Classic society-wide rhetoric advocates the raising of the baseline of education. For example, advanced countries see the common learning opportunities available to every child at all levels of the socioeconomic scale as a key issue in less developed countries.
I’m not about to disagree with that. But what I have begun to take issue with is the idea that it is ignorance-via-lack-of-education that is the cause of so many ills.
To me, it’s less an explicit cultural belief than an unconscious cultural bias. For example, we’d all feel a little uncomfortable at the idea of an “uneducated” person gaining a position of power. We’d worry that the decisions they make would be ill-informed, that the actions they compel would have severe, negative higher order effects, and that their motives would be base and personal, instead of virtuous and motivated by concern for the greater public.
But if an “educated” person were to assume a position of great power and responsibility? Phew. We can breathe easy. They’ve studied, they’ve learnt all manner of timeless and timely things. Their thoughts are on a plane above the normal and take in dimensions beyond the mundane. We are safe in their hands.
A quick consultation of history dispels such naive intuitions. In fact, the majority of harm throughout history comes from the smart, not the ignorant. The ignorant have neither the opportunity nor the motive to think grand thoughts about complex systems, so they refrain from interfering. The smart, on the contrary, have been encouraged to think big thoughts, and their egos grow in accord. So when they are recipients of opportunity to make change on a large scale, they do so willingly and with the belief that they are helping.
The end result is equivalent to hitting a sensitive instrument with a sledgehammer in order to recalibrate it. The difference being that the sledgehammer doesn’t have a mind that can misconstrue the outcome of its impact and persuade itself that it’s done a good job.