James Madison once said, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” In the words of the cliché, knowledge is power. Our Founders knew that a flourishing republic requires a well-educated citizenry. When people forsake the pursuit of knowledge, they surrender their power as well. Benjamin Franklin, never at a loss for words, made the point. “A nation of well-informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins.” Knowledge is essential to self-government. Ignorance results in external control. According to Thomas Jefferson, “A democracy cannot be both ignorant and free.” Knowledge allows us to maintain and make the most of our liberty, but when laziness and ignorance emerge, freedom is vulnerable to theft.
Throughout history, dictators and tyrants have denied knowledge to their citizens in order to maintain control. For example, look at North Korea. A key piece of Kim Jong Il’s authority is in the forced ignorance of North Korean citizens. They have very little access to outside information and what they are allowed to read and see is tightly censored and controlled. Thus, North Koreans only know what their government wants them to know. The suppression of their knowledge has resulted in an an ignorant citizenry, which as Thomas Jefferson said, cannot create or preserve freedom.
Ignorance plays a large part in the political and social turmoil encompassing our own nation. Government intervention into public schools and the left’s unholy partnership with the mainstream media contribute greatly to our increasingly ignorant citizenry. We must also look at ourselves and at our culture to fully understand our servitude of ignorance.
During the time of our founding, knowledge was prized. It took effort and study, but the freedom and authority that came with it were considered worth the effort. In 2011, we are surrounded by information, but not necessarily knowledge. In our technologically advanced society, it is extraordinarily easy to find information online and on television, but that ease can result in laziness. People are now less likely to fact check internet sources, television broadcasts, and newspapers and politicians’ statements. It is simply assumed they tell the truth because checking a source’s accuracy requires effort. Many people have become so reliant on the government for money and security that they’ve also become intellectually dependent. Our enthusiasm for individualism, effort, and innovation are slowly being suffocated by the imposition of central planning and the proliferation of entitlements.
Just like the government-imposed ignorance of North Korea, the federal and self-imposed ignorance of many Americans has resulted in a form of intellectual servitude. Occupy Wall Street, for example, is nothing more than a mob of ignorant citizens led to protest for the sake of protesting. In the comfort of group think, rational thought is lost. Many of the protesters cannot explain why they are demonstrating. They simply parrot phrases like “the evil 1%” and “the rich need to pay their fair share,” not knowing, or caring, that their positions are often contradictory or lack foundation in fact. Occupy Wall Street is an example of “strength in numbers.” However, mob power is fleeting. Their ignorance makes them easy to manipulate and prone to violence. Even left of center local governments are out of patience with the filth and lawlessness.
However, the slavery of ignorance is not inescapable. It can be overcome by refusing to accept slogans as fact and by finding truth in knowledge.