liquidating knowledge - diluting the truth

The Canadian Anarchist University was described like so: (via BoingBoing)
"There's less of an idea that one person is an expert and other people are there to have their empty heads filled with the boundless knowledge of one expert," says Jason Dippel, who has taken seven courses with Anarchist U...
A New Yorker breakdown of how Enron failed, and what exactly went wrong mentions S.P.E.s as being the major source of financial shadiness:

The second, and perhaps more consequential, problem with Enron’s accounting was its heavy reliance on what are called special-purpose entities, or S.P.E.s.

An S.P.E. works something like this. Your company isn’t doing well; sales are down and you are heavily in debt. If you go to a bank to borrow a hundred million dollars, it will probably charge you an extremely high interest rate, if it agrees to lend to you at all. But you’ve got a bundle of oil leases that over the next four or five years are almost certain to bring in a hundred million dollars. So you hand them over to a partnership—the S.P.E.—that you have set up with some outside investors. The bank then lends a hundred million dollars to the partnership, and the partnership gives the money to you. That bit of financial maneuvering makes a big difference. This kind of transaction did not (at the time) have to be reported in the company’s balance sheet. So a company could raise capital without increasing its indebtedness. And because the bank is almost certain the leases will generate enough money to pay off the loan, it’s willing to lend its money at a much lower interest rate. S.P.E.s have become commonplace in corporate America.

Enron introduced all kinds of twists into the S.P.E. game. It didn’t always put blue-chip assets into the partnerships—like oil leases that would reliably generate income. It sometimes sold off less than sterling assets. Nor did it always sell those assets to outsiders, who presumably would raise questions about the value of what they were buying. Enron had its own executives manage these partnerships. And the company would make the deals work—that is, get the partnerships and the banks to play along—by guaranteeing that, if whatever they had to sell declined in value, Enron would make up the difference with its own stock. In other words, Enron didn’t sell parts of itself to an outside entity; it effectively sold parts of itself to itself—a strategy that was not only legally questionable but extraordinarily risky. It was Enron’s tangle of financial obligations to the S.P.E.s that ended up triggering the collapse.

I don't think it's just me, these two different quotes are getting at the same thing. It's a very post-modernist view of the world in which things lose absolute meaning or value and end up only with relative meaning/value. Just as Enron was liquidating itself by turning inwards and selling itself to itself, so too, a bunch of people teaching themselves what they don't know is liquidating the knowledge they did have, filling it in with so many hypotheses, assumptions and misunderstandings. (Not to mention questions.)

The concept that no one needs to be the knowledgeable one in the teaching relationship is very short-sighted and shows just how much there actually needs to be a knowledgeable teacher teaching a semi-knowledgeable or ignorant student. True, the chevrutah (two or more students breaking down a problem together) is a vital part of learning, but still there needs to be a Hacham or a Rebbe to direct this learning in meaningful and productive directions. Teacherless classes only work for a generation, the next generation has no real teachers, and so with each following generation less and less is learnt. Also, in a pretend teacherless arrangement, usually the more knowledgeable people become the defacto teachers, but the defacto students might be more embarrassed of their own ignorance, which becomes a barrier to the learning. These are my own humble observations.

Something more deep rooted is Rebbe Nachman's teaching that even a Rebbe needs to be careful of how much he exposes his students to ideas that he has not himself fully digested. He explains it as a process of taking ideas that are makif (trans. encompassing) into oneself and digesting them, making them pnimi. These internalized ideas can then be safely taught to students without fear of damage. This makes room for the teacher to ingest new makif ideas and digest them. If the teacher cycles through this process too quickly, s/he could mistakenly pass along undigested makif ideas. Such ideas can be very damaging to the untrained students. This is a razor-edged line I'm running on this blog, passing on ideas that are still percolating within me. Something I'm constantly worried about.

Now as to the fact that truly knowledgeable teachers do exist, I can bring the Maor Eynayim, on parashath Shemoth who shares this (fully digested;)) idea about Wisdom:(paraphrased)
True wisdom has a very high source and few people can properly attain it. It requires following the dictum of Pirkei Avot: Anyone whose wisdom preceeds his fear of sin, his wisdom will not withstand. Anyone whose wisdom is preceeded by his fear of sin, his wisdom will withstand. The Maor Eynayim explains that yirah, fear/awe of God, is the gate through which one may attain true Wisdom. For most of us, this gate is an arduous journey we might never make, instead we are left with the rivulets of Wisdom that descend below this gate, the noveloth hochmah, this is the (I presume clothed) Torah. The true Tzaddikim, bnei aliyah, who have true yirah, they can attain true Wisdom, and bring it down to a place we can receive from.
Post modernism would have us do away with the idea that there are those who are truly knowledgeable in a knowledge that is any any way objective, or not entirely subjective. The Baal haTanya of the coming days will discuss the idea of emeth l'amitoh, truth relative to one's station. But, the Tanya also explains that the emeth, (truth) of a true Tzaddik is universal, absolute truth.


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