The power of ignorance

The exploitation of systematically created mass public ignorance has remained a consistent feature in power politics

Ali Hassan Bangwar March 19, 2023
The writer is a freelancer based in Kandhkot, Sindh. He can be reached at [email protected]

Though the title of the piece might look like an oxymoron — as we know the power of knowledge — the power built on the capitalisation of mass ignorance has remained an ugly reality across human history. As a conspicuous feature of human societies, power, rather than legitimate authority, has been a central element of social control for millenniums. Notwithstanding their birth as vulnerable beings with potent cognition, humans tried to wield more power and influence the lives of as many people as possible. The source and the origin of this power varied in individual and social contexts. The exploitation of systematically created mass public ignorance has remained a consistent feature in power politics.

That public ignorance and its exploitation have been an evil mean and an end for the mightier sections of societies is an undeniable fact. That sum of the power people and groups wield emanates more from public manipulation than the originally assigned authority is hardly an exaggeration. Instead of popular assent, public ignorance and fears made up most of the authoritative power. They always build the citadel of authoritative power on the capitalisation of public ignorance. By keeping the public in the dark, the powerful undertake the heist on the former’s resources and even lives. Such systematic theft barely goes noticed, as most people hardly view them as such. This way, the ignorance of the public gets translated into the force of influential, only to be used against the former.

They do so by barring answering the questions and questioning the fixed answers, except for what serves them. Thereafter, the lives of the public revolve around these unanswered questions and unquestioned answers produced and professed by the powerful in a self-serving manner. The strict censorship and the threats to public thinking and dissent sustain their practices of exploitation of public fears caused by ignorance. Heresy, treason, contempt, social ridicule and sometimes, death welcome the fate of delinquent thoughts, behaviour or actions.

History shows how public ignorance served as fuel to powerful megalomania. As the cause and manifestations of ignorance, mythologies, dogmas, superstitions and fallacies helped the powerful wield and exert more power on their subjects. The dictum might is right was (and is) a glaring example of how authoritative groups influenced human lives regardless of the question of its source or legitimacy. Nonetheless, the source of power built on systematic public ignorance remained subjected to the question at all times. Socrates challenged the ill-built and naïve political and religious beliefs of ancient Greece so confidently that he preferred to live eternally by drinking hemlock rather than dying altogether by escaping Athens, as suggested by his disciples. Similarly, it was mainly after the enlightenment in Europe that eclipsed the era of public exploitations under the pretexts of the long-held-Divine Right Theory.

Like many post-colonial societies, the power in our society remains rooted in the monetisation of public ignorance. Like religion, people’s ignorance remains one of the most traded commodities in our country. They continue to do so by keeping the public ignorant about their rights and real status in society. How authorities ruthlessly overstep and embezzle authorities in the name of constitutionality and legality is an open secret. The rights as citizens as enshrined in the constitutions hardly find space in the national curricula, political discourse or academia.

Systematic public ignorance empowers classes to heist the public resources unchallenged. Threats of fallacious theological accounts, treasons, heresy and contempt keep most of the public from questioning the embezzlement of resources and public rights under the cloak of democracy, security, religion and justice. Hence, the destitute public plight is declared as fate and patience is preached amid aggression and atrocities by the powerful. And questioning the legitimacy and the source of power is considered akin to social revolt.

We would remain the objects of exploitation by the powerful unless we take self-made and self-paid efforts for educating ourselves and the surrounding fellows.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 19th, 2023.

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