labs were not American. And, for those of you who haven’t been around higher education lately, it’s graduate students who are frequently the source of creativity, not their tenured advisors. So, when countries like Korea, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and India bring their students home – accelerated in our anti-immigrant post 9/11 world – guess what! They take their knowledge and creativity home with them. And when U.S. and European corporations told their investors that out-sourcing would drive profitability, they assiduously avoided pointing out that, together with frequent compulsory technology transfer, what they were really doing was selling their future for short term gains.
Doubt that knowledge has explicit and implicit, quantifiable value? Look at where economies are growing and look at where education expenditure growth outpaced military and health care expenditures. These truths are self-evident.
So far, if you’re reading this in the U.S., you may be feeling pretty bummed and if you’re reading this in historically marginalized countries, you may be pretty excited. Not so fast. One of the biggest mistakes in the pursuit of knowledge is the blurring of the line between EDUCATION and TRAINING. As we state in our Integral Accounting definition of Knowledge (“information and experiential awareness which can be transmitted”) the concept requires the capacity to transform individual awareness into a transmittable form. The transmission may be evidenced in behavior, communication, art, kinesthetics, collaboration, or technology. Overlooking the sense of network synergies and collaborative values arising from inter-relational cooperation, many countries have focused on training to compete rather than educating to collaborate. Not surprisingly, industrial property artifacts like patents and trade-secrets are being foolishly embraced by countries precisely at the same time that these systems have proven to be obstacles for development in their countries of origin. China and India are carelessly adopting innovation Cold War practices of encouraging isolation rather than collaboration. This behavior is antithetical to knowledge. Awareness that is hidden and enclosed for short-term, proprietary gain is not knowledge. Furthermore, in a world where trusted relationships form a critical support mechanism in uncertain times, protectionism and isolation is shortsighted.
So, with reckless abandon, I am going to dive into a multi-millennial debate over Knowledge by proposing that, the reason why we’ve been locked in our confusion over knowledge and its essence is because we’ve seen it as an end – not a utility. We view it as an object or ideal to attain rather than a vehicle through which we manifest our capacity to integrate, critique, and synthesize. Allow me to explain with a deeply personal experience.
In the Spring of 1988, I was a competitive track athlete at Goshen College. At the first outdoor meet of the season, I jumped into the long-jump pit at Huntington College and gained knowledge. I learned that the grounds keepers had not dug into the sand to find that there was ice beneath the surface. Upon landing, both of my legs ripped at the knees placing my feet remarkably close to my buttocks in a most hideous and contorted way. Shortly thereafter, I was informed that I would probably never walk again. I went from athlete to invalid in an instant. While 22 years of pain have been my constant companion, I did regain the ability to walk, run, bike, and engage in activities that knowledgeable experts thought impossible. However, this is not my example.
While I was in the wheelchair, my greatest emotional trauma was the realization that I may possibly never have the opportunity to engage in a face-to-face conversation with anyone again. Those who stand and socialize have no concept of the distance felt by those who involuntarily sit out of eyesight. For months I pleaded with the universe for someone to actually kneel down and talk to me eye-to-eye. Save my lovely bride and my mother, no one did.
In October 2009, I was in Brazil and met my soon-to-be-friend Marcelo Colonno. Marcelo lost use of his legs in a car accident and, at our first meeting, I was visited by the spirit of my pleading 21 years earlier. Despite excruciating pain, I walked up to him before either of us knew one another, knelt down and introduced myself. He and I shared a wonderful conversation and in an instant forged a bond which has already had a ripple effect altering the economic course of Brazil.
The reason why I share this story with you is to demonstrate what I mean when I talk about Knowledge as the evidence of integration, information, synthesis of information and experiential awareness. I didn’t “have” knowledge. I evidenced knowledge and, in so doing, shared an evident knowledge with Marcelo. In short, Knowledge, like potential energy, is an option which only exists when evidenced. While the Greeks struggled to apologize for their circular arguments which attempted to separate knowledge from self-confirmatory belief (unsuccessfully) and while others have struggled mightily since to do the same, we are lost if we seek to attain something that can only be manifest in its sharing. In Integral Accounting, Knowledge is the mutually recognized capacity to communicate “differences which make a difference” in an ecosystem. Bateson got it as close as anyone and, thanks to my late friend, Lory Roston, I have better tools to share knowledge. I trust that in the coming week, you take a moment to transform your information and experiential awareness into an episode of communication with another. In so doing you will, for a moment expand the universe of knowledge and make the world a better place.