Knowledge is power, give it to the people.

Venezuelan holds up his constitution

A Venezuelan holds up his constitution

Hugo Chavez is criticized by many. But not many of them are poor Venezuelans. This is bacause he made genuine inroads towards gaining their trust. One of the first things he did was issue the little blue book of the Bolivarian constitution to every Venezuelan. And many of them can today quote from it. How many Sri Lankans know their own constitution?

The posessers of knowledge have a vested interest in protecting it. It being the sole source of their income and status. This is obvious in the case of an opressive government, so let’s look at some slightly less obvious examples.

Take the Law (or the low, as our police calls it) for instance, there should be an easy to read guide to the laws of a country; instead laws are written in such arcane language that most laymen would never be able to understand if they got short-changed or not without professional advice.

This attempt to jargonize all sources of information in order to make it inaccessible to the public at large is a natural result of the institutionalization of a particular industry, profession, or government. Another example is the Medical profession;

In a book called The Undercover Economist i read about how the torture that medical interns go through in the US (after several years of learning theory) was largely unneccessary. They could easily become qualified surgeons at much less the effort but they are simply prevented from doing so by the existing system. Due to the vested interest of it’s existing stakeholders.

In the case of governments, public ignorance is often a boon to corruption and injustice, and governments that persue such activities will have the least to gain from empowering the public with knowledge. They will thrive on ignorance and exploit their own people’s rights.

Imagine if all Sri Lankans knew what the police could or couldn’t do. For instance i never knew that breathalyzer tests need to be taken at the point where you are stopped by the cops itself. Numerous threats of taking you to the Police Station are merely intimidatory. If more Sri Lankans knew their rights, a lot of injustice may stop.

But then again, a government that takes the effort to educate its public on their rights and the general law of the land would be less disposed to injustice against them to begin with, creating a bit of a paradox.

  1. Chavie said:

    thought provoking post… 🙂

  2. Same thing happens here. There are tons of petitions asking the govt to clarify laws…ranging from amateur photographers’ rights to assisted suicide. But they spout some nonsense instead. A lot of governments thrive on the ignorance of their voters.

    For what it’s worth, I remember some of the bits of the constitution that we were taught in school. But you’re right, we’re not encouraged to take a personal interest in our constitution.

  3. Foxhound said:

    Knowledge is definitely power… and spreading it to ‘the masses’ is the only way for any society to reach the next level.

    This is happening in the US to some extent with Obama’s plans for a open source information system allowing normal citizens to give their input on how things should be run. Looks good on the surface… don’t know about the reality of it.

    Here’s something else Sri Lankans know nothing about… Buddhism. It’s a religion rife with traditions, festivals and rites apparently… that is also somehow tied with being Sinhalese.

  4. maf said:

    excellent post. i have not been educated in LK but was curious if students are taught their rights in schools or even at university? in the US most undergraduates have to take a class in the government (or at least where I went to school) and basically gives them a grounding in their basic rights and how gov’t at levels work.

    talking of knowledge is power what really amazes me is the sense of entitlement to a job for life that some of our countrymen and women feel they have the right to once they acquire a degree at the state’s expense…this is so wrong on so many accounts

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