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Experience vs Knowledge

In my experience (oh the irony…), there is a battle of experience vs knowledge.

As someone who studied International Relations at university, but has little to no political experience or travel history abroad, I may seem like someone right out of an ivory tower. This would be a good ad hominem against me in a debate, right?

My apparent academic focus might be enough to make you dismiss what I have to say to the layman. But, through my own readings and study, the following has become obvious to me. The use of political theory is more abundant on the left of politics. The use of anecdotes, “common sense” and “experience” is more typical of right-wing arguments.

As someone who leans strongly to the left in my own personal philosophy, I almost cringe whenever someone brings up their personal “experience” to assert political judgments. Especially judgments about whole peoples and other countries. “Experience” is the stuff racist arguments and cultural prejudices are made of. It is the foundation on which generalizations are made. It is the source of all narrow-minded attitudes in the world.

But this post isn’t a politics one, but a matter of personal philosophy.

Experience vs knowledge: where do you stand?

People who visit a country typically return thinking they know everything about it. But they in fact know even less. Not only have they failed to adequately research that country and its history. They now have the “experience” of a tiny fraction of a percentage of it. This is even more twisted by their own unfading prejudices they carried with them and confirmed over and over again as they toured that country. Not only has their “experience” convinced them to actively close themselves off from sources of knowledge, it is a source of blindness for them.

The pride gained by “experience” often doesn’t lead to enlightenment at all. Constantly witnessing world events from the ground level often only makes it harder to understand what it really going on in the world, what is really behind it all. In contrast, sociologists, historians and political analysts seated in a university campus often have a far broader and more comprehensive understanding. Deluded and impassioned people with ground level “experience” will fail to supply any kind of useful analysis of the world. They don’t know why they saw what they saw, why they experienced what they experienced.

Your senses and your biased recollections lie to you. They will never be able to give you the truth about the world’s sorrows, in the way books and adequate study can. The world is one social system as Immanuel Wallerstein instructs. If you want a full, bird’s-eye-view of the whole global society, a person’s experience has little value.

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