On the destruction of knowledge

We Are Winning

Original quote is from “We Are Winning,” by Flobots


In altering the message in order to adapt it to a new medium, I am drawing a connection. Twitter is one of the most powerful tools we as citizens have at our disposal to expose the corruption, hypocrisy, and hatred that characterizes our government. Communication is the most powerful weapon against oppression. A tower of Babel, a strong community for justice, can be built with this power. Revealing the truth can only ever be good when it concerns many people. Hiding the truth, by manufacturing falsehoods or by destroying the medium of truth, can only ever be an act of violence against reality itself, and against the people who experienced and valued that reality. The destruction of knowledge is always used to exert control over those who want to preserve and add to it. It is never justifiable.

This deeply held conviction of mine is partly why I adore semiotics and the researcher’s ethos. Nothing feels more exciting and fundamentally right and important to me than uncovering overlooked truths once written down and now ignored. New truths are nearly as exciting, but there isn’t such a sense of urgency there—if someone does not preserve old truths, they are liable to be forgotten and lost forever. The greatest tragedy is losing information, not because it is important in itself but because… the existence of information is important. Someone wrote it down. It was meaningful, and we can still find meaning in that. I believe that the loss of an archive is worse than the loss of human lives, because the information inside a human cannot all be preserved anyway. I mourn the burnings of great libraries not for the idea of how much further science could have gone had we had their knowledge, but for the obfuscation and warping of reality.

It is ultimately important to me to record the past, because I have so little continuity of self that there is no other way for me to remember and understand it. I can become the past of two thousand years ago as easily as the past of yesterday. Then in my mind, in my heart, nothing cannot be proven unless it has been written down. The destruction of recorded history and thought is nothing less than the destruction of reality itself. And that terrifies me, because my grip on it is sometimes so tenuous. It is important to preserve everything that happens, because otherwise, there is no past. Yes, it also enables people to seek freedom, power, and happiness, but for me these concerns are almost secondary to the incredibly personal, visceral wrongness of eliminating knowledge.