[OVERSEAS VIEW]The tree of knowledge can be poisonous

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[OVERSEAS VIEW]The tree of knowledge can be poisonous

At no other time has the saying “knowledge is power” been more relevant. It’s too much for us to memorize key words and terms that appear in the newspapers everyday.
In one television quiz show, the players have only to be hit by a rubber stick with a rebuke, “Learn more,” if they do not know the answer. But the situation in the real world, with having to know many terms used in current events, is different. If we don’t know them properly, we may end up with a financial loss and also face many inconveniences in daily living. To buy a condominium, we have to have a good deal of knowledge in advance. We should be able to readily cite “DTI (debt to income)” or “LTV (loan to value ratio)” to be seen as a bit more informed than most. The jargon used by foreign experts in real estate and finance have become everyday, common-sense words in Korea.
In retrospect, we have been obsessed with learning so much more since the foreign exchange crisis of 1997. We feel our society demands too much learning. Whether in real estate or in diplomacy, our society compels us to know about each area of knowledge at a level almost equal to expertise. We live in a world where we become fools if we neglect learning even for a while. During the stewardship of the International Monetary Fund, not only bankers but also the common people avidly watched the BIS (Bank for International Settlements) ratio every day. We all thought we would die if the ratio was less than 8 percent.
In the case of Sea Story, the slot-machine scandal, three months ago, we learned unfamiliar words, like “successive hit function” or “preview function,” without knowing their exact meaning.
How did we do during North Korea’s nuclear test? From plutonium to enriched uranium that are usually encountered in advanced nuclear physics, such nuclear ingredients and their production became basic, common knowledge. Now anyone can readily recognize, if not define such terms as PSI (Proliferation Security Initiative) or SCM (Republic of Korea-United States Security Consultative Meeting).
Of all the events of recent years, we have never studied harder than during the Hwang Woo-suk cloning scandal. All of a sudden everyone became familiar with genetic biology. Housewives used to trimming bean sprouts became conversant in stem cells, and people came to realize that a blastocyst is formed by cell division, not related to a legal procedure as one might have guessed. As to the term “virgin births,” it was a shock for ordinary men to hear that eggs can give birth without sperms.
However hard we study, we are left with a bitter aftertaste. Afterall, the relevance of many of those newly-learned words are too short, while it is so difficult to memorize them. The knowledge we memorize becomes extinct quickly, useful at most for three months, generally expiring in just a month. It is also dubious why the whole nation should be preoccupied with such useless learning. If the government and experts had grasped the situation in advance and prepared appropriate measures, this kind of national waste could have been prevented. In other words, if condominiums had been adequately supplied and excess liquidity in the market had been absorbed in advance, we did not need to strain ourselves to learn about DTI or LTV.
We don’t know whether this phenomenon is payback for social development, or a sign that we are merely headed for confusion. But we feel very uncomfortable in a society that compels too much learning. We seem obsessed with the feeling that everybody knows what we alone don’t. Because of professor Hwang’s lie, we can hardly now believe experts. In real estate matters, the authority of the government has long fallen to the ground. With hardly anyone or anything we can trust any more, we busily click on search sites like Google on the Internet.
As an old saying goes, good times come when the people are somewhat ignorant. A peaceful age refers to an age when people can live in comfort, carrying out their duties silently without being concerned about the affairs of others. After unifying China, which had been divided by the fall of the Qin dynasty, Liu Bang, the founder of the Han dynasty, abolished all laws, leaving extremely simplified chapters covering just three kinds of crime. The three kinds of crime to be punished were murdering, beating, and stealing. Even so, the world became peaceful.
Sure, “Knowledge is power,” but there is another saying: “Ignorance is bliss.” We hope peace will come even if we become short of knowledge about others’ affairs. We are really tired of this endless, futile learning about useless things.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Chul-ho
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