Much as I would like to be the fist-pounding orator, I’d like to begin by asking you to close your eyes and imagine. Imagine an emperor poised on his throne, armies at his command, wealth at his disposal, and
servants at his beck and call. Then, imagine him illiterate about the world.
And while we’re imagining things, let’s suppose he has a Grand Visor who is well-versed in science, politics and the social issues of the day. Which of the two do you think commands the real power of the throne?
Let’s examine history. There have been eras where large populations were enslaved by empires. The Egyptian, the Roman and the British Empires are all examples. There have been monarchies where the rights of ordinary citizens were suppressed and they were ruled with an iron fist. Ivan the Terrible, the frightful tsar of Russia comes to mind, who regularly butchered his subjects on a whim. The French monarchy is known to have indulged in luxury while the citizenry toiled to make ends meet.
All of this transpired under the umbrella of ignorance; the antithesis of knowledge. And what happened? What does history tell us? When the light of knowledge dawned on these people, the balance of power shifted dramatically. Domineering kings fell victim to the blows of enlightenment being struck against them by ordinary folk.
Knowledge and power are intricately linked to one another. It’s true that there are several systems in the world, some would argue, the ugly side of the feudal system in Pakistan is one of them, where one doesn’t seem to require a lot of knowledge to exert influence. After all, these feudal lords are no Einsteins!
Yet, I would argue that it is in fact the LACK of knowledge among the serfs that is responsible for the hold these lords have on them.
But perhaps politics is not your cup of tea. Perhaps you’re thinking, what about science? What about art? Scientists are no kings. Artists don’t embrace thrones and issue decrees.
And you’re right, they don’t. But if anyone thinks that an eminent scientist or a writer, or an artist has had no power, he or she is sorely mistaken. Again, history instructs us. Galileo overturned an entire era of philosophical thought by announcing that the Earth was actually NOT at the center of the universe. That simple suggestion rocked the theocracy of the time, who were terrified by the idea and threatened by the son of a musician from Pisa. It escalated to the point, where he had to offer a public apology of sorts, in essence for being ‘right’. There is no dispute among historians, scientists and theologians today that the ideas of people like Galileo forever altered the intellectual, social and political landscape of the world.
Or how about Socrates? A short, ugly, unassuming man who grazed the streets of Ancient Greece, without a job or any resources, yet influenced some of the most prominent thinkers of the ancient world.
Socrates influenced Plato who in turn was invaluable in educating and motivating the young Alexander, son of King Philip of Macedonia. Yes, indeed, I am speaking of Alexander the Great, conqueror of the known world, a man known to wield tremendous power. Can we really take away the inextricable linkage of knowledge from his power? To me, that is impossibility!
In conclusion, knowledge and power appear to be two facets of the same process. The process of altering the world and the people in it. Of influencing minds and shaping ideas. The challenge before the human race is to use our knowledge wisely and to foster goodness wherever and whenever we can. In my humble opinion, that is the essence of true power!
Thank you very much.