Nothingness at Power


“Lady Bracknell. (….) I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing. Which do you know?

Jack. [After some hesitation.] I know nothing, Lady Bracknell.” (The Importance of Being Earnest Act 1)

What seems to Jack a nonsensical question to a man, who is facing an interview to be allowed to marry the woman she loves, actually, hides much more sense that we believe. Being puzzled but determined to win Lady Bracknell’s good opinion, he decides to keep a low profile declaring to “know nothing”. Lucky man. He guessed it right, after all he had 50 % odds. For Lady Bracknell such an answer reveals lack of pride, a quality that she cannot but appreciate, but also a humble disposition which is typical of those who actually know something. The more you learn, the more you have the impression that your knowledge is comparable to a mote of dust in the immensity of the universe. Socrates himself said:

“I am the wisest man alive, because I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”

Yet, Lady Bracknell could not know that modernity would have brough to life a new category of people, that is, those who know nothing and live under the impression of knowing everything. They are the arrogant who believe that the bits and pieces of information they find grazing on the internet are the ultimate truth. It is the absence of doubt that makes them so. This is what Umberto Eco said about this social phenomenon:

“Social media give the right to speak to legions of idiots who once used to speak only at the bar after a glass of wine, without damaging the community. They were immediately silenced, once, while now they have the same right to speak as a Nobel Prize. It’s the invasion of idiots .”

Once, if you were aware of your intellectual inconsistency, you would have never dared give your opinion on matters, let alone scientifical matters, you knew just a little or nothing about. Not today. Today you find pages and pages that promote, for example,Β  bicarbonate and even aloe as miraculous cures for cancer, that vaccines are dangerous and, therefore, pages blossoms where parents become in a fell swoop doctors, doctors with no degree of course, who give evidence and claim their right to choose whether to vaccinate or not, and who cares if their offsprings study or play with other children who are immunosuppressed, they are not their own, after all. On other pages you may learn that a hemorrhoids cream may erase your wrinkles andΒ  that if you suffer from bags under you eyes, toothpaste is the remedy you were looking for – don’t do it!! – , but if you are in the mood of a more scientifical debate you may easily bump into people who are ready to give you proof of the fact that man never went on the moon, that the aliens are spying us and the earth is flat . Pages that may boast thousands of followers. So are we not far from the truth if we say that the free access to information has provoked general, arrogant, ignorant disinformation. I know, that at this point, Lady Bracknell, wouldn’t be with me, in fact she believed that:

“Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit, touch it and the bloom is gone” (The Importance of Being Earnest Act 1)

Maybe it was so at your time, my Dear, when there was no universal suffrage yet and the less fortunate envied, of course, but also admired the educated. The latters were a model for their children, which was eventually made attainable thanks to schooling. Today those elites do not represents any longer a model, and those voices who used to be silenced are allowed to vote and elect people exactly like them: ignorant, arrogant, selfish. Somebody who doesn’t make them feel uncomfortable with the inconsistency of their education or propriety of speech. Somebody simple, who speaks simply and is able to fuel minds with unattainable perspectives, envy towards the elites and fear for whatever is perceived different. These people today determine the fate of a country. The greatest revolution of our times would be allowing that delicate exotic fruit of ignorance to be touched by that virus called education, but I fear it is too late as they have already found the antidote.

“The opinion of 10,000 men has no value if nobody knows anything about the subject.” Marcus Aurelius


15 thoughts on “Nothingness at Power

  1. An excellent post and I enjoyed everything about it, but especially your quote on the fact that “free access to information has provoked general, arrogant, ignorant disinformation.” And ending with the words of Marcus Aurelius was brilliant as well. Thanks for sharing this …

  2. I’m conflicted . . . we do live, indeed, in an age when anyone with any kind of curiosity can discover and study nearly any field of knowledge they find of interest . . . and, many do to great benefit to themselves and those around them.

    I’m conflicted . . . were I asked the same question, my answer would have been different. I might have endeavored to educate Lady Bracknell about false dichotomies. I know a lot . . . but not everything. Either answer would have been dishonest.

    I’m conflicted . . . while I abhor claims born of ignorance and the closely related proclamations of self-taught experts, they are β€” as is easily demonstrated β€” equally found in the ranks of the elites as well as the non-elites.

    I’m conflicted . . . it does seem, at least these days, that education itself is not guaranteed to produce thoughtful and reasoned individuals. Sometimes, the exact opposite.

    I’m conflicted . . . I think we should not so much value one opinion over another as much as value the willingness to critically examine one’s opinion, but even then, some things are beyond critical examination.

    I might be called an elitist for holding a belief in certain things that are, indeed, beyond the ability of anyone to question. At least, anyone with intellectual honesty and who’s examined what facts are available, proven truthful, and repeatedly confirmed through lengthy and thorough investigation.

    Even then, the important thing is recognizing the moment something is proven wrong, usually by hard data obtained by replicable experiments. At our stage of scientific discovery β€” and for certain well-established facts β€” this is an increasingly rare event.

    What she should have asked is this:
    I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to get married should β€” on any matter of importance β€” either adhere to the rigors of the scientific method or hold no opinion of his own. Which type of man are you?

    Side note: I get the intent of the article; I just got uncomfortable with the generalizations.

    • How would you feel – no matter if you are republican or democrat, left or right – if you were ruled (?!?) by two guys with no political experience, no education and who have never had a real job in their life before? One of the two is Minister of Labor and Welfare and as far as we know he was a beverage seller at San Paolo football stadium before , as for the others, they are like him or even worse.
      How did they get the power? Fuelling people fears and hatred mostly, and promising to defeat evil with the sword of honesty.
      They point is that they haven’t learned how to use that sword yet.

      • I’m assuming that’s a rhetorical question since we’re now suffering the second president in a row that never held a real job.

        For that matter, the majority of senators are career politicians with limited (evident) reasoning power and no demonstrable concern beyond getting rich and getting reelected.

        Do you know how they get reelected? They fuel people’s feared and hatred.

        . . . And, to be fair, fear and hatred finds plenty of fertile ground in the currently rabid Left which is – in theory – better educated and more affluent.

        I’m not conflicted about your argument . . . I’m conflicted about it’s seemingly narrow focus. After all, had the elites been doing a good job of managing things, fear and hatred would find little purchase with the masses.

        As for education, our current Secretary of HUD is a neurosurgeon . . . and arguably someone who thinks himself as smart but proves otherwise whenever he speaks.

        Our Secretary of Education bought her job and by any standard is completely unfit for the job. But, to say that things were better before is to ignore similarly connected individuals who served not because they were qualified but because they were politically connected.

        The only difference I see is that now we “see” how the system works. It’s a small consolation but perhaps that’s good because eventually the centrists will say “enough”.

        . . . I hope . . .

    • I am with you when you say the elites didn’t to well, but for what concerns the Secretary of Education I win. The previous one didn’t have a degree and we have never been able to understand clearly if or what kind of high school diploma had. As for the current Secretary, he got his university degree at 38 in…….physical education. Well, we did improve, after all. πŸ€”

      • Not sure it’s a contest . . . but, you claim victory too quickly . . . our Secretary of Education shows no evidence of having a brain . . . can you really beat that?

  3. Although, after reading the comments, I agree with the ‘political outrage’ and the reasons behind it, this post made me think about Orwell’s masterpiece: 1984. I don’t remember if we covered it during my time at school or not, or if you do present it now as part of the programme (if not, I highly recommend it, though the age of the audience may be too young to understand it).

    Anyway, while reading about all the misinformation you highlighted, I could not help but think where is the thin line that separates what is true, and has always been, and what it’s not. And, most importantly, what will happen when those believing all the lies and claiming them to be true will take over, denying reason and proclaim theirs as universal truth (supported by the government, why not)?
    Then those with some intelligence left would know that things were not always as others want you to believe them: a perfectly constructed lie all around. But then, by knowing that something is a unquestionably true, but also a deep lie at the same time, you will occur in the most dangerous of crimes: Doublethink.

    Yes, I truly loved that book. Maybe I am helped by the fact I did not read it for the first time until earlier this year. Truly powerful and so ahead of it’s time. Can we expect a post on the subject? πŸ™‚

    P.S: on the same line, did you hear what Chinese government has started doing as a social experiment? Assigning a ‘rank’ to each citizen, a score so to speak, that will increase o decrease based on their social behaviours, choices, everything.. now that is scary!

    • I love to read your comments. You have grown into such a wise young man, well, you’ve always been. You remember well, we didn’t do any Orwell, but I will this year, so yes, there will be a post. As for the Chinese governament , I knew nothing about it. Sounds like a joke.

      • That is quite an overstatement but thank you nonetheless! πŸ™‚

        Again, I truly loved the book and I am looking forward to your post on it.

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