We live in a free society, all things considered. Americans have it pretty good when it comes to academic learning, quality healthcare, and technological advancement. One of the greatest inventions of our time is the Internet. We’re living in a day and age where the entire collective knowledge of humanity lies at our fingertips. No one else in human history has had access to information like we do. But unfortunately, most people don’t realize that this knowledge comes with a price.
The price of knowledge is a subtle one. It’s so unassuming that most people might not even know it’s there. But regardless of how much information we have access to, we pay a heavy price to learn it. One of the most important virtues that a person can have is morals, and knowledge requires ethics to be properly understood.
Let me explain what I mean. Germany, before and leading up to World War II, was almost universally praised for their scientific advances. The level of skill they showed in their medicine and research was previously unheard of. Even today, the influence of Nazi intellectualism lingers (I wrote this article on modern day eugenics).
A couple of years ago, I had the privilege to be able to listen to Rabbi Nissen Mangel, a survivor of Auschwitz, speak about his experiences there. And the one thing that he said that stuck out to me above all else was, “the world values progress and the Nazi’s had progress. The world values intellect and the Nazi’s had intellect. But knowledge without ethics is bankrupt. When you have knowledge without morals, things like this (the Holocaust) occur.”
The price of knowledge is that once we understand something, we have a responsibility to that understanding. But we also need to understand how that knowledge should be properly interpreted. Morality is a very hard subject that takes a lot of good study and philosophy.
When we learn of an injustice, we have a moral duty to try and address that injustice. Our knowledge should always drive us to action. Our knowledge should drive us to improvement and trying to help others to make the world a better place. But our efforts can often be misguided. We may hurt people by trying to help them. Good ethics are a required price for knowledge, one that many people today are unwilling to pay.
Today, we have plenty of knowledge that is improperly understood. Facebook, Twitter, and even Instagram are filled with people and posts who truly believe they are doing the right thing. They have the knowledge of the world at their fingertips, but they haven’t paid the price for it. Our ethics are often misguided, and our morals are often incomplete.
Albert Camus once said, “a man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon the world.”, and I think this adage has proven all too true in our current political climate. Knowledge isn’t free, we need to be willing to pay the price for it.