Over the last few book club sessions, I have found myself circling back to epistemology (a fancy word that refers to a system or theory of knowledge), especially the work of Prof Mulyadhi Kartanegara (Essentials of Islamic Epistemology).
In the context of reading books that deal with the Islamic intellectual tradition, the epistemological chasm between contemporary thought and the tradition is hard to miss. On top of the collapsing of all other avenues except the experimental/sensorial method as a means to approaching truth, many in contemporary society simply do not take the long-term view.
Richard Ovenden, Librarian at the Bodleian Library (founded in 1602), Oxford, had this to say in a 2020 interview on the importance of libraries:
“Modern life has become increasingly obsessed with the short-term... This fixation with the short-term is evident in many walks of life. Long-term thinking has become unfashionable. The memory of mankind, the knowledge it has created in all its myriad forms, from cuneiform tablets to digital information, is never of purely short-term use.
It may be cheaper, more convenient, easier and faster to destroy knowledge than to appraise, catalogue, preserve and make it available but to abandon knowledge for the sake of short-term expediency is a sure route to weakening society’s grip on truth.”
‘Weakening society’s grip on truth’ is quite an understatement but it surfaces a problem identified by Frank Furedi in his book Power of Reading: people are now blasé about truth and knowledge. This is why there is a decline in reading.
It is not the rise of Netflix and YouTube per se, but because of the devaluing of truth and knowledge in society. And I think a lot of it is to do with short-term thinking.
We need to spend time every day to learn and to acquire knowledge; not just for an exam, and not just for a career promotion or task. We learn because we must, and because it illuminates our hearts, and steers us to worthy action and behaviour.
Bearing in mind that in Islam, the long-term view stretches to the foreverness of the Hereafter, a short-term approach to learning and knowledge is – risking an understatement – not reasonable.
May we be among those who seek beneficial knowledge.