Knowledge, Power, Wisdom, Truth, and The Like
Everyone has heard the idiom “knowledge is power.” In fact, it has become a cliché in our culture. But is this statement true? What exactly is the relationship between knowledge and power? Are the two independent of each other? Or are they mutually exclusive? Are there times when one must defer to the other, making one of them superior to the other? Or, perhaps, is wisdom a more important attribute than knowledge? Aside from the issue of knowledge and power is the issue of truth and power. Is there a difference between something being held as true and the actual truth? Is there only one truth, or are there many contradicting truths? In order for something to be true, must it be accepted by those in power? Conversely, must those in power acknowledge the truth in order to remain in power?
No one knows for sure who first coined the phrase “knowledge is power”, but one can suppose that it was someone who greatly valued education and learning. It can also be imagined that this person was a student of the world around him, as he noticed that although ignorant people came into power by bloodline or some other matter, it was intelligent people who would wrest the power away from the ignorant and be more likely to retain it. He noticed that the association between knowledge and power is very closely related. If one was to try to gain power by taking it from someone else, knowledge was a necessary tool. The person attempting to gain power must be knowledgeable of the circumstances surrounding him or her, and he or she must have the knowledge of how to correctly react to changes in the surrounding political environment. Shrewdness is often an essential element involved in a person wrenching power away from the leader. Since shrewdness is defined as being “intelligent, worldly-wise and clever,” it is obviously ineffective without knowledge. Once power is obtained, knowledge is not cast aside. Rather, it must be improved upon constantly in order to retain the power. It can be said that one does not need much knowledge to posses power, however, it would be errant to state that one does not need knowledge in order to gain or retain power.
Although the relationship between knowledge and power is so closely intertwined, are there circumstances in which either knowledge or power must defer to the other? Well, a look back at history serves as the best guide to this question. Throughout history there have been numerous occasions in which knowledge has deferred to power. This mainly occurs when the powers that be have an absolute control, as Machiavelli describes in his book The Prince. For example, when the Roman Catholic Church ruled the known world in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries, they censored and suppressed knowledge constantly. They were able to do so because their power was all encompassing. They controlled the religious aspect of the people’s lives, and they also ran every facet of the local governments. Because they controlled everything, they had the power to instill fear into the people. As a result of this unimpaired power, the people had nowhere to turn for justice. Although knowledge has succumbed to power on many an occasion, one would be hard pressed to find an instance of power giving in to knowledge. I know I sure had a terrible time trying to find an example of this. Then it occurred to me why I couldn’t find such an occurrence: power will never be willingly relinquished because of knowledge; rather, it will only be surrendered to a more physically superior power. After all, if the point of power is to be in control, then the entity in power won’t give up the desirable power unless physical harm is imminent. Ideas and knowledge are the beginning footsteps in overthrowing a power, but these alone are never enough.
This notion of ideas and knowledge being used to obtain power brings up another very important concept. Is knowledge the only thing needed, or is it just the starting point? I believe that wisdom is just as, if not more important than the actual knowledge. The dictionary