September 7, 2014

“Knowledge is power” – and everything most people know about that quote is wrong!


THE FLAWED TRADITIONAL ATTRIBUTION:

“Knowledge itself is power.” (“...ipsa scientia potestas est”)
       Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
       English philosopher and essayist
       Meditationes Sacrae, De Haeresibus (1597)
       Thousands of books and websites claim that Sir Francis Bacon coined or first recorded the saying “Knowledge is power.” In fact, that concept existed long before Bacon’s time and the Latin phrase “scientia potestas est,” which means “Knowledge is power,” probably did as well. Bacon used a version of it in his essay De Haeresibus (“Of Heresies”), one of ten essays in his book Meditationes Sacrae (“Religious Meditations”), which he wrote in Latin. 
       In one of Bacon’s typically long, run-on sentences, full of much religious and philosophical blah-blah-blah, the Latin words scientia (knowledge, science), potestas (power, strength) and est (is) are embedded in a famed parenthetical phrase. The full phrase is “nam et ipsa scientia potestas est.” This is generally translated as “for knowledge itself is power.” That’s not quite as pithy as “Knowledge is power.” Moreover, in the context of the sentence and Bacon’s points in the essay, it doesn’t actually have the literal meaning that has become a cliché. In the essay, Bacon was making an obtuse argument about atheists and other people who deny the will and power of God, including those dolts who give more weight to God’s knowledge than His power. (‘Cause, duh, God’s knowledge is itself power. Get it? I don’t.)
       Anyway, you are now armed with the power to impart some factual knowledge about this famous quote/misquote next time you hear someone wrongly claim: “As Francis Bacon said, ‘Knowledge is power.’”
       Personally, I like the following variations better...


COOLIO’S COUNTERQUOTE:

“If knowledge is power and power is knowledge, then
  how so many idiots be graduating from colleges?” 
       Coolio
       American rap musician, record producer and actor 
       A line in the lyrics of his song “The Winner” (on the Space Jam movie soundtrack)


CERSEI’S COUNTERQUOTE:

Power is power!”
       Cersei Lannister (played by actress Lena Headey
       A point she makes, menacingly, to Lord Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish (actor Aidan Gillen), in the the first episode of Season Two of HBO’s series Game of Thrones.
       In this intense scene, Baelish hints to Cersei that he knows she has an incestuous relationship with her brother and might use that knowledge to his advantage. “Prominent families often forget a simple truth,” he says. “Knowledge is power.”
       Cersei responds by telling her guards: “Seize him. Cut his throat.” The guards grab Baelish and prepare to carry out her order. As Baelish begins to panic, Cersei says almost flippantly: “Stop. Oh, wait. I’ve changed my mind. Let him go.” After they do, she glares at Baelish and tells him an even higher truth that applies in the world of Game of Thrones: “Power is power!”


THE KICK-BUTT COUNTERQUOTE:

“Knowledge is not power. It’s the implementation of knowledge that is power. It’s not what you know that matters, it’s what you do with what you know that matters.”
       Larry Winget
       American author and motivational speaker
       In his book Shut Up, Stop Whining, and Get a Life: A Kick-Butt Approach to a Better Life  (2011)


A VERSION APPLICABLE TO FERGUSON?

“Knowledge may be power under some circumstances, but, in others, power rests on denial and studied displacement. This image of a smoothly functioning social order lends itself to the creation of the capacity for fascist self-delusion.”
       An observation in the book Ethnography in Unstable Places: Everyday Lives in Contexts of Dramatic Political Change
       Edited by Carol J. Greenhouse, Elizabeth Mertz, Kay B. B. Warren
       (Cartoon by Kevin Siers)

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