Knowledge, Intelligence and Wisdom

by rebeccaMpells

first posted on RHYMES&REASONS

I recently visited the New Birmingham(UK) Library which was officially opened by Malala Yousafzai.  It struck me that this 16 year old girl, thrust into the limelight following her fight for education in her homeland of Pakistan, already displays the hallmarks of wisdom.   I cannot deny that the library is a wonderful facility, crammed with information gathered, written and published through previous generations and which can now be accessed in any number of traditional and technical ways.

As time goes by and our understanding of the world expands, new discoveries are made and life becomes increasingly complex, so does the amount of knowledge recorded, shared and passed onto our children.  Each generation has to start at the beginning to learn the basics and despite increasing years spent in formal education, most of us can only hope to ever reach the lower echelons of the pyramid of knowledge. Our way of handling this overwhelming amount of information is to specialize and become experts in one tiny sphere and as such our outlook on life is forever skewed by our lens of choice.  When faced with challenges beyond that field of vision we believe it is not our problem, that someone else will have the knowledge to fix it and we relinquish any sense of personal responsibility.

How we record and share copious amounts of knowledge is one thing,  but for me the moot point is whether our propensity to spend greater amounts of time in formal education is producing the collective wisdom required to tackle the global challenges of 21st century life. Just 80 years ago in the so called western countries it was the norm to leave school at 14; today many are studying well into their twenties and yet the evidence that this has produced an equivalent increase in wisdom is not obvious. If we look at those individuals whose actions have had positive benefits for large numbers of people – Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela – they are few and far between, perhaps one or two per generation.  None of them benefited from extended formal education and yet arguably they displayed a wisdom most of us are in awe of.  Can such wisdom be taught in a classroom or is it something which is innate in a few individuals and which given the opportunity, will propel that person to act for the greater good?  Do they perhaps view the world through a wide angle lens rather than one which has narrowed it’s focus?  In trying to increase our knowledge with unprecedented amounts of information are we actually overloading our minds and cluttering our ability for clear and wise thinking?

In an era which has for the first time in history enabled us to be acutely aware of global issues, does the forum and delivery of knowledge and the nurturing of intelligence require a different approach?  The encouragement of modern individualism seems at odds with the challenges which need addressing in the 21st century.  In Malala maybe we are witnessing one such wise individual but it seems we are far from knowing how to harness, share and encourage a collective wisdom.

Book Review: Are We Rome by Cullen Murphy

Are We Rome?

Reblogged from SinkingArk:

I’ve developed a recent interest in Roman History- from Romulus & Remus through the Republic to Empire to Fall. Aside from being an interesting time in history in of itself – of which I knew, sadly, too little – I believe there are lessons to take away from the past failings of a giant society. So while on vacation I decided to read a book called “Are We Rome” by Cullen Murphy. While by now some of its contemporary examples are a bit dated (it was published in 2008), I believe Murphy provides very good overviews of both some leading hypotheses on the causes of Rome’s fall as well as challenges facing America today.

Needless to say, this sort of historical comparison invites sensationalism. I found Murphy’s approach, however, to be even handed, and I felt that he tries to objectively evaluate both similarities and differences between modern day America and the Roman Empire. The takeaway is, essentially: there is quite a bit that distinguishes us from the Roman Empire in the 4th century AD, before its fall. However, there is enough in common that should, if not concern us, then at least catch our attention.

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Thinking Like Emerson

Statue of Ralph Waldo Emerson, full-length, se...

Statue of Ralph Waldo Emerson, full-length, seated, facing front (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“And one may say boldly that no man has a right perception of any truth who has not been reacted on by it so as to be ready to be its martyr.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson.  He lived from 1803 through 1882. Emerson’s father, Unitarian minister Reverend William Emerson, died when Ralph was 8 years old. Two sisters and a brother died in childhood. Two brothers died young after attaining adulthood, in their thirties. So he obviously had experienced the harshest of feelings surrounding the loss of loved ones, especially at a very young age. This must have had a profound effect, and led him in the intellectual direction he took.

Emerson was in his early twenties when, because of poor health, he found himself in the warmer weather of St. Augustine, Florida. There he became friends with the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, and considered Bonaparte’s nephew a great influence on his intellectual development.

He went to Harvard Divinity School and became a minister like his father. At a certain point he had philosophical disagreements with the direction and agenda of the church, resigned from the clergy, and became a lecturer, teacher, and writer, without the restraints of institution and tradition.

He lived for a time in England and met poets William Wordsworth, Thomas Carlyle, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He was especially close to Carlyle. Emerson came to read the whole range of philosophical works, including all the major philosophers through history, and Eastern spiritual texts the Vedas and Bhagavad Gita. Emmanuel Swedenborg was one who Emerson had agreement with and admired.

Emerson’s first writings came from transcripts of his many lectures. He summed up his writings by saying that he focused on “the infinitude of the private man”. He believed that humanity could achieve just about anything. Emerson was a mentor and friend on Henry David Thoreau, and his work influenced William James, Nietzche, Walt Whitman, and many others.

His spirituality was thought of as radical when he lived. He believed that all things are connected to God, and so all things are divine. This coincides with his Eastern, Vedic influences.

Around 1867 his health began to decline and he had problems remembering facts, to the point where he had moments he couldn’t remember his own name. Emerson, after a person asked him how he was doing answered, “Quite well; I have lost my mental faculties, but I am perfectly well”.

This video is 50 minutes or so and delivered by a fellow who does a great job of conveying the Emerson writings on “The Over-Soul”. I came across the audio-book in my typical stumbling, bumbling way, listened to it and thought you may find it profoundly interesting. I hadn’t had any experience of Ralph Waldo Emerson but for some short quotes which I resonated with.  After hearing this I will say that Emerson was fearless in his travels to the furthest limits of human thought.

His words are timeless and relevant here in 2013.

I hope you enjoy Ralph Waldo Emerson.

What Was the March on Washington?

What Was the March on Washington

Originally posted on Kid Lit About Politics.

What Was the March on Washington? Written by Kathleen Krull. Illustrated by Tim Tomkinson. Grosset & Dunlap, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2013. 128 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 8 to 12. ISBN: 9780448462875.

I was five years old on August 28, 1963. I remember that my brother and I stayed with neighbors while my parents rode on a school bus from New Jersey to Washington DC. My brother, who was almost two, cried all night long and kept me awake. I was forced to eat a tomato at dinner. My parents came home and talked about how hard it was to sleep on a school bus and how hot it was in Washington. I thought they had done something very important by going to the March. I knew they enjoyed the camaraderie of the day, but they never told me anything about the speakers or the singers.

In reading “What Was the March on Washington?” I found out much more about the March. I now know about the meticulous planning that went into the March. I know about the people, 250,000 people arriving on bus after bus and train after train. I know the path the March took. I’ve always known that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March. But now I know all the other speakers and singers, and I know that Dr. King stopped reading from his speech and started speaking from his heart when he began talking about his dream.

Krull presents all this information very clearly. She starts by describing the racism that existed in this country at that time, and also the key events of the Civil Rights struggle before the March. After that she explains the extensive preparation for the March, undertaken by Randolph and by Bayard Rustin. She talks at length about the March itself, and then addresses the time after the March: the death of JFK, the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the death of Dr. King.

In the middle of the book are 16 pages of black-and-white photos. The book has many black-and-white drawings, mostly of the people involved. It helps to have those images in one’s mind when reading about the people. At the end there’s a timeline and a bibliography.

The book is fun to read, and I’m so glad to know more about what my parents saw and heard while I was gagging on a tomato.

Blog Reviews:

Helen Foster James



Originally posted on Kid Lit About Politics.

Homeland by Cory Doctorow. Tor Teen (an imprint of MacMillan Publishing), 2013. 400 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 13 and older. ISBN: 9780765333698.

Homeland is a sequel to Little Brother. Marcus Yallow, still the narrator, is now 19 years old. He’s still dating Ange. His parents have lost their jobs in an economic crisis that has hit California. Marcus has had to drop out of college and is himself trying to find a job.

Marcus and Ange go to Burning Man in the Nevada desert. While there, Marcus runs into Masha, a character from Little Brother. She hands him a USB stick and tells him to release the contents of the stick onto the Internet if she is kidnapped. Shortly thereafter, Marcus sees her being forcibly led away from Burning Man by Carrie Johnstone, his arch nemesis.

There are 800,000 documents on the USB stick. Marcus and his friends try to figure out how to release those documents responsibly and in a way that can’t be traced back to them.

Marcus is offered a job by the charismatic Joe Noss, a candidate for the California State Senate running as an independent. Marcus believes in Joe. He believes California will be better off if Joe wins.

The book goes into a great detail of technical information about the Internet. It also goes into detail about the uses of the Internet. The central conundrum seems to be how to release the 800,000 documents anonymously and responsibly. It’s a conundrum Marcus didn’t ask for and doesn’t want. But the Internet is a powerful tool to disseminate information and Marcus knows how to use it. Along the way, we see the breakdown of society as we watch the way the city of San Francisco deals with peaceful protests.

The end is a little too pat for me. Besides that, the pace gets bogged down when Marcus explains technical details. Nevertheless, it deals head-on with political, economic and societal issues that are of immediate concern in this country.

The book contains two Afterwords that serve as calls to arms, one written by Jacob Appelbaum of WikiLeaks  and one written by the late Aaron Swartz. There is also an excellent bibliography by Cory Doctorow.

In the end, Marcus says “The system was people, and I was a part of it, part of its problems, and I was going to be part of the solution from now on.” This, I believe, is the take away line. In addition, the reader also takes away the memory of a fun story.

Blog Reviews:

Birth of a New Witch
A Librarian’s Take
Radish Reviews
System Overlord

Professional Reviews:

Publisher’s Weekly

Author Website:

Cory Doctorow’s

Little Brother

Little BrotherLittle Brother by Cory Doctorow. Tor Teen (an imprint of MacMillan Publishers), 2008. 416 pages. Recommended for ages 13-17. ISBN: 9780765323118.

Originally posted on Kid Lit About Politics.

Little Brother isn’t exactly science fiction. It could happen now. The story is told by Marcus, a 17-year-old expert hacker living in San Francisco. He and three of his friends skip class to go and play a game one Friday afternoon. There is an explosion. A bridge, we later learned it’s the Bay Bridge, has been blown up by terrorists. Marcus flags down what he thinks is an emergency vehicle to help one of his friends who has been injured. The vehicle belongs to the Department of Homeland Security. Marcus and his friends have sacks put over their heads. He and two friends are held for five or six days, then released. The fourth friend, Darryl, is not released. While in custody, Marcus struggles to maintain his rights under the Bill of Rights. Eventually, he gives up and tells the DHS what they want to know about him.

When Marcus returns to San Francisco, he finds the DHS is watching every person’s movements in an attempt to prevent another terrorist attack. His father, who has no idea that his son was imprisoned, thinks this invasion of privacy is fine. Marcus doesn’t, and neither do the thousands of kids he involves in his attempts to stop the DHS.

The political issues raised are very timely. When is it appropriate to give away our civil liberties in the name of preventing terrorism, and when should we fight for those civil liberties? Should congressional or judicial oversight of organizations like the DHS be in place, or should they be able to operate freely. Is it right to hold people without telling them why, and without telling their families where they are? Is it right to torture people? In this country, are people still innocent until proven guilty? These are the questions Little Brother raises.

The book has too much explanation of technology for me, but technology geeks would love the explanations. I am a political geek, and I love the political aspects of the book.

It’s clear Doctorow doesn’t know San Francisco well. The most glaring error is the constant reference to BART as “the BART.” I got pulled out of the story a little bit every time he referenced “the BART.”

With the exception of the long paragraphs about technology, this book is fun, and the political issues are even more pressing now than they were when the book was written in 2008.

Blog Reviews:

Fantasy Book Critic
Nerdy Book Club
Prometheus Unbound
Strange Horizons

Professional Reviews:

Publisher’s Weekly

Iqbal: A Novel

IqbalIqbal, A Novel. Written by Francesco D’Adamo. Aladdin (an imprint of Simon & Schuster), 2005 (originally published in 2001). Translated by Ann Leonori. 128 pages. Publisher Recommends for ages 8-12. ISBN: 9781416903291.

This review was originally posted on Kid Lit About Politics.

This is a fictionalized account of Iqbal Masih’s life from the time he arrived at the third factory where he was enslaved until his death. Fatima, a young girl bonded into service for a carpet maker when her parents need money to pay off debts, tells the story. Although the term is bonded, the fact is more like slavery. Fatima works for a carpet maker in Lahore. Several other children also work for the same carpet maker. Some of them are chained to their looms all the time. Others, like Fatima, are able to leave their looms at night to sleep on a pallet. Fatima barely remembers her family. Although the man she is bonded to removes one of the marks that indicates her debt every day, the list doesn’t actually seem to become smaller. This is Fatima’s life. She has no hope that it will change.

One day Iqbal arrives as a new bonded servant in the factory where Fatima works. He believes that children should not be forced to work as slaves.  His courage and his charisma bring hope to the other children. He will not accept his fate and spent his childhood as a slave. His attempts to take action against his treatment lead to brutal punishment, yet he still hopes.

Iqbal brought freedom to hundreds of Pakistani children, and he brought hope to thousands more. He worked with the Bonded Labor Liberation Front of Pakistan.  He won the Reebok Award for Youth in Action and was asked to speak at an International Conference on Labor Problems. He was also promised a free college education by a school in the Boston area. His ultimate goal was to become an attorney and use that position to free children from slavery. At about 13 years of age, he was killed by an unknown assailant.

The first 20 or 30 pages of this book are a bit slow. After that the pace picks up and the interest level rises. The last page of the book lists further resources on Iqbal Masih, Children’s Rights, and Child Labor.

After having read this historical fiction account of Iqbal, I’d like to read a biography of this remarkable young man.

Blog Reviews:

Crazy QuiltEdi
Gathering Books
Sitting by the Ocean

Professional Reviews:

Publisher’s Weekly


Kid Lit About Politics

GringolandiaGringolandia by Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Curbstone Books (now Northwestern University Press), 2009. 288 pages. Recommended for ages 14 and older. ISBN: 9781931896498.

In 1973, with the help of the CIA, a democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, was overthrown and a military junta led by Augusto Pinochet took his place. The junta was responsible for violent repression of dissent. Many people were tortured. Many people were killed. Many people simply disappeared.

In the book, Daniel’s father, Marcelo, was an active dissenter. The book starts in 1980 when the military comes to Daniel’s house in the middle of the night, brutally beats and then arrests his father.

Daniel’s mother and his younger sister leave Chile to live in Wisconsin. In 1986, after six years of torture, Marcelo is released from prison and ordered to leave Chile and never return. Daniel and his mother pick Marcelo up from the airport in Chicago…

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