From the Washington Post: "If we didn't know, we are a failed state; if we did know, we are a rogue state. But does anybody really believe they didn't know?"
For most of my life I have been thinking about the responsibility of knowledge, and have come to the conclusion that it is the hardest of all questions.
More often we want to sever the relationship between knowledge and responsibility, to take ourselves off the moral hook, i.e. "Of course I know that—so what?" Or "Yes, theoretically, I suppose—but not in my real life!" In a thousand ways we argue ourselves in and around any meaningful responsibility for knowledge.
One of the most complex dimensions of this is our capacity for self-deception, not only personally but publicly. In the years that I taught on Capitol Hill, I developed many files for my reading and the lectures that grew out of that reading. The largest was one that I titled, "The Political Costs of Self-Deception.' When I lectured on this, typically at the end of the semester, I argued that the best of our teachers over time have maintained that our propensity to self-deception is the deepest and strongest of all our temptations. We lie to ourselves about ourselves, and that on a certain level, we don't even understand that we are.
Not a problem first of all for the communists over the capitalists, for those in the southern hemisphere over those in the northern hemisphere, for one race and ethnicity over others, for Republicans over Democrats—it is a human problem: East/West, North/South/black/white, conservative/liberal. We lie to ourselves about ourselves, and it has political consequences.
In the Washington Post David Ignatius writes a thoughtful op-ed on this issue, in particular looking at who knew what in the Bin Laden assassination. Yes, who knew, and what responsibility is there then? The reality of the responsibility of knowledge is woven into the fabric of life for everyone everywhere, from the most personal stuff to the most public square. What we do with what we know has consequences—for blessing and for curse.