Pain of Knowledge v Blissful Ignorance

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Is it best to free your mind with knowledge or to live in blissful ignorance?

As a throw away comment my son suggested over the weekend, that high in the sky there’s an MI5 satellite with just my name on it. His intention I suspect was to highlight my sometimes critical and often less than acquiescent views on the workings of society. You see, the more mature the less I view civil society with those rather naïve rose coloured spectacles that I wore in my youth. As time passes there’s an inner turmoil that simmers in growing recognition that what I’m being told is, not only fundamentally untrue, but is becoming increasingly harmful to the world, country and immediate family.

The great confidence I once had when young, when certainly more idealistic, has given way to a learnt realism nurtured over the years by life’s many great lessons. My now more pragmatic views on the workings of the world, with life experience, have become increasingly nuanced. Having had an opportunity to scratch beneath the superficial surface of received knowledge I’ve found the headlines to be, in many instances, in conflict with reality. They are at odds with normal human psychological responses and basic common sense.

They say ignorance is bliss and sometimes I wish I could sleepwalk through life like others appear to do without deviating from the path of media fed information bliss. Herein dwells a keen distinction in that information is not knowledge, as data not expertly connected with a critical eye is inert, whereas knowledge as an interpretation of data at depth is real power. But I wonder, as I hope I’ve gained a modicum of power in knowledge, why it has to come with the attendant stress and anxiety of that knowing. Traveling the path of ignorance, as we all have to varying degrees, appears to deliver us up to mindless slavery. This in turn has a certain attraction in its unknowing blissful simplicity.

Why then do I choose the red pill for knowledge as power over the blue pill of ignorance in bliss. This is masochistic torture right! Just look at three candidate recent news items / thoughts that I, and by extension we all, had an opportunity to swallow the red or blue pill over:

A) Liz Truss aims for growth by slashing corporation tax. As a recent genre of this type of approach caste your mind back to the fuel price reduction here in the UK offered up in the spring statement this year by then chancellor of the exchequer, Rushi Sunak. The 5p reduction per litre was passed on directly to the consumer, thereby presumably as a by product of this magnanimous gesture, stimulating growth. Nope, not a chance as in the real world companies held onto to this exchequer windfall and it was eventually expressed in increased profits. In this sense growth is a hollow sentiment as these increased profits go to those that are already very rich indeed. So too with the proposal to reduce corporation tax to stimulate GDP, as that golden child of economics, in the vain hope that this will also trickle down as a benefit to the common person.

This idealism revolves around supply side economics as the saviour is clearly false, it doesn’t work even at a logical level given the company raison d’être is to maximised profits, period. Companies are answerable to their shareholders and have no moral imperative to pass on any tax breaks.

B) Energy free markets are the best way to provide consumer choice at the lowest price. No again or at least not entirely, as the new conservative government is in affect borrowing money on our behalf to pay the so called free market to bring prices down to an affordable amount. In essence they are recognising through this action that this particular free market incarnation is simply not working. Any sane and reasonable person would say, hold on a minute, why not for the betterment of all, impose a windfall tax on the energy suppliers. They have all said and done made £170 billion in unexpected profits as a direct result of inflating the prices in the free energy market.

C) Neoliberalism is an idealism completely boxed in by its own inflexible tenets. When reflecting on your own social interactions and functional understanding it becomes obvious that:

It isn’t capital that creates economic growth it’s people.

It isn’t self-interest the creates public good it’s reciprocity.

It’s not competition that creates our prosperity but cooperation.

It is also supposed that in a free market the price of something always equals its value. Nope again. Consider which would be more missed, and hence has the greatest value to society, any of the multitude of billionaires or the undervalued army of health care / education professionals. The latter surely!

Whilst in this area of enquiry, homo economicus, that rational bedrock of neoliberalism is all but rational in practice given the market encourages marketing which causes us to act en-masse irrationally.

With our 90’s cyberpunk version of Plato’s allegory of the cave now in full motion, which pill did you swallow I’m wondering? Was it the ideologue perpetrated blue pill or the more discerning and thoughtful red pill? Did you choose knowledge or information?

The cost of travelling the rugged terrain to knowledge assimilation, as an ode to your own personal super power, requires a lot of courage, dedication and certainly time. The price of not taking this more enlightened and human centric path is much more perilous longer term. Mindful enquiry is the antidote to slavery both economically, mentally and in the final analysis physically. It’s time for common sense to prevail and for educators to teach critical thinking skills to our children. Only then will we have the slightest glimmer of hope that government will be of the people, by the people, for the people.