Thursday, February 11, 2010

On The (supposed) Distinction Between Modern and Traditional Knowledge

Definitions that seek to distinguish between indigenous/ traditional “knowledge” and modern “knowledge” are all fatally flawed. They are based on an assumption of a difference, which may or may not exist. On the face of it, knowledge is knowledge. All knowledge is the same or no knowledge is knowledge. This seems to me to be a pretty obvious proposition, using common, as well as logical intelligence. Yet scholars (and others) waste an enormous amount of time, and words, to “try” and define the two kinds of “knowledge” in such a manner as to maintain a distinction between the two. Naturally, as modern “knowledge” grows in age and sophistication (and, consequently, its levels of blind arrogance fall), this exercise grows more and more onerous, and tedious, and clumsy. After all, it is impossible for knowledge to match the insouciance of arrogance and ignorance.

All knowledge goes through stages of being nascent, modern, and ultimately, when it is supplanted by a newer “knowledge”, traditional. That the currently “modern knowledge has not yet been supplanted may entitle it to the sobriquet (or prefix) of “modern” but for it to take this label seriously (as it obviously does) is ridiculous. Modern knowledge, like much else that falls within the rubric of modernity, appears to believe that it is an exception to the general rule. Its basis is, again, a sectarian understanding of the histories: of knowledge(s), of cultures, of the rise and fall of epistemologies, and of the relationship between these and the rise and fall of empires.