Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Opacity and Revelation

There's a Akan proverb about knowledge that defines it
In a phrase roughly translated as "I have heard and kept it"
In our iconography, this is rendered as Mate Masie
The Adinkra symbol at the heart of Akan identity

Of the symbol, there are many different variations
It's a testament to our propensity for invention
That the designs proliferate among goldsmiths and jewelers
(For we of the Gold Coast appreciate both bling and philosophers)

Our conception of self involves the love of learning
We behold the world and cherish understanding
A respect for tradition and the surety it extends
And a studied regard for observed competence

It is said that knowledge, wisdom and prudence are the themes
At least those account for most of the conventional readings
The traditional focus is on acquisition, comprehension, and retention
But I prefer the other takes: disclosure, opacity and revelation

If I have learned something and retained it,
If doesn't follow that I should disclose it
The tension exists, on the one hand, between transparency and revelation
And, on the other hand, between concealment and evasion

So we have traditions of keeping knowledge close to one's chest
And there's opacity about how things get done, or the basis of knowledge
The through lines in our culture favor black boxes and trade secrecy
The alienation of labour from capital; what, after all, is property?

The longstanding stereotype the British beheld
   to those they termed oriental
Would be well repurposed to the Akan tradition
   which favors being inscrutable
The colonists would find it difficult dealing with the Ashantis,
   for they were prickly
As they heeded the proverb:
   Just because a lizard nods its head doesn't mean it's happy

In our modern world, there is a blurring of consumption and production
And an often fraught balancing of control against participation
Whenever I learn something and share it, the process reifies curation
At scale, we distill historical and institutional memory through conversation

Still waters run deep, appearances are deceptive
The metaphors suggest a challenging perspective
Short of a level field, on what basis do we fight life's competition?
He who controls knowledge navigates opacity and revelation

The sentence moved the Ashantis very visibly. Usually it is etiquette with them to receive all news, of whatever description, in the gravest and most unmoved indifference.

— The Downfall of Prempeh by Major-General Robert Baden-Powell (1896)

Without some dissimulation no business can be carried on at all.

— Philip Stanhope (1749)

The Ashantis had so completely succeeded in blinding the authorities to their real intentions that Colonel Harley was even now disinclined to believe that an Ashanti army had really entered the Protectorate, and... wasted valuable time

— A History of the Gold Coast and Ashanti by W. Walton Claridge 1915

mate masie

"Nyansa bon mu ne mate masie" (I have heard and kept it)

After a conversation between John Leeke and Jon Udell about craft and sharing knowledge in the internet age.

Knowledge, a playlist

I give you a playlist of mostly hip hop, mathematics and street philosophy, diving into poor righteous teachers and the like. More than four hours of often incendiary and political messages about knowledge, ignorance, power and control. Pump your fist. (spotify version)


Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log: Concept December 1, 2008; May 4, 2021

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