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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Knowledge is Power for the People, Ignorance is Power for the Rulers

Knowledge is Power for the People, Ignorance is Power for the Rulers
Image © Austin Cline
Original Poster: National Archives
Click for full-sized Image

If knowledge is power then ignorance should be weakness; in reality, though, it's much more than that. Ignorance is not so much mere weakness as it is a shifting of the locus of power away from those who are ignorant and to those who have more knowledge — or at least who know how to benefit from the ignorance of others, even if they are ignorant as well. This is why there are always powerful interests arrayed against any effort to educate the people and empower them with more knowledge. Increased knowledge and power among the people means deceased power for the currently privileged classes.

If you don't know the nature or origin of the ingredients in the food you buy, it's easier to sway your purchasing decisions through advertising. If you don't know that your priest keeps being moved around due to accusations of child molestation, it's easier to get you to entrust your children to his tender, loving care. If you don't know what the government is doing as part of its global war on terrorism, it's easier to get you to believe it's all for your own good. If you don't know that there are others out there whose sexual preferences aren't quite what religious and social leaders say God demands, it's easier to repress your own feelings and pretend to be like "everyone else."

Enforced public ignorance only ever benefits the powerful who, for some strange reason, manage to avoid being quite so ignorant themselves. Ignorance is fine for the masses because they don't know what's good for them — and of course being ignorant ensures that this situation continues. Ignorance is not fine for the rulers and leaders, however, who need to be able to access every detail of your life, however private, in order to make decisions that affect how you are able to live — or even if you are allowed to continue living. Is it mere coincidence that this attitude towards ruling is so similar to the belief that religion is necessary in order to keep the masses in line while it's acceptable for those in charge to understand what a sham it all is?

All of this comes together strongly in the context of sex and sexuality. If human sexuality is such an important aspect of what it means to be human, then it would seem to make sense that a broad education about sexuality is necessary in public schools. This, however, would run contrary to the plans of those who believe that ignorance is the answer. Abstinence-only education, for example, is based on the principle that young people should be ignorant of birth control methods — and of course of other aspects of sexual behavior as well. The same people who back abstinence-only education also oppose education about homosexuality, transexualism, etc., as if ignorance of these facts of life might be enough to stop them in their tracks.

It's difficult, of course, to sell people on the value of ignorance — especially their own — so the more common tactic is to make people afraid of what will happen if others know too much (and thus by implication, everyone must be kept in the dark). This is easier when dealing with people who are either already pretty ignorant themselves or who simply don't care about facts and logic because their ideology already provides them with a guide for how to respond to any situation they face.

Liberal traitors will make it easier for Islamofascists to commit terrorist acts unless everyone is kept ignorant of what the government is doing to fight terrorism. Teenagers will bomb their schools unless everyone is prevented from obtaining the basic tools for learning and experimenting with chemistry or rocketry. Young children will hold mass orgies after nap time unless they are all denied even the most rudimentary information about human sexuality. It's not positive arguments which the authoritarian marketers of ignorance have to offer, but rather fear and suspicion. They thus engage in a pattern which is doubly corrosive to the foundations of democracy. When a politician uses fear to persuade people of some agenda, it probably doesn't matter what the details are — the use of fear itself should be enough to conclude that this person doesn't deserve support anymore.

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We'll try dumping haloscan and see how it works.