Knowledge is Power
Knowledge is power, so it is said. But what does that mean?
Well, power is typically defined as having some kind of influence, strength, or ability to control others by either voluntary or compulsory means. Voluntary is defined as having accepted or agreed to the performance of said action while compulsory is defined as requiring physical force or violence or negative emotional manipulation such as through fear of pain and suffering. In these ways we can see that power is used to exert control over others. Now that we know what power is, let’s explore knowledge.
Knowledge is defined as being facts, information, and ideas. This knowledge is what we use to label and interact with the world we are a part of. Everything we learn and experience is knowledge. All that is required to use it is to comprehend it. And that’s the key to transforming facts, information, ideas, experiences, and the like into power. But what kind of power we transform it into is what reveals the kind of strength and influence of such power.
Now, it is known that a man by the name of Lord Acton said in a letter written to a Bishop Mandell Creighton in the late 1880s that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great mean are almost always bad men.” A lot of people will take this to mean that power is somehow the problem. Well a gun can be used to point at people coercing their compliance because the gun can be operated to propel a bullet which is difficult to stop or evade. It will often leave the target injured and in pain. That of course is something to be avoided, being the target that is.
Yet the gun is not evil. The gun is not the problem. It gives its wielder power in terms of being able to control those he or she points the barrel at; but that power is often only in the moment. Something more is required to keep people in compliance with the gun wielder’s demands. The demands do not show respect for those the gun is pointed at. The demands do not suggest the gun wielder values the life of the target remotely close to what value is placed on his or her life. The value of the target recognized by the gun wielder is not greater than or even equal to how he or she interprets their own value. It is lesser because destructive and violent means are used to exert control, to have power.
However, when someone creates a good, service, or idea which is useful to satisfy sustenance, shelter, security, or happiness and offers to exchange it for something else of similar value, there is also power. This kind of power promotes the idea that those being interacted with are respected. It means that the individual choosing to exchange items of value capable of satisfying one or more of those four aspects of life wants to preserve the other life in a way that will encourage their continual creation of such wealth and or their peaceful willingness to exchange it; if not simply to avoid destructive interactions with the individual for the purpose of future security from potential negative interactions. This is an important aspect of understanding why some power is much stronger, influential, and longer lasting than other kinds.
This may seem as if it is a simple concept that everyone should understand, yet they don’t. Power is not inherently negative or positive. It is neutral. If people understood this so well, then why do they continually reject the notion that other people will not show them the same respect and choose to disrespect others they don’t know through the pointing of a gun held by a man they also don’t know while voting for yet another man they don’t know to control the actions of that gunman through legislation?
People employ power in less than efficient ways because they don’t fully understand it!
And here we come to the reason why the gun wielder in the first scenario seems to have so much power. It is believed that the individual controlling the gun is doing so for noble purposes in relation to government maintenance. He has power to coerce compliance in others through the gun and through the commonly believed knowledge that others think he should be able to point a gun at others for their own good. This is just a sign that the people believing such do not understand what power is.
And in the case of the gunman we know as a law enforcer, he does this to ensure people know they are not allowed to drive on road ways with broken tail lights for safety, rob shop keepers because it discourages their continuation of providing goods and services, rape people because that incites fear and is destructive, and otherwise generally violate the consent of others to be interacted with.
Notice how I didn’t state for the purpose of not robbing people or raping them that consent was the issue. Law enforcers can’t fully disclose protecting the consent of people because insight into their goals will highlight contradictions with their means. It is why I used stated that law enforcers point guns at innocent people or flash their guns to let them know they are not supposed to ‘generally’ allow violations of consent. And that is a powerful motivator, fear is. It’s so powerful that it has been working for thousands of years.
But hold on a moment! I previously stated that respecting people is far more powerful. Did I get something wrong here?! Well, no. People don’t understand what power is any more than they understand what wealth truly is. If you’d like to explore more of that idea, please download a free copy of my book, Liberty Defined, from my website. Links will be provided in the description below.
The trouble lay in understanding this concept of respect in relation to fear. People fear what they do not understand, often because they are taught obedience instead of curiosity and critical thinking. And fear is also a source of power. Knowing that something exists which may potentially cause pain and suffering is knowledge used to manipulate others into compliance. And when that something cannot be handled through comprehension and problem solving skills to disable its fear factor, it is invoked as justification for others to socially shame those who want to take a different approach or simply dissent entirely to the idea of obedience to social mandates.
The idea is that the social pressure will be applied because the failure of one or a relative few to comply may end up getting those who do comply hurt. It’s why people often blame the armed peaceful patrons in stores for standing up to the armed robbers after one gets hurt by the robber or the armed peaceful patron accidentally. If the armed peaceful patron did nothing but comply then the robber would have not hurt anyone.
Yet the issue is not the peaceful patron inadvertently causing someone else to get hurt. It is the choice of the robber or the unknown caused by the robber’s actions that gets people hurt. If he didn’t try to threaten deadly force it wouldn’t have been used by the defenders who felt threatened. Therefore if the robber didn’t imply the deadly force no one would take him seriously and he wouldn’t be a robber.
By standing up to the robber or trying to understand the unknown, knowledge is gained at a risk which will benefit the others. But if compliance and fear are promoted then nothing is gained as quickly, if at all. Stagnation in understanding and development of creating problem solving skills and courage to understand the unknown is the result. And this creates an environment where dependency upon those willing to point a gun or remind people of fears of ‘what if’ that exist and to not doing anything about them to understand is fostered. It is protection of the people that both sides of this argument are trying to achieve.
This protection is the noblest purpose of government. Yet it invokes fear of the ‘what ifs’ and doesn’t allow individuals to discover alternative and more peaceful solutions without harsh ridicule and social ostracism. Government is meant to protect people from what they cannot stop as individuals alone, such as foreign raised armies and sometimes domestic raised tyrants. Yet when we understand what we fear, we can craft solutions to do more than use the knowledge of what pointing a gun at others can do. Take for example the purchasing of soldiers instead of conscripting them.
The United States of America has held one of the largest standing militaries in the world for decades upon decades because it traditionally employed voluntary means of exchange over forced servitude. Yes, the United States employed coercive tactics for wars such as the War of Federal Aggression (1861-1865), World War I, World War II, and Vietnam. In all of these wars there was resistance to the act of forcing men into uniforms to fight and often die. Sometimes these were simple protests. Other times these were full blown riots with attempts to kill the law enforcers in which the armies raised were used to then combat the rioters. That’s not freedom and peace. It’s tyrannical coercive power which destroys families and lives.
It doesn’t matter the noble purpose of coercing conformity to help the greater good. The need for respect by others is far more powerful, regardless of moral consistency and transparency. When people feel and know they are accepted and respected as being reasonable individuals whom value their own lives then, they will be far more likely to refine their time, intellect, and labor for whatever cause or interaction shows them the most respect and acceptance. And it is here where we find the fanfare of glorious heroism to be used to compensate for lack of moral consistency. Then there is a lack of clarity just to blow smoke over the fact that those men drafted or contracted with voluntarily are made possible by the extortion of hundreds of thousands or millions of others. And this occurs for generations under the guise that taxation is the price we pay for civilized society.
What is civilized about extorting people, about inducing fear of negative outcomes if they don’t participate because some think they are mooching off services they were not privy to giving their consent to have crafted in their names in the first place!? How is threatening someone to comply with what another wants somehow more powerful than voluntarily contracting with them. It’s not. If it were then people would not dissent against it. The most influential and longest lasting power is that which creates what life requires in order to maintain and later improve the quality of life while consistently respecting the value others place upon their lives.
As I explained in my book, Morality Defined, it is universally accepted that everyone wants their lives respected in some fashion because they do value their lives. Self value is the natural state of Human life, I argue. And because of this by showing respect to others, we show them that we recognize the value they have placed on their lives. We want at the very least peacefully neutral interactions with others.
So when we threaten others with as little a thing as speech in the fashion of ‘get out if you don’t agree’ we are telling them that we don’t respect them, their opinions, or their ideas regardless of whether or not their ideas directly, indirectly, or not at all encouraged the oppression or harm of the speaker spouting such threats. The speaker is nescient or ignorant of the fact that others not complying with their demands does not make them responsible for the actions of the aggressors or whatever is feared for causing them harm. The knowledge of threatening another is power. This power is strengthened when others are doing the same. It gives comfort to the espousing minds of such threats when their numbers grow. And this alleviates individual responsibility to ensure moral consistency or deeper reflection upon the ideas at hand in order to achieve greater efficiency of the power they are invoking.
While power derived from fear of pain, suffering, and loss of life gives the appearance of enormous strength, it pales in comparison to the power of voluntary exchange built upon the respect of value called consent. There are no threats of destruction implied in voluntary exchanges. There is the knowledge that if one decides to initiate a coercive interaction that retaliation maybe employed leading to a much greater potential for a negative and destructive outcome to the unwarranted aggressor than merely accepting a denial of interaction. However, voluntary interactions concluding with a denial for interaction also shows respect for the value the denying individual has placed on his or her life. That is an incredibly important point to recognize!
That is an investment in power for the long term. It may never be an investment which pays off in ways one might think. It will however pave the way for future connections with such an individual and or those privileged to witness the interaction. They may decide to strengthen their bonds with you for financial gain, personal security, or other means instead of others because respect was shown to them in contrast to what others may have done. This seems like such trivial and easily discarded logic because we are often used to respecting consent for some things, but not everything, while almost never making time to understand things like this in such depth. We just take some concepts and ideas for granted and make justifications for them later all the while complaining that it wasn’t worth the effort because we didn’t employ the power we have as efficiently as we could have.
Let’s revisit the idea of power gained in military strength by taxation again. The military is huge, expensive, and there whether it is needed or not because of the violation of consent required to make it happen. There are plenty of arguments in favor of why its presence is necessary and not, but this is not the work I will use to discuss that. The issue is in what kind of power is stronger and more influential.
So while the current U.S. military is comprised of voluntary contracts today it is funded upon the back of people who disagree with its existence in addition to people who want it but dislike the method of paying for it and the people who want it and are willing to pay taxes for it. This creates dissent in the ranks of the military’s power to point guns regardless of offensive or defensive context. This is a much weaker chink in the philosophical armor of the military than people being directly drafted without their consent. But it exists none the less.
The people who dissent against the military for whatever reason will be less likely to aid them in the event of an emergency because they were continually disrespected by those paid through voluntary contracts to be military personnel. The individual military personnel probably won’t even recognize this while under the duress of situations requiring the aid of the dissenters and become frustrated with them leading them to potentially be the enemy due to poorly understood context in the moment. And that is more dangerous to the ‘greater good’ invoked in necessity of taxes being imposed than to not impose them and let people voluntarily band together to achieve what is necessary when the time comes.
Now if the entirety of the interactions required to produce a military is voluntary and only enforced due to the participants consent to engage in a contract, they are only held accountable for their now voluntarily agreed to obligations. There is no wiggle room in which to escape through lack of clarity and obligation. This means they are more willing to perform and lend aid accordingly because they have a vested interest in the quality such things, like the quality of their character, since they are fully respected and recognized as having the value they want recognized in themselves actually recognized and socially recognized at that! The philosophical chinks in the system are far less severe and likely to be based on direct violations of consent with voluntary interactions because people are being respected. Thus the knowledge of being respected strengthens the bonds of commitment to the military personnel from the individuals paying for their services of defense, etc.
Let’s look at this in another way. In fact this is the main intent I had for creating this particular work. I think it is safe to say that a good majority of us shop at markets, grocery stores, or other kinds of retailers. We frequent these places because they offer to us things we desire which allow us to maintain and or improve the quality of our lives. The merchants, the shop owners, have power over us because they are creating or making possible things for us that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to refine our time, intellect, and labor as much to directly create what they are already doing.
These shop owners refine their three natural resources, their time, intellect, and labor, to produce buildings in which they invite us into to select the goods, services, and ideas, they stock for us to exchange something else of value for. The shop owners use their knowledge of acquisition to provide these things for us. They in turn become respected by us because they made efforts to make our lives easier by taking something small from us, such as a few marked items we call currency or money, in exchange for something we want to have which sustains or improves the quality of our lives.
When the shop keepers continually do this, they become somewhat of authorities in our lives because of what they know how to do. We begin to depend upon them giving us greater freedom to explore different avenues of knowledge and improvement of our quality of life, not just its maintenance. These shop keepers can become wealthy because of this. They might open up new stores. They might become global in their abilities to provide goods, services, and ideas. And what power do they hold?
The loyalty of people who frequent them is the power they hold. That is vastly superior to the power of pointing a gun because people freely continue to give the store owners what they want. It’s called voluntaryism in some circles of thought. The shop keepers know that their customers will continually seek them out giving them the money they desire to enrich themselves because they are dependent upon them. This is not a one side exchange because the customers are freed up from having to provide the things the shop keepers exchange with them for allowing the customers to seek out other avenues of knowledge to explore in order to enrich themselves in different avenues or means.
This is why there are businesses around the world with as much financial wealth and power as governments. The difference is that these businesses grow far faster because voluntary interactions show respect. And the show of respect equals more frequent interactions. People want to interact more due to the encouraged desires to create more wealth to exchange in order to enrich themselves through these respectful and voluntary interactions. People are rewarded for creating real wealth as opposed to be punished for creating it when a gun is pointed at them as if they are somehow immoral. They know in these voluntary and peaceful interactions that they will gain at the best and not lose anything at all at the worst.
Again, this is in stark contrast to taxation and robbery. Failure to comply with the law enforcer’s demands or the robber’s demands and there is the understanding that the situation will be escalated to violence and destruction. It is difficult to control one’s self in a tense moment thus making the law enforcers the individuals with the advantage many times because they are trained to engage in violent acts where as the average tax imposed individual is not. At the very least the lack of knowledge of what power really is becomes the default reason for why law enforcement, regardless of training, holds power in the moment and future moments over citizens.
But it is the knowledge to create is what is so immensely more powerful than fear of pain and suffering and death. The ability to create what others desire is power to be a legitimate authority and leader. The creator of goods, services, and ideas, are far more powerful than even the provider of such things. Governments can be providers but how do they get their goods, services, and ideas, such as military protection, versus where a grocer or private security firm gets their goods, services, and ideas!
The government extorts people, threatening their lives with less freedom for not complying. The grocers and private security firms showcase their skills and accept ‘no’ for an answer and continue on trying to convince people through their peaceful actions and words that they offer superior goods, services, and ideas than their competitors. That means they respect their potential sources of income enough to let them peacefully choose today, tomorrow, or not at all.
Lastly, something of tremendous importance to mention is that the power to create, the knowledge to create that which satisfies one or more of the four basics of life, sustenance, shelter, security, and happiness, requires someone with the knowledge to refine knowledge in order to make this happen. So when people are pointing guns and raising truncheons to coerce the conformity of others through fear of pain, suffering, and death to give up a portion of what they created themselves, the power of fear will only ever be second to the power of creation.
Fear doesn’t create beautiful wedding cakes. Fear doesn’t create efficiency in production. Fear doesn’t inspire creativity. Fear inspires compliance. And compliance inspires dependence. Sure people seeking to explore different avenues of knowledge and success may become dependent upon grocers to provide specific things for them, but they are never retaliated against by the grocers for not being patronized.
Without the power to create there is no power to take. One cannot take what does not exist. Therefore the power to create is superior to the power to confiscate and destroy. When the day comes and there are no more people producing real wealth capable of satisfying the four basics of life, what will there be left to take?! The creator of real wealth will be the most powerful individual remaining.
This is the important part of understanding why the inefficiency of slavery would have ultimately given way to the efficiency of voluntary contractual obligations in the United States and around the world.
That is why voluntary interactions and the respect of consent are superior to coercive actions and the violation of consent.
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