A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

KNOWLEDGE, as the saying goes, is power. Communist regimes have been known to quell the acquisition of knowledge. The Cultural Revolution, led by Mao Zedong, sought to burn books and quash any semblance of learning or Western enlightenment. Books, after all, are the wellspring of knowledge, wisdom, and discernment. Communism was about keeping the masses as simple and uninformed as possible, informed only of propaganda that served the purpose of its authoritarian leaders.

In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the animals were led by seven commandments, each of them exceedingly clear. But as the narrative progresses, four out of seven of them would be tweaked so deftly, yet no animal managed to cry foul. Their level of intelligence, and whatever scant knowledge they had, were no match to the schemes of the slyer and more crooked pigs. That little knowledge was a dangerous thing for them. The only truth they were acquainted with was the one sown and honed through the propaganda of the pigs. Boxer, the gullible workhorse, would chant phrases like “Napoleon is always right,” which is all hogwash, through the eyes of the knowing reader and the omniscient writer.

The little knowledge that Boxer had proved to be his very own undoing, when Napoleon finally sends him off to the horse slaughterer and glue boiler, who’d boil him down for a big profit. None of his comrades were smart enough to read the words on the van that arrived to take Boxer away, except Benjamin the donkey, but his exasperated and desperate cries would come all too late.

The blind and overwhelming deference of the animals to a porcine-led party resembles the wave of voters that flock to a particular cause. Take Brexit, for instance. The Londoners and urbanites, majority of them “stay” proponents, would view the “leave” voters as having too myopic a view of Britain’s membership in the European Union. In their minds, the Brexit chanters were going down a dangerous path with their anti-immigrant mindset. Couldn’t they see the bigger picture, the greater economic benefits from an EU membership? They could well wax lyrical about a United Kingdom free from the fetters of the EU, but they fail to see that independence is just another name for protectionism and isolationism.

Trump harbors the same protectionist sentiments as well by slamming Nafta and giving trade a bad name, claiming in the first presidential debate that “our jobs are fleeing the country.” Here is a man who is perhaps exemplary of the true meaning of the saying, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” as attributed to Alexander Pope, whose quote really meant this: anyone with a small amount of knowledge can mislead people into thinking that they are more expert than they really are.

Trump speaks with force and authority, but he is more famous for spewing untruths and fudging the facts. Neither foreign policy nor trade is his forte, but “Who cares?” you can imagine him saying. He’s going to be marching ahead in the hot and keen campaigning days ahead. But some of us know that he’s just a walking, talking dangerous thing. 

(522 words)

G.J. Tan, Secondary Four
September 2016

For essays by G.J., visit G.J. Writes.

This essay was written in response to the question:
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. How far do you agree? 

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