Technology/Knowledge as Power

In order to understand fully what Man’s power over Nature, and therefore the power of some men over other men really means, we must picture the race extended in time from the date of its emergence to that of its extinction. Each generation exercises power over its successors: and each, in so far as it modifies the environment bequeathed to it and rebels against tradition, resists and limits the power of its predecessors. This modifies the picture which is sometimes painted of a progressive emancipation from tradition and a progressive control of natural processes resulting in a continual increase of human power. In reality of course, if one age really attains, by eugenics and scientific education, the power to make its descendants what it pleases, all men who live after it are the patients of that power. They are weaker, not stronger: for though we may have put wonderful machines in their hands we have pre-ordained how they are to use them….There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger. In every victory, besides being the general who triumphs, he is also the prisoner who follows the triumphal car.

C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 56-58

I’m posting this because I thought about the implications of this statement yesterday with regard to knowledge. It is also true that the further advances we make in the area of knowledge, the more power the few have over the many. It is literally getting impossible to be a generalist, or even to be qualified to speak on more than one topic. The opinion of the average person on any topic matters almost for almost nothing (besides making money). Some men and women have the blessing of being able to handle this situation with grace, not caring what other think of “what they know,” simply content with the fact that they think they know it (or that their “knowledge” is productive–$). But this power struggle for any real knowledge, especially as it concerns ultimate questions is really what drives my study I think. It is frightening to me to be in a position where I must submit my mental faculties and “leave it to the people who really know.”

(As an aside, the only people who have real power in the world of knowledge are scientists. This is because we have place a proportionality between certainty and importance. We tend to think scientists are best suited for getting at the truth of the world and for telling us how to live because they use enumerative induction.)

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