Of The Three Stages of Knowledge

In the following dictum, I will address the three stages of acquisition and possession of knowledge by man. In an age where information is freely available to any who wish to acquire it, it is increasingly necessary to have a clear direction and thought process regarding one’s current state of knowledge and the direction towards which one must aspire.
As I see it, man can be broadly classified into three separate categories, from which it follows logically that there exists a hierarchy. In general, philosophers or any people who made man the subject of their investigation agree that with regards to intellect, nature is aristocratic. Meaning the higher up the hierarchy you go, the fewer are the number of people consisted in it. But, no matter which position one takes up in the scale of judgment, there is always more work to be done, as I will show shortly.

The first stage: Faith and blindness

 The first kind, (henceforth they will be referred to as “the number 1’s”)as previously mentioned, are the most numerous. They consist of the populace who do not know, do not wish to know, and who believe they do not need to know. They do not concern themselves with the study of life, or man, or thought. They have immersed themselves in the menialities of existence and, finding even that too much to handle, refuse to overload their minds with worries that do not have any direct bearing on their next meal. They mock and heckle those who aspire to go higher, out of fear that they may be left behind. They are highly distrustful of any opportunity for changing their lives, since change is often the best test of a man’s capacity for survival and adaptation, and they subconsciously recognize that such tests will expose their frailties. This, in turn results in the obsession with upholding tradition, where such dangerous phrases as “it’s always been done this way” are bandied about. An imitator has a much easier task of it than an innovator, and the easier the task, the less they are made to feel inadequate.

Inadequacy, the root cause of most evils prevalent today, manifests itself in many forms, most commonly known to us by racial and gender based oppression. When a person or a community is innately weak or insecure, anything or anyone that is different in any way is perceived as a threat. The logic behind it is sound, if one is rotten on the inside, anyone different from you is more likely to be an improvement rather than a degradation, and hence they are a threat.

Another feature most commonly observed is the “finding of faith”. As mentioned before, the number 1’s do not concern themselves with the major existential questions of life. However, life has an uncomfortable habit of bringing these questions to the forefront from time to time. No matter how much one turns a blind eye to them, even in the most dedicated ignorant’s mind, the question will present itself to him, and it will bother him. And so he feels the need to provide an answer. He is not bothered about whether it is true or not, he merely needs a convenient theory that will explain away anything and every event whose first cause is a mystery. Here is where religion steps in. God is omniscient, omnipresent, he controls our fates, he decides what happens, not a leaf can turn without his will. A wonderfully devised concept, tailor made to their requirements. Now one need not worry how the world was created, how the volcano erupted, why lightning struck one house and not the other, why one country is repeatedly struck by plagues and famines while the other prospers in heavenly climes. We have a “Get out of jail free” card. God did it. He is all and knows all, we must not question it. We must have faith. And therein lies the final nail in the coffin.

When man no longer feels the need to question anything, he is no longer a man.

But the issue runs deeper. With advancements in technology and observational equipment, the causes behind many events which previously remained mysterious and unexplained are now clear. The roundness of the earth, our place in the universe, the evolution of man as a species, the history of the formation of our planet and our solar system; the answer to all of these questions have more or less become clear to man. But they were not always so. And now comes the most dangerous contradiction that is inherent in the number 1’s.

The question of how this world came about had already been answered for them. Some highly imaginative people had already constructed beautiful tales of the world’s beginning. Six days of work and the seventh day for rest. The earth was made for man, so that he may worship God. Many variants of this tale exist, but the principle remains the same, the earth had been created FOR man BY God. From this, it wasn’t a huge leap forward to assume we held a central place in the universe, indeed that it revolved around us. All physical phenomenons indicated so, and if the world was created for us, we certainly should be in the center of it.  But now, some irritable fellow comes with this ludicrous idea that the earth revolves around the sun. Another claims we are descended from apes and are nothing more just than another species on just another planet. These bothersome “thinkers” threaten to overthrow all the convenient mental peace that has been so carefully preserved by the number 1’s. And if we know anything about them, it is that they are resistant to change. Now they switch from the defensive to the offensive. Rather than reconsider the question in their minds, they will attack the questioner. Here came into existence the words blasphemy, heresy, godlessness, witchcraft. Under one or the other of these labels, the truth mongers were attacked and banished, tortured or killed. And as time goes along, any deviation from the “norm” is clubbed into the same group. Homosexuals, transgenders, atheists, scientists, philosophers; any who bring the uncomfortable thoughts back into their heads, are made outlaws. The superior numbers of the number 1’s gave them a crucial advantage. They needn’t answer uncomfortable questions when they can drown it out with an almighty roar of ignorance.

Modern examples of this is the unbelievably vehement protesting of the inclusion of Darwin’s theory of evolution in the curriculum. The message is loud and clear. We are number 1’s, we will not be made to learn.

The second stage: Hope and values

The second kind (henceforth they will be referred to as “the number 2’s”) are of a much nobler make, and consequently much rarer. This consists of triers, honest well wishers and folks who may generally be considered respectable and are good role models for humanity. The number 2’s are people who recognize the importance of attainment of knowledge, and abhor intolerance of any kind. Acceptance and charity are their chief characteristics. They spread awareness for the need of education and literacy, they fight against oppression, they try and make the world a better place. They are instilled with the innate belief that with enough work and goodwill, man will be a brother to man and we will peacefully co-exist. This belief extends further than just man himself. It manifests itself in the form of animal rights, environmentalism and generally preaches tolerance to everything. Most of the social changes that have been brought into society have been pioneered by number 2’s.

So the number 2’s, then, seem to have the right perspective of things. What is it, one may ask that separates them from the third stage of knowledge?

In one key area, the number 2’s come up short. While they usually perceive the world with a level headed, logical mindset, in one area they contradict themselves and deviate from logic and trespass into the dangerous, murky woods of hope. Their “belief” that this world can be a better place, however noble, is still in essence, a belief. And belief comes out of lack of evidence, or else it would be a fact, not a belief. Truth does not require faith to back it up.

When one studies history, from the earliest civilizations all the way to the current state of society, one is given cold, hard evidence that humanity will not be improved. For every social evil that man has fought to remedy, his co-habitants have managed to invent ten more. The evils have become subtler, thus giving the impression that mankind is moving forward, away from barbarism, but in truth man always remained a caveman. It is the evil that is evolving into a civilized existence. Where before man needed swords and guillotines to oppress another, today man uses money, literally just a piece of paper, to oppress entire countries. It reduces the manpower required for oppression and also is much more efficient and doesn’t create a mess. Evil, unfortunately, has been evolving much quicker than mankind.

But the number 2, at this crucial juncture, leaves the path of truth. They will not deny that evils surround us on every side and most, if not all of them, are manmade. They will recognize that the world has many more evil people than good, and that we are only spiraling into a worse and more degraded existence. They, in fact admit this quite wholeheartedly. But their sentences don’t end there. It is inevitably followed by a “but…” Here enters their belief that with enough education and social work, we can change the course of history. We can make man turn away from his animalism and embrace humanism. We can create a world where people will share rather than steal, tolerate rather than exterminate. All evidence suggests the contrary, but their innate goodness will not allow them to accept that man is inherently evil. They hope. They are overcome with grief at the state of man, and feel helplessness at the ineffectiveness of their efforts. Of this kind are all the saints and good people of the world who sacrifice their lives for the benefit of others, the same others who would not hesitate to turn away at the first requirement of a sacrifice on their part.

There is another kind of number 2, a sub-species if you like. They are the kind who realize the futility of their activities, but do it anyway. They do not do it out of the belief that their efforts will make a heaven on earth, they do not even believe that they will be regarded with gratitude by posterity. They do it, simply, because they want to, it pacifies their heart. We hear repeatedly the metaphor of the single candle spreading light in the dark room. They wish to be that candle. They do not believe their light will ever conquer the dark, but they are comforted by the fact that such light exists at all, even if they themselves cannot reap its benefits.

The number 2’s, if met with resistance so strong that they cannot any longer bear it, usually morph into escapists, those who preach naturalism, run away from big cities and take up residence in an out of the way cottage. They are so affected by man, that they must run away from him, that they may forget they are men themselves too.

Thus, the number 2’s are noble, but their nobility itself is what prevents them from transcending into the third stage.


The third stage: Impatient Condescension

We come now to the third kind (henceforth they will be referred to as “the number 3’s”). The number 3’s are the rarest, most endangered of all. They consist of those who have seen humanity, recognized it, understood it to its core, and are so repelled by it, they remove themselves from humanity completely. They prefer to sit on a peak, look down, and pass judgment. They are those who possess knowledge of an eclectic nature, they learn not only about what interests them, but also what disgusts them, so that they may know why they hate what they hate. Their knowledge of the world, its inhabitants and their nature runs so deep and true, that they are able to escape the trap which the number 2’s fall into. They do not allow for hope. They do not become depressed every time they witness evil. It is no surprise to them, they expect it. They are not ones who enjoy futile exercises. And recognizing the futility of trying to “better the world”, they abstain. They watch on with a smirk the honest efforts of the number 2’s and the misguided protests of the number 1’s. They point and laugh, but will not raise one finger to influence the tug of war. Their interest is academic. Mankind’s lunacy interests them, often entertains them, and so, as a circus owner would, they allow the participants to display their natures in all its freakishness, so that it may provide a spectacle that is entertaining. When asked to point out the flaws in any person, object, or idea, they can discourse unceasingly and always intelligently about the many defects in that subject’s very essence, and yet if asked to help amend it, they will smile in an infuriating, knowing way, and politely decline.

The number 3’s are the most knowing, but that does not allow them to rest comfortable with the knowledge. Each man has a yearning within him that stirs him to action. In number 1’s it was the pursuit of daily bread. In the number 2’s it was the betterment of the world. In number 3’s it is the attainment of even more knowledge. A number 3 can never believe he knows enough. He will remain a student till he lies in his grave. He has a heaven on his earth, and that is a library. He reads thoughts of great men before him, critiques them, applies what he can and dismisses the rest. On to the next man. Always onward, never stagnant.

The number 3’s are great conversation makers, but terrible friend makers. They are great at criticism, terrible at encouragement. They set incredibly high standards of expectations from everything, and consequently spend the majority of their lives shaking their heads in disappointment at what they witness. However, when something lives up to their expectations, they are in a much better position to appreciate it, and consequently, enjoy it much more than anyone else. They admire art, possibly the one redeeming factor of humanity, and consequently judge it all the more harshly and cannot tolerate mediocrity.

Number 3’s, then, are of no great use to humanity, one may say. Indeed, they do not wish to be. They sit on the banks while the river of mankind flows by, and while they sit they notice how it flows and why. They look upon the chaos of the water particles jostling up against one another, each particle believing it should be in the ascendancy, and each inevitably being consumed by the whole. The number 3 will not touch the river. He will judge it, he will record his judgments and he will pass on. It does not matter if his judgments are deemed sound. It does not matter if they are accepted or even understood. His judgment is his art and he must create it. That is the duty of the number 3.

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