Ref. :  000000162
Date :  2001-01-28
Language :  English
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Sharing (--- of knowledge)


Author :  Tanella Boni

The most common meaning of the word “sharing” reflects both the idea of division and allocation. In this sense we can talk of sharing loot or cake. Divisible objects, such as loot or cake, are divided up and distributed. Each person is given the “share” he deserves. This idea takes us back to the famous debate on the idea of justice, to Book I of Plato’s Republic where Socrates and his interlocutors discuss the subject of what is just and unjust. And we all know where that discussion led. With the intervention of the sophist Thrasymachus the “just” is that which is “to the advantage of the strongest”. From here it is just a single step to understanding the idea of sharing as an unequal allocation. And in reality this step is rapidly taken. Wherever strength is imposed, sharing can only be an allocation or distribution of unequal proportions. The weakest may only have the share that they deserve: the smallest. And the majority of the time that is how it is with traded goods. Thus the unequal allocation of goods causes a division between “the rich” and “the poor”. When it is a matter of allocating knowledge, the rich countries have the means to produce and distribute known and recognised knowledge, whilst the poor countries, those of the South, search desperately to communicate among themselves and with others. They participate only incrementally in the “information revolution”. Their populations try to deal with their most urgent needs: meeting the necessities of life, surviving. Education, science and knowledge are sometimes pushed into the background. But there are other kinds of sharing which refer neither to mere allocation nor to the division between the rich and the poor.
Sharing puts a human being in contact with other human beings. It allows each person to take their share from a common lot. The participation in this common lot is a favourable way to construct a community. This community could be isolated if it only accepts a few initial members qualified to receive and transmit knowledge in an initiatory fashion putting postulants to the test, the arcane mysteries. In this way, over many centuries, the alchemists have been able to search for knowledge or the philosophers’ stone, advancing in secret ways. It is the same with the initiatory societies in black Africa (the Poro within the Sénoufo of the Ivory Coast, the Korè within the Bambara of Mali, the Bagré within the LoDagaa or the Lobi of Burkina Faso.)
What are shared here are the secrets which keep the community alive and allow it to face potential attacks. The knowledge and know-how constitute the inexhaustable treasure troves where the survival secrets of such a race or community can be found. The sharing is often oral. Here we could comment at length on Amadou Hampâthé Bâ’s words: “Every old man that dies is a library burning down”. How can we prevent these libraries from burning when the keys to open them are kept by the few initial members? How can knowledge circulate in these conditions, how can it be communicated to other places and other eras? The sharing of knowledge happens first of all by the recognition of the knowledge of the other as undisputable knowledge. Without doubt it is a matter of putting forward all the places with individual knowledge and making them converse so that this knowledge escapes the field of confidentiality and secrecy to become a truly integral part of a common lot placed within reach of the entire human race. To recognise knowledge and to provide it with the opportunity to meet other knowledge, is to create a dialogue between knowledge, between cultures, and to create the conditions for sustainable peace.
Today the word sharing has acquired various other dimensions. It has been enriched by new times and its territory has grown. Initiatory knowledge has transformed and left its sacred wood to create networks. Time is real and multiple knowledge circulates on a virtual web. Today learning means to exchange information and messages, to surf the net. Today there are discussion forums, millions of ideas circulating, but who is really taking part in this amazing effervescence of culture, points of view, values, knowledge, technology and information? The poorest countries barely participate in the communication and distribution of this knowledge. Because knowledge in the sense that we employ it is not just scientific knowledge (exact, human and social sciences). It concerns everything that can be learnt and transmitted, and what has been known for all eternity (what we know without knowing for how long or how), our beliefs, our opinions, our values. Theoretical or practical knowledge about creation or production. It also concerns the tools and instruments at our disposal for living in the world. But it is clear that this knowledge is not static. It moves, circulates in the form of ideas, values, technologies. Knowledge changes with the times and according to the available space. Moreover, today our relationships to time and space are continually metamorphosing.
The new task today is to explore the knowledge considered as inferior and share it with the entire planet. It is necessary to analyse not only the production and transmission conditions of this knowledge, but also the possibility of distributing it widely. As, in this civilisation of information, what value has the knowledge that is neither displayed nor known, the knowledge that cannot enter into dialogue with other knowledge?

(This article synthesises a longer study by the same author. It can be found in French at the following address : L'inégal partage des savoirs)

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