Legitimate Power Requires Knowledge

Posted on May 6th, 2013 at 2:42 pm by lmoulton

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“Knowledge is Power” is an often repeated rubric in the KM community and cited as a reason for better education, learning and sharing to succeed in business. It is routinely asserted among those who aspire to control, compete, and ascend to positions of power. But is a serious quest for knowledge truly internalized and practiced among those who aspire to and gain leadership? Do would-be leaders really want knowledge and do they use it wisely when they have it?

If knowledge is power, how is it that so many who have reached positions of authority in politics, sports, and religion deny statistical evidence, well constructed research outcomes, massive data gathering and analytical outcomes, and ignore reasoned and reasonable arguments?

Among the most recent examples are the ways in which data are misrepresented, hidden or falsified to the public or constituents of governmental, non-profit, and religious institutions. The fact that institutions imbued with public trust and benefits (tax exemptions, and access to politicians and influential individuals) can continue to operate while burying truthful knowledge is a sorry example of power gone amuck. We see now this among those who would thwart meaningful changes to gun laws; lobbying organizations have been successful in their efforts to hide from public access statistics about death by guns. We can read the provisions of the Tiahrt Amendments provisions in our laws that limit access to meaningful data. This article in The Atlantic, Gun Violence in America: The 13 Key Questions (With 13 Concise Answers) raises some points of information that stress “What we don’t know yet.”

If we are to change from a culture of attaining power at any cost without truth on our side, we are truly enabling a flawed version of democracy. Is it not axiomatic that true democracy is bound to operate based on truths? How can we assert truth if we do not seek, attain and leverage as much knowledge as we can about a subject? We see evidence through the persistence of researchers, who have troubled themselves to learn about variations in the genome and brain, explicit support for the reality of sexual orientation as a biological state. To have continued to endorse and accept flawed mythologies and emotionally charged arguments about the nature of homosexuality would be to discard knowledge of science-based research.

Social and theological knowledge aside, another current hot topic, the misuse of guns seems to be missing many specific points of discussion. We are not having a serious and open discussion about ways to intelligently screen for potentially violent behavior, whether biologically wired in the psyche or brought on by an individual’s upbringing.

Issues related to the call for mental illness diagnosis and potential for privacy protection failures are very serious. But there are other options to acquire and accrue valuable knowledge and apply it sensibly. For example, we need uniform and extensive screening to detect a predisposition for violent behavior (to harm self or others) before enlistees are enrolled in the military or accepted in a law enforcement entity. It seems reasonable to ask that there be screening for conditions that preclude enrollment in these institutions. Then, if an individual is rejected for service, they may be given a non-clinical label that would not bias their record for other employment.

Employers of all types have given various assessment tests for years to base suitability on factors they deem important; these have included personality and emotional assessments. Clearly, evaluations given for military or law enforcement applicants must be evenly applied from service to service, and across geographically bounded jurisdictions. Federal standards must be developed and enforced.

We must work toward a system in which any person, who will be in a profession or role in which guns are issued and use is taught, is screened. The person must have a uniformly applied and standard evaluation for any potential personality defects that might make them a danger to themselves or others, a universal standard. The basis of the standard must incorporate:

  • The knowledge we have about personality attributes for people who will have guns as part of their jobs
  • Training requirements and certification for individuals who work with new enlistees, one-on-one to detect the potential for abuse, beyond weapon safety and the mechanical aspects of use
  • Trainer qualifications that equip them to make personnel suitability assessments with explicit authority to prohibit weapon use by individuals who ask questions that should raise red flags, or exhibit hostile or belligerent behavior in work situations
  • Professional knowledge and understanding of human behavior

It just seems logical to screen a population being given weapons for their job to prevent access by those deemed unsuitable before they become weapons proficient.

We empower many young service people with the authority to hire and train individuals about whom very little may be known. We empower our political leaders to pass legislation while they ignore the statistics of crime, gun behavior and basic data that correlates number of guns directly with number of gun deaths. In neither case do we demand that the empowered have all the knowledge they really need to work with the truth before asserting their power.

Power without knowledge is illegitimate and we have too much of that kind of power in our most important institutions.