Educated versus Informed

Educated versus Informed

"God forbid, men should be jealous of knowledge as they are jealous of women", said Umar ibn Al-Khattab, reflecting a common frustration felt among those who seek to change the world for the better. Thomas Jefferson associated "an informed public" to the survival of liberty: "Convinced that the people are the only safe depositories of their own liberty, and that they are not safe unless enlightened to a certain degree, I have looked on our present state of liberty as a short-lived possession unless the mass of the people could be informed to a certain degree".

There are two forces at work here. The first is encapsulated in Jefferson's contention that people need to be informed for there to be liberty, and the second in Umar's observation that mankind resists learning and knowledge. Yet, there is no real contradiction; Both men seem to think that "an informed people" is a good thing.

Today, the dominant ideologies held by most world leaders seems to be a little more nuanced, a lot more Machiavellian. They generally fall into two camps. Those who believe that the common man can not be educated therefore the elite should regulate and manage practically every aspect of their lives, and those who think that there isn't anything wrong with exploiting the ignorant - nature intended it to be that way. Either way, the prevailing belief among the ruling elite is that common man should not be informed. This is summarized in the philosophy of Walter Lippmann, "public opinion is irrelevant, incoherent and volatile, therefore..."

Being educated is not equivalent to being informed. One could well be highly educated but almost totally uninformed. I took a lot of college classes from professors who fit that description; They knew their technical stuff, but were practically clueless at a general level and on issues that, one would think, would have mattered to them. To some degree, this is by design; The ruling elite of today would simply prefer educated scientists, engineers, doctors, lawyers and technocrats who are uninformed. To be informed means that we have the framework and sufficient knowledge to understand the issues impacting our communities and our own lives - not just dubious opinions.
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