Domesticating Knowledge

sharing not hoarding knowledge in reinvented democracies

Posted on September 3, 2017

Domesticating Knowledge

Every fall every young generation enters every long tunnel of education. They follow guided tours of dead ideas, neatly arranged in glass cages, books and clouds. Pieces of knowledge on a parade like dead butterflies - carefully dried, preserved and pinned to a curricular display. No wonder students daydream glancing at mobile screens. That’s where the action is. At their fingertips a tsunami of knowledge, information and data growls and roars.  Encyclopaedias are pulped, Wikipedias expanded and Wikileaks spiced.

This accessible flow turns knowledge lost and found into faster food.  Accessibility of cheap fast food for thought contrasts with educational curricula. Teachers offer guided tours through knowledge, serving standardized meals. Knowledge is served neatly arranged, suggesting that hierarchies of everything unite. But… top knowledge nuggets are not like elephants and rhinos in an exclusive safari park (say, a CERN large hadron collider) or a Kruger wildlife reserve (say, a Princeton Institute of Advanced Studies). They are strange animals produced by lucky evolutionary strikes. Owners of Uber may be robber barons of early data monopolies, but they will not tax search engines forever. When data become accessible as electricity with a flip and a click – knowledge will be harder to freeze, but easier to fix and pre-fix. It is already more vividly and frequently contested, it may be even more successfully twisted into pragmatic gadgets. Do we want to democratize and domesticate knowledge further or do we want to keep it in isolated wild life safari parks advertised by obsolete academic publishing and visited only by the privileged mandarins of higher education (yes, myself included)?

Reinventing democracy cannot leave education untouched, even the higher one. We have to reward sharing knowledge, not only hoarding it. Sharing knowledge is not an expense of spirit, but wasting it is a shame. Democratization and domestication of what we know should follow. But how? Nobody is going to die on digital barricades fighting for a new interpretation of quantum mechanics or for rewriting the Bible in semantically minimal language. But everybody should have a fair chance to try.

Slawomir Jan Magala


September 3, 2017