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Power Hinders Knowledge

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Man is the wisdom animal, Homo Sapiens, yet, still first a beast, when wisdom is not brought to bear.

Wisdom has a soul of its own. The human beast has a different problem: eliminating the competition, hence an obsession with power, the first step towards eating the enemy. Interestingly, Paul Krugman is increasingly entering this dark universe, with explanatory schemes fully compatible with them (although they may leave many of his normal readership behind for now).

Wisdom, in man, has always been technological. The genus Homo evolved without serious canines, no claws, or (generally) horns, and little strength, because his hands were made to carry weapons, and his arms to swing them hard, and precisely. This made humans, even female and young, obviously extremely dangerous to all mighty beasts (who therefore learned to take a wide berth, from buffalo to lion). We have evolved with that, and through that, this technological singularity, not to say singularization, for at least five million years.

A bane of civilization was that as it advanced and became ever more precise and learned, the most competent scholars and artisans, upon reaching the age of their greatest expertise, middle age in the Middle-Ages, were unable to work or study. Glasses were invented around 1285 CE in the republic of Florence (please notice the word “republic”; the republic was established in 1115 CE; because it cared about the public, it invented glasses, or so I say).

Science is us, and it protects.

In “Knowledge Isn’t Power”, Paul Krugman observes that: “sounding serious and being serious are by no means the same thing, and some of those seemingly tough-minded positions are actually ways to dodge the truly hard issues.

The prime example of recent years was, of course, Bowles-Simpsonism – the diversion of elite discourse away from the ongoing tragedy of high unemployment and into the supposedly crucial issue of how, exactly, we will pay for social insurance programs a couple of decades from now. That particular obsession, I’m happy to say, seems to be on the wane.”

It was both an obsession, and a delusion. An obsessive delusion: creating a terrible crisis now to avoid a possible one, in a few decades. It worked; much of the Obama years were wasted, pondering it, and making savage cuts, including in future defense systems and science.

Then Paul turns to “a new form of issue-dodging packaged as seriousness on the rise. This time, the evasion involves trying to divert our national discourse about inequality into a discussion of alleged problems with education.

And the reason this is an evasion is that whatever serious people may want to believe, soaring inequality isn’t about education; it’s about power.

Just to be clear: I’m in favor of better education. Education is a friend of mine. And it should be available and affordable for all. But what I keep seeing is people insisting that educational failings are at the root of still-weak job creation, stagnating wages and rising inequality. This sounds serious and thoughtful. But it’s actually a view very much at odds with the evidence”

Paul ought to have been more precise here. The plutocrats and their obsequious servants allege workers don’t have enough brains to work, except in low qualification jobs. As demonstrated by the fact they earn little.

It’s like saying that the king of France wore a 15 million euros costume because he had been chosen by god.

The Rate Of Return on Investment is highly dependent upon new technology, and thus new science, and thus education and even intellectuality.

Thus fighting savagery is not just a question of civilization, it’s a question of ROI.

Rising profits for the few is both cause and consequence of monopoly power. Ultimately, the monopolist capture education itself. To get a post high school education in the USA right now, in a prestigious university comes easily for those who can pay the university twice the post-tax income of the median family income. In other words, it is reserved to the 1% or so.

The CEO class is entangled with the hereditary plutocratic class, which justifies its existence by giving exaggerated salaries to CEOs.

Any civilization is in a race between technological progress and ecological exhaustion. That means a race between education, science, philosophy and savagery, obscurantism, superstition. Any society is in a race between inequality and justice. To persist, let alone improve, the human condition, these races need to be won.

Humanity is in a quiet period right now, a bit similar to the withdrawal of the sea before a tsunami. It’s obvious terrible, never seen before problems are brewing at the horizon. The greenhouse effect is going to enter non-linear acceleration any year now. The human population is soon to be nine billions while the climate becomes ever more erratic.

All sustainable societies, those which lasted centuries, made it so that the few could not end up with all the power. Otherwise they quickly went from Republic to plutocracy: the Middle-Age Florence is an example.

The Roman Republic lasted 5 centuries, but it had an absolute limit on the wealth a family could control. That law broke apart when Rome became a global power, as the plutocrats were able to evade taxation. A century later the Roman empire at its apogee was able to use taxes on wealth to finance education and welfare, but, after the death of Trajan, this system broke apart, and Rome fell in terminal plutocracy. The fate that awaits us.
In the 1960s, a young university professor could achieve instantaneously an upper middle class way of life. Now only senior professors, after a few decades of career, can hope to do so.

And this “career” itself is a continual harassment, with less than half the “professors” achieving tenure.

And this is true all over the economy. And not just in the USA. In countries such as France, the teachers’ salaries and the esteem the profession gets, are so low, that the state is reduced to find volunteers at the National Agency for Employment (that is among the unemployed).

The piling up of money on a few individuals has broken down the meritocracy. “Merit” is now defined as the moral ability to admire financial gouging, and the will to partake in it.

This rapacious mood, of serving high finance, has infected all of society, and has made more sedate activities such as teaching, or thinking, less valued.

The continual evaluation of the worth of individual according to how much they earn and can afford, as the public sector shrink, is ruining not just the economy, but also souls and minds, thus leading to a lack of ability to soberly assess what ails us.

What ails us is the shrinking of the public sector. Education ought to be essentially something for everybody, something for the public. Instead it has turn into what privilege can enjoy, the entry to the higher class.

That was tried before, by the Celts. Only the upper class could access to reading and writing, jealously guarded by the Druids. Thus the Celts got defeated by the better educated Roman masses.

The Celts (aka “Gauls”, Gaulois) had a much larger army, with a much larger cavalry. They also had better weapons (they actually fabricated and sold to the Roman the weapons which equipped the Roman army)

However, although Caesar succeeded at some point to infuriate most of Gallia, deep down inside, the Celts knew that the Roman civilization, Romanitas, was founded on a better mentality.

This why the Celts, Germans, and Brits once converted to Romanitas, never rejected it (the Boudicca revolt in Britannia, just as the Vercingetorix revolt in Gallia, were pretty much driven by hot heads; differently from what happened in Judea, they were not repeated).

This is also why, once the Franks came up with their superior No-Slavery model of civilization, that was not rejected, either (except for the outcast movement to enslave Africans, launched by the king of Portugal in the Middle -Ages, which ended miserably in 1865).

Fighting inequality enables more to contribute their minds to the advancement of wisdom, thus brings higher wisdom.

That’s why the Punic and Celts civilizations (truly rough plutocracies) were replaced by the Greco-Roman, in turn replaced by the Franks, and why the Franks, by 1000 CE, had the most advanced technological civilization.

Overall, although here and there China, India and the Middle Earth had some elements of superiority. Europe was pulling ahead, because the lack of slaves forced to use machines and devices (glasses, clocks) ever more. Where a Chinese or Indian emperor wanted something done, an army of slave children could do it. Whereas in Europe, sovereigns had to negotiate with grouchy old men.

That was so true that, when the Mongol Khans ruled from Hungary to Vietnam, and Moscow to Southern India, they made irresistible offers to Parisian artisans to build fancy machines in Karakorum.

Education in a civilization means equality first. Power to knowledge means no power to the few, because power to the few means power to the worst. And very little brainpower, overall.

It is because woman was weak, thatshe became ever wiser. Making a fewhumans strong as gods, we go against the very principle that made humanity evolve as the better angel of creation.

Patrice Ayme

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