[Outlook]Knowledge vs. information

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[Outlook]Knowledge vs. information

Information and knowledge are regularly regarded as inseparable. For this reason, it is often said that we are living in an information-based society in an era of cutting-edge knowledge.

However, the two concepts are not of the same depth.

When a department store is having a sale or how to cook kimchi jjigae is information, not knowledge.

Meanwhile, the history of the fall of the Roman Empire or Kantian philosophy is knowledge, not information.

Information is everywhere. Friends gossip, leaflets litter the streets and seemingly infinite amounts of data both useless and useful are available to anyone on the Internet.

But knowledge is a different story. Knowledge can’t just be picked up by anyone; it must be organized and created.

The key to knowledge is categorization. One acquires knowledge by categorizing and systematically organizing different factors, information being one of them.

It is obvious which of the two concepts is more profound and of lasting value. Information is important in daily life, but for individual values or social policy, knowledge is more vital.

Unfortunately, these days shallow information is overwhelming profound knowledge. Disconnected fragments of information ridicule and even scorn systemized knowledge.

Using knowledge in a situation that requires information is like swinging a sword at a mosquito. On the other hand, applying information when knowledge is needed is not just ridiculous; it leads to catastrophe.

In Korea, a blogger called “Minerva” became a celebrated economic commentator on the Internet. He didn’t present economic knowledge, however. He simply handled economic information.

He collected the information at hand and put it together as he saw fit. As his postings contained information, not knowledge, whether they were true or not is not of great significance. Even if the posts have logical flaws, no one expects a blogger’s writings to always be logically perfect.

The problem is that these posts have swayed a group that should work based on knowledge.

The market and the government must function more logically and rationally than individuals, but they listened to the blogger’s fragments of information and took measures based on his advice. The administration is now looking for revenge, and trying to make Minerva a scapegoat.

Is that because the government is ashamed of itself? The situation is at once comical and disastrous.

In Palestine, an even more disastrous situation is playing out as a result of confusion between information and knowledge.

It appears to be an issue of current affairs, but the problem actually dates back thousands of years. Around the 13th century B.C., Jews led by Moses escaped Egypt and went to Canaan.

Their God may have promised the land to them, but the Palestinians were already living in the area. Jews dominated the region for more than a thousand years before they lost their country to the Roman Empire and were scattered all over the globe.

After that, Jews were abused and oppressed by feudal lords in Europe. Jews didn’t even have the right to own property. Like Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice,” the typical image of a Jew in the Middle Ages was a person wearing a money belt. Jews longed to regain their country, and their dream came true with the founding of Israel in 1948.

But as in the Old Testament era, the land was not empty of residents and naturally, problems arose. The Arab-Israeli War began the very month the republic was founded.

It’s unreasonable to try to resolve a 3,000-year-old historical issue within a short period, or during one politician’s term in office.

So far, as many as six people dealing with the issues in the region have won the Nobel Peace Prize, but not much has been resolved.

If this persists, the area will become a factory for producing Nobel Prize laureates.

Current affairs have their roots in history. While news about current affairs delivers surface information, history deals with profound knowledge.

Politicians who seek information more than knowledge and who are more familiar with current affairs than history tend to take short-term measures aimed at catering to the general public.

Of course, politicians need to present measures in accordance with current issues, but some policies require a long-term approach.

If the quick fixes keep coming, we will likely see more Minervas, but no peace and security in Palestine.

*The writer has authored books on humanities and social issues. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Nam Kyung-tae
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