Epistemological Crisis in America

Rev. Steve Schlissel - September 15, 2018

We are experiencing what might correctly be called an epistemological crisis in America, where differences in knowledge content between various groups and generations are not the only cause for concern. Far worse are what might be called “knowledge styles,” in which the methods and manners by which knowledge is gathered and stored have undergone radical transformation. A two-cents plain example: older Americans commonly used grey matter to learn and retain a large database of 10-digit numbers (phone numbers). Ask any young person to tell you the phone numbers of the five most significant people in their lives. Ha!

But much more serious, of course, is worse the widespread, full accreditation given to an individual’s subjective experience–the willingness of a significant chunk of Americans to accept as factual mere assertions or “testimonies” by individuals, assertions which are not, and often cannot be, verified by any method historically understood as necessary in order for a proposition to gain acceptance as “shared truth.” That individuals claiming to be a gender other than their biological reality certifies has no more legitimacy than an assertion to be half–or twice–the age indicated by one’s valid birth certificate. Yet now such naked assertions have, in an increasing number of locales, the force of law with sanctions imposed on any who dare to stand upon the truth which their senses, minds, and universal experience have assured them to be the case. Thus, even a conciliatory, “It’s true for you,” is now judged to be an insufficient response to assorted baseless statements proffered to us, IF “authorities” demand that we received said allegations as objectively true. And proof of our submission to these lies must be shown in our deeds (for, after all, even God-hating unbelievers know that faith without deeds is dead).

Lower on the knowledge crisis scale but still discouraging are swathes of knowledge content which are known to older Americans but held to be of no account by young’uns. For example, ask young adults between 20 and 30 if they’ve heard of AT&T. Then ask if they know what the letters stand for. Then ask if they know anything about the company and especially its historic, unequaled dominance in telecommunications (before the forced breakup). This, and a thousand times one thousand bits of knowledge of our history no longer taught or known, reinforce a generational knowledge and worldview gap.

The point here is that we are facing a knowledge divide in America that will be an increasingly powerful disincentive to communication, connection and covenant. It may seem to some to be just another turn of the old generational wheel. But if you understand how so much of the content not known by newer Americans, had serious significance in shaping the abiding worldviews of older Americans, and then add to that the uncritical embrace by the young of a radical new standard employed for determining truth value (and we’ve not mentioned rankings and valuation), we should be able to see the covenant breakdown unmistakably displayed before our eyes and ears. The result is more than the loss of communication; it is more than communication being placed out of reach–more than its being rendered irrecoverable. It is the permanent loss of any meaningful “us,” at least, the disappearance of any us-ness unless that us is followed by a “them.”

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