Saturday, July 9, 2016


271 Dumping the deep

In addition to the unravelling of rationality, discussed in the preceding item in this blog, there are problems even in the effort to be rational, with knowledge becoming more shallow, with less depth, in a dumping of the deep.

There is a widening gap between an increasingly complex and fast changing world, requiring a greater depth of insight to cope with it, intellectually, psychologically, and politically, and the decreasing depth of actual knowledge and learning.

There is less time and less capacity for depth of knowledge. One has to deal with a fast and vast surge of information. Slogans replace expositions. Slow, focused, printed knowledge is replaced by faster, wide range, pictorial, iconic digital information.

In the economy there is a prerogative of the fast and the short term, in finance and investment, knowledge and learning, organization and work. This crowds out deep investments, in knowledge, products and production, and this holds back economic growth.

Politics is focused on votes in the next election. This crowds out orientation to structural change, reflection on novel ideology, changes in the undertow of politics, pressures building up, which then break out unawares, as in Brexit.  

What deeper, slower knowledge there still is, is often disregarded by policy makers. Absorbing and implementing the deep knowledge offered by scholars and scientists requires a horizon that goes beyond that of policy and the incumbency of politicians and managers. By the time the ideas bear fruit the manager or politician has moved on.

This demotivates the providers of deep knowledge, and tempts them to throw in the towel. There is a demand for quick application of knowledge, discouraging more fundamental, long term research. Newcomers at universities see this and are motivated to dodge the deep and go for the quick and shallow. Scientists also have to reduce their findings to catching sketches.

Or I am being too pessimistic? Is this the muttering of a grumbling old man? If what I say concerns individual deep, specialized knowledge, could this be compensated by patterns of complementary knowledge in groups? Can individual wisdom be replaced by wisdom of the crowds? Bees in a hive rather than in a single bonnet? But if individual knowledge is shallow, how can pooling provide depth? Scientists increasingly work in teams, with a ream of authors crowning a publication. But there, individual depth of knowledge is pooled, in division of labour, to cover complex issues.

Many things are still individual. Choosing a job, an education, a profession, a home, insurance, health care, and forms of saving and investment. And take voting: one can deliberate with others, but in the booth one has to make up one’s individual mind about a whole political programme. And in a drive for more democracy there is pressure for more voting, in referenda, even on complicated things like exiting from the EU or not. In the existing system of representative democracy the voter votes for a party with a programme, delegating expertise. In referenda that is bypassed, and the shallow wins.