Man, is a funny creature. If you point at something and tell anyone “DON’T TOUCH IT!” you might as well just command him to touch it because as the ancient roman poet Ovid states Nitimur in vetitum translated “We strive after the forbidden”.
It seems that we have been this way since the beginning of our history, our past is littered with fables about our curiosity. Most famous of these is the tale of Adam and Eve. As the story goes God himself told Adam not to eat from the Tree of Life and through a series of curiosities and deceptions the couple ends up eating from the tree anyway, thus granting them the knowledge of good and evil and getting them kicked out of the Garden Of Eden. Everything just snow balls from there.
Many believe this “original sin” is born of our inherent nature, and is the cause of the fall of man. There is something in us that whether we or not we have a hunch that danger is lurking we must find out for sure. It is the reason we move towards to creepy noise in the middle of the night and why we find ourselves yelling at the movie screen, “DON’T GO IN THERE, YOU IDIOT!” whenever we see someone doing the same thing in a film.
It is completely irrational, completely natural, and as we’ve seen completely troublesome. The question is whether it is good.
Just as we needed to taste the fruit, the temptation of knowledge leads us to clone animals, explore space, and strive for artificial intelligence. Time and again we argue the moral rectitude of these endeavors, and time and again we push forward in the name of progress. Humanity has forever been split between those that believe knowledge is a sin, and those that believe ignorance is.
Since the dawn of modernity we have seen a crusade for literacy in developing nations as the pathway to economic independence. A quick gaze shows how murky the waters of the past are without written language. We impress upon these people the importance of linguistic communication. But there was a time when language, was a new and suspicious technology.
Socrates was skeptical of the use or written language, its powers and its dangers. He cautions against it’s reckless use in the Phaedrus around 370 B.C. “this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves.”
With learning, comes empowerment, and absolution of dependency, but it goes hand and hand with conflict. As each of acquires new knowledge, we form our own opinions and means to act upon them. A hyper critical environment creates disunity, which is what led to the eviction of Adam and Eve from the garden.
It is this argument that has stifled sex education in the United States. As many have said before, “There are certain things you can’t un-know.” Knowledge is a particular tool for survival, but it can also be a weapon or harmful even to the person that holds it if not instructed on its proper use. We see hesitation about the conveyance of sexual education because we lack a firm means to regulate the use of that information.
This conversation is at the crux of the Edward Snowden case. His theft and release of classified documents has been classified as high crime against the U.S. but many citizens belief him to be on individual who embodies exactly what the American constitution represents.
Our view on this issue is as divided as on any other technology or tool, from guns, to artificial intelligence. Humanity has at once a great fear of and desire for knowledge. We push for literacy but censor the reading of specific books. It is a dichotomy we can not escape, living in a world where we sin sit at opposing extremes.
If we take the stance that knowledge ALWAYS good, we sacrifice privacy in the name of transparency. Opposingly, if we take the stance that knowledge is ALWAYS bad then we relegate ourselves to the past so we are destined to live in the conflict.