By: Woo Jung Ko

A few years back in high school, I was studying for the International Baccalaureate Diploma. I remember in particular a class that used to confuse me a lot at the time: “Theory of Knowledge”. All IB students were required to take this class and it aimed to understand knowledge from all the different angles. It was essentially epistemology. Overall, I found it extremely elusive and difficult to understand. We never really stop to think about where our knowledge is coming from, or even acknowledge when we are taking in random pieces of information that all accumulate to create the wealth of “knowledge” we end up having. Therefore, trying to break down “knowing” into different “ways of knowing” and “areas of knowledge” was a struggle for me.

However, I have realized that the class actually served me well. Recently with the news of unease as North Korea’s leader Kim began his purge, I was reminded of how my intuition often goes against the voice of reason. As I read through the many articles that were released about the late doings of Kim, I noticed how loaded each article was with negative connotations about the regime and its leader. More importantly though, I realized how the news instinctively triggered fear in my mind. Learning to recognize these underlying connotations was an integral part of the “Theory of Knowledge” class.

According to the Encyclopedia of Creativity, intuition is defined as “understanding or knowing without conscious recourse to thought, observation or reason.” Intuition thus can be seen as the ability to obtain knowledge through instinctive feeling derived from emotions without going through any conscious process of reasoning.

As a student born in South Korea and raised in the United Kingdom, I have been nurtured by the authoritative figures around me such as my parents, the media and capitalist governments to believe Communism is an ideology that spurs inequality in a country, especially in North Korea. This negative portrayal of Communism has been particularly strong and integrated into my life particularly due to the geopolitical tension between the two Koreas. This sense of intuitive inclination to regard Communism as a corruptive force had led me to believe that all Communist states will have suffered from weaknesses in their system all my life.

However, after studying Stalin and his economic policies in the Soviet Union, it was surprising to find that there was solid evidence of Stalin’s success in improving the Soviet economy using his policies rooted from Communist ideology. His Five-Year Plans had built large numbers of factories, railways and other infrastructural improvements across the cities in the Soviet Union which brought on rapid industrialization. Statistics such as that from 1928 to 1940 the number of Soviets working in industry, construction and transport raised from 4.6 million to 12.6 million is clear evidence that Communist economic policies were successful and had a positive effect on the economy, disregarding the human costs incurred.

These successes suggest that I was wrong in the case of Stalin to have relied purely on intuition to assume the belief of Communism as a bad influence on a nation. In this scenario, it would have been better to rely on reason-based explanations instead. Of course, I am in no way trying to discuss where my own political beliefs lie. I am look purely from the view of epistemology: where did I obtain my knowledge? Was my intuition right? Is intuition reliable? Furthermore, it is true that looking deeper into the hidden evidence of the Soviet economy under Stalin reveals that there was also widespread poverty. Thus my intuition regarding Communism was not completely wrong and should not have been fully discarded.

However, after thinking about the way in which we are often quick to judge based on intuition and instincts that have developed due to our surrounding environments (like I did when reading the numerous articles on Kim Jong Un), I believe it would be worthwhile to take a step back and recognize the connotations that our ideas may hold. Perhaps if we all took the “Theory of Knowledge” approach to life, we would be more wary of what we are told.

For more posts on knowledge, click here.