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Knowledge and Power

Images generated by the word science generally bring to mind such implements as test tubes, microscopes, computers and telescopes. Scientific investigation certainly uses these instruments, but they are the means of science, not its end. To many, science implies technology, or the application of scientific discoveries to influence our lives. But toasters and televisions are merely byproducts of science. Science is knowledge, and the pure scientist engages in science for the love of knowledge.

The inherent human desire to know is undeniable. The love of wondering about things is the seed of science. But when the realization comes that an incredible amount of sacrifice and discipline is required to know, an easy way around the scientific method is taken through the path of belief and faith. Unfortunately, belief and faith require the sacrifice of one's reason and unbiased inquiry. Science knows no sects. Sects automatically imply the defense of a narrow identity and the avoidance of doubts in order to accept some particular authority. This is why Voltaire wrote, "Sect and error are synonymous."

Like faith, science demands one's entire life focus. Unlike faith, however, science requires direct verification of knowledge that can be ascertained by all. In this regard, all real knowledge is finally intuited knowledge, since the scientist sees the truth of something within the self.

Suppose one day a powerful thought came to you that much of what you embrace as knowledge is actually nonsense. Without this thought, your so-called knowledge would fill your head like hot air fills a balloon - giving you the feeling of fullness in the head. This counteracting powerful thought will either cause the individual to "perish the thought" or launch into the long, arduous journey of scientific discovery. Human history indicates that most people never get that thought; most that get it deny it or run with it for a few minutes, which amounts to be the same as never thinking it at all. The few who hold onto it and carry it throughout life are left with a daunting task.

It is the aim of science to discover the simplicity of substance behind the complexity of phenomena. Belief aims for this too, but accomplishes this by dismissing complexity as if it were merely temporary, or an illusion, or void of substance. It may very well be all these things, but saying so does not constitute earned knowledge. In fact, just saying so constitutes empty knowledge. Like empty calories, ideas such as these give a mental rush but do not amount to real knowledge or power.

Scientists are aware in their own work, even without studying religious history, that they too are prone to hastily conclude that the facts are really simple, forgetting this is a projection stemming from the final simplicity that science seeks. In other words, it is not merely the nature of religionists or believers to make this fatal error. It is the nature of human beings.

It is for this reason that even as the scientist and natural philosopher seek simplicity, simplicity is distrusted. Einstein wrote: "(science) seeks to reduce the connections discovered to the smallest possible number of mutually independent conceptual elements. It is in this striving after the rational unification of the manifold that it encounters its greatest successes, even though it is precisely this attempt which causes it to run the greatest risk of falling prey to illusions."

Like ontology, the foundation of all philosophy, science reaches toward greater general truths. This constitutes a reach for understanding of an infinite and simple substance underlying the finite and complex. It is also a reach for a perfect idea of being amidst the seeming imperfections in justice and causality that life presents to conditioned minds. In short, it is an aspiration to know what is real. While the very purpose of science, philosophy, and even life itself, is to arrive at the greatest heights of knowing, it is precisely then that we might sink to the greatest depths of delusion.

Luther Burbank, the great horticulturalist of the 20th century, said, "There is no personal salvation; there is no national salvation, except through science." Notice how he overtly replaces faith with science. To Burbank, faith was a de facto admission of ignorance. At a time when the nation looked to faith for social renewal, Burbank insisted that only the spirit of science could uplift humanity. Science, when pure, is the end of illusions. The greatest delusion people fall prey to is the notion that they can get from some other source the knowledge the scientific method does not readily give them.

A point in time might very well come when science becomes to the scientist nothing more than a common sense attitude toward life. It can manifest as a rigid form of common sense, but that is far better than the failure to acknowledge ignorance or the unwillingness to distrust the latest bright idea that comes along. That rigid adherence to principle allows scientific theories to rise phoenix-like from the ashes of earlier theories.

Scientists, intuitive and material, will be the saviors because they are sworn to uncover falsehood, entertain every doubt, and undermine fables concocted in the past to defend preposterous opinions and hide crimes. Science is both knowledge and the ideal attitude toward the acquisition of knowledge. For these reasons, science will save us time after time, if it is but practiced. Science takes courage, which is why a sure sign of social decay occurs when increasing numbers of trained scientist are nothing more than hired mercenaries of corporate empires.

Today as ever, politicians, the rich, the religious authority, tyrants, kings, and the masses who unknowingly serve the interests of all of the above, all feel threatened in their own way by genuine science and free thought. For instance, mankind stands in silent awe when scientists move the hands of the doomsday clock. Nevertheless, arms sales soar in these times, and Einstein's idea of global disarmament is discounted as either idealistic or insane.

Applied science, which actually has little to do with science and more to do with business and corporations, has not yet improved human existence for the masses because it is used for the benefit of the few. When science is distanced from the actions of the naturally expansive self that it manifests, when the quest for knowledge lacks integrity, humanity is in serious trouble. The suicidal madness of the few who build enough weapons to destroy the earth many times over infects the many with extremely divisive sentiments.

The powerful and wealthy now hire scientists - some of whom are seemingly capable of selling their own children. And at the end of the day, the same scientists may in fact be party to economic powers that promote child labor. They purposefully misinterpret data and create dangerous technologies, especially biological ones, for the sake of their political masters. They are unfaithful to science and traitors to the human race.

Since every form of tyranny crumbles before knowledge, the dissemination of knowledge is the key to human happiness and freedom, making the Internet and the printed word invaluable aids in the struggle for free thought. Both Washington and Jefferson distinguished America as the place where the "general diffusion of knowledge" was of paramount importance. It's been said many times that there can be no liberty without a populace in possession of a liberal dose of knowledge.

Yet today, millions die every year knowing far less than they were capable of knowing had the avenues of free thought been in place. Despite the misuse of technology in promoting nescience, technology can greatly reduce this number once genuine scientists and humanists replace current entertainment-based role models for children.

Dedicating oneself to knowledge is a form of self-empowerment. Even in the spiritual life, a little knowledge of an infinite ideal yields devotion to a life that is not limited by divisive conditioning. This power of dedication - requiring the sacrifice of dedication to more sense-bound ambitions - comes when we realize that knowledge is the summum bonum. Perhaps, then, the first thing we can get rid of is the idea of a God distanced from knowledge.

From there, we can uproot the dangerous notion of knowledge distanced from its basis in awareness and the human sense of self. As Alexander Pope wrote: "Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;/The proper study of mankind is man." To Pope, God was but the creation of popes who hid their failure to seek the truth and their genuine disinterest in knowing the truth behind the facile belief in a supreme being. To know the self and not bother with an ambiguous idea of God will eventually mean to submit oneself to what God is best defined as: infinite knowledge.

It was Francis Bacon that likely was first in the West to enunciate the universal equation, knowledge is power. However, knowledge can be classified according to the avenue through which it is acquired. Material sciences are verified by their display of predictive power and technological power, while intuitive sciences are verified by the display of nonfinite intuitive power. Understanding gravity, electromagnetism, and weak and strong nuclear forces yields both equations that can predict events and technologies that make use of the properties of those substances. Intuitive knowledge is displayed in powers that overcome the divisions of space, time, and causation. Where there is no technological or unconditioned power, we must maintain that material and intuitive knowledge is lacking.

Because knowledge is the fount for the power behind everything, Edmund Burke felt that that there is "nothing sublime which is not some modification of power." However, he also said, "Power gradually extirpates from the mind every humane and gentle virtue." Clearly, he was speaking of political power. But what is the knowledge behind political or economic power, or the power of priests for that matter?

With more political, religious, or economic power comes the potential for abuse of power. The potential for abuse of political, economic, or priestly power, may imply that politicians and priests do not represent knowledge but instead depend on the lack of knowledge or lack of wealth of the public. However, the creation of a nuclear weapon is not an abuse of material knowledge because material knowledge itself does not preclude building nuclear bombs. Material knowledge has no sense of values or morals.

Similarly, wealth itself has never abused anyone. Money moves from one pocket to the next. It is inert, however. The power of wealth must arrive from a different source other than wealth itself. And this agrees with the idea that knowledge is power since wealth alone cannot be equated with knowledge. However, if we uncover the real knowledge behind economic, religious, and political power, then perhaps we can develop it ourselves and have more knowledge than even the richest priestly king or ruler.

We know that those with power usually want more power until death overcomes them. Those with social power will be more likely to abuse it as they acquire more power. Power is never willingly surrendered, but ever trespasses on lesser powers. If necessary, it will divide and subdivide the populace to weaken it in order to seize more power. But what if the wielder of that power is at once being abused along with those he or she is abusing? Let's hold that thought until we can come to some understanding of the knowledge behind social power.

We know that laws are unfailingly designed to perpetuate this power. Those with money almost always want more money. This leads to a sort of violence and instinct-based living.

We know that those in power usually feel that they are right - that power makes its own right and wrong. This right and wrong is usually arbitrary and expresses no knowledge, so the power of might making right is not in the making of laws but again points to something deeper.

People in positions of political and religious power, as if they were aware of their own precarious station, widely appeal to a higher power, such as a divine power, to justify the holding of their power. Since power only surrenders to another power, divine sanction is assumed in order to check the people lest the people get the idea to check those in power. Of course, the divine rationalization of ambitions of power corrupts as much as power itself. Popes claim to confer with God, and so much for the personal power of those who believe this. So when politicians claim the same thing, the prior abuse of political power is most likely the cause for the claim.

For example, when George Bush says he confers with a higher father, we might as well cut to the chase and ask him why he feels so guilty.

We also know that social power does not reap happiness. Joy and temporal power have historically been mutually exclusive, though they do not have to be. Power over others frequently gives birth to pride and shuns depth of thought. The very desire for such power represents a lack of knowledge, even though if fulfilled, culminates in an outward display of power. The love of power makes tyrants and the awe of power turns people into pawns. Power of this kind can grant even the despicable and unsavory character a high status in the eyes of those taken in by the show of power. Ethical ideals are then ignored by the power hungry and their crimes are rationalized by their fear that others might strip them of power.

Political power can only be balanced by an inner knowledge of the self, constituting a power over the narrow self. Muhammad said the best of people dislike social power. Though Muhammad absorbed into himself tremendous power over others, if his words are accurate it is only because the best of people have found a greater inner power and are satisfied. The more outward power accumulated, the greater the knowledge of self must be to accommodate the power. The larger self entertains a larger sense of responsibility, which naturally checks the social power it bears.

This means that if the self is large but the social power grows beyond the boundaries of even the large identity, the power will corrupt the self. This narrowness will then be magnified before all others who are large enough to see. It will then appear before the eyes of history that the responsibility to wield social power rightly was gradually undermined by an idealistic view of power. In other words, idealistic power holders are often the most dangerous leaders, especially when their idealism is mixed in with a narrow identity born of religion or wealth.

Again, delusions that power was granted by the divine are to be expected. Of course, those who never fostered intuitive knowledge of the larger self will begin with idealism from the start and will only take responsibility if the self expands as social power is acquired. We can all imagine how uncommon it is for this to occur.

Power of this kind has shades of thievery, its highest expression being in the power to rob another of life. If a precedent for this power is established, then all other powers can be assumed on the part of the thief/ruler. Historically, power in this case means the power to take more power.

That only power can check power is a principle that sounds out a call to social responsibility, if not to arms. Those who love knowledge and therefore gain inner power, are the custodians of a different type of power than that of those who have wealth, a throne, or a pulpit. Yet their knowledge can check the societal power of a priest or president because it precisely counters the real knowledge and power behind societal power. No doubt, an individual philosopher or intuitive scientist cannot contend with an individual king. Gandhi needed the will of millions behind his cause, and with it he still could not stop the bullet of the fundamentalist.

Technically, there is no such thing as unlimited civic power. Unlimited power can only come from unlimited, or infinite, knowledge. Civic power is always finite. But however finite it may be, we can also say that civic power is often a means confused as an end. When confusion sets in, the ends sought are naturally considered unlimited since all of us are born seekers of unconditioned power and knowledge. Hence, there is the irony that most people end up as slaves to seeking knowledge/power in finitude, or slaves to another's bogus discovery of knowledge in their temporal power.

This reveals that power does not abuse its holder or even corrupt the holder, but rather the holder corrupts power. That is, the holder of wealth corrupts wealth. The holder of property corrupts property. Again, means become ends. Though noble ends without their reflective noble means are powerless, all means are of themselves neutral. Still, the absence of noble ends results in ignoble means since they are confused as ends.

In short, power is not the enemy. It is a neutral means. The people must be on the watch for ends. Ends always color means. The people must also realize that their awe of ends supplies the ignoble means to those people who become the repository of social power. The tendency in the public toward whatever idealism (Christ's ideals, the ideals of a republic, the ideals of freedom or liberty) can be used against it, as has happened innumerable times in history and is taking place even now.

I do not know if Woodrow Wilson had prophetic abilities, but this statement makes one wonder: "The man with power but without conscience, could, with an eloquent tongue, if he cared for nothing but his own power, put this whole country into a flame, because this whole country believes that something is wrong, and is eager to follow those who profess to be able to lead it away from its difficulties."

With this statement, the mystery of the real knowledge and power behind social power begins to come to light. Social power by way of political, economic, or religious power is itself not evidence of knowledge. Its responsible sublimation and use is indicative of inward knowledge, perhaps, but otherwise it is a given that those who have social power have it because they want it, cling to it, and defend it - and this eventually leads to cunning or deception in weaker minds.

So what is the basis of social power? We have said that political power is based not on the knowledge of the politician, nor is the power of wealth based upon the knowledge of the rich. Priestly power is not based on the knowledge of the priest. Indeed, these powers necessarily require that the holders have little to no knowledge and entertain nefarious ends if they are to corrupt power.

Their power is thus empty. It is not power at all. To call it power is a misnomer - one invented by those who seemingly hold this power. It is only the shadow of power that acts real, such as the ego acting like the infinite self. It is based on a convention, a play, a game of make-believe agreed upon by everyone. The way to undermine it is simply to disbelieve. In an instant, it will vanish. But the power to disbelieve is based upon the knowledge of the larger self that is willing to sacrifice those things that are lost when the make-believe game of money and hierarchy is rejected.

Frederick Douglass wrote: "The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they suppress." More endurance equals more abuse of this so-called power. And once this "power" is abused, it acts like heroin in the system of the abuser - and so is nearly impossible to quit. The best of us are susceptible to the addiction of this "power," but the character becomes near worthless once the so-called power corrupts. The leader becomes the ignoble means to ignoble ends.

So, instead of using the word power in relation to societal influence and control, let's find another word. A good one would be force, as force presumes no knowledge. If we place our concerted force into the hands of a corrupter of force, we deserve the result of tyranny. Of course, if the station of social force could be dissolved, this would solve all such civic problems. However, this can only take place where the awe of force is reduced to nil and order is maintained without rulers. In this society, sadly, such awe is taught before arithmetic.

Freedom from centralized force must be cultivated, and the best way is through culture - another facet of knowledge lacking in an entertainment-driven society. It is cultivated through liberal thought, since force naturally begets a defensive attitude and a dogmatic disposition. The one with this centralized force wants to conserve the fact that he or she is in possession of it, which is contrary to the original principles of social conservatism, which fought against the centralization of political power.

This freedom is cultured through acquiring the inner knowledge that can deny the reality of the phantoms of force all at once. It is nurtured by an evolving sense of self that identifies with larger numbers. It is fostered by fathoming the boundaries of self-defense - how far political force can be allowed to go in the name of defending a society and how far the people can go in the spirit of defending themselves.

In this spirit, to suspect a leader wrongly or unfairly loses us nothing. It is our duty to suspect - a word that needs to be given a positive connotation in the public square. America, for example, demands the active suspicion of its leaders. America is dying every day because that suspicion has died in millions of people, uninitiated in the dialectics of suspicion. We must suspect their lack of self-knowledge. As Orwell put it, when leaders want us to believe they are saints, they must be assumed guilty unless proven innocent.

Today, we have more material knowledge than did past generations. Hence, we have more physical abilities, power, and potential for force. If we use this increasing material knowledge as past generations narrowly used their meager knowledge, we might obliterate the human race. H.G. Wells observed: "Invention and scientific knowledge have taken our hearts and imaginations by surprise. Our social and political ideas, our morals, our ambitions, our courage have had as yet no corresponding expansion." Our sense of self must expand even as our scientific knowledge has expanded. When material and intuitive self-knowledge are in balance, the forces of politics, wealth, and religion will naturally be checked through a healthy dose of denying their make-believe existence.