Jerry Brown on climate change, nuclear weapons, and the Doomsday Clock

by Jerry Brown

A clock symposium—I’ve never been to a clock symposium. In my mind, I drifted to a poem that I read when I was a freshman at the University of California, by William Butler Yeats; it’s called “Leda and the Swan.” I don’t know how many people know of “Leda and the Swan”—it’s about the ravishing of Leda by this very powerful swan, and one of the lines in the poem is: “Did she take on his knowledge with his power?” And that’s what we’re talking about; we’re talking about knowledge, and we’re talking about power. They’re not the same thing—knowledge can generate power, and power can generate knowledge, but they can also move on separate tracks. And power can be mindless, and therefore not reflect any deep knowledge. Actually, I thought I misremembered that poem only until I just looked it up. I thought it was, “Did she take on his wisdom with his power?” And so, that’s another thing entirely, because you can have knowledge, but does that add up to wisdom? And those are the two categories that I had thrown at me many times in my Catholic education. Knowledge is not wisdom, nor virtue for that matter. So we are going to have to do more than just generate knowledge, we’re going to have to generate some wisdom and some virtue and, I guess, emotion to get people excited to do something.

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