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Knowledge sans wisdom

Huzaima Bukhari

Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom”—Charles Spurgeon

While knowledge is attainable, wisdom is nature’s gift or an acquired attribute that comes with time and experience. There can be no doubts as to how invaluable information can be but its application is where wisdom becomes irreplaceable. Having a lot of know-how is one thing but utilizing it to one’s best capacity is another. Besides, knowledge that is retained rather than disseminated can also have serious consequences. Robin Morgan is quoted as saying: “Knowledge is power. Information is power. The secreting or hoarding of knowledge or information may be an act of tyranny camouflaged as humility.”

However, as portrayed by John Archibald Wheeler it is undeniable that we live on an island surrounded by a sea of ignorance and as our island of knowledge grows so does the shores of our ignorance.

The world we live in today is over-flowing with information or as one can say knowledge, pouring in from all directions. Where once we had to scroll through dictionaries to find spellings and meanings of different words, all we need to do now is to Google search and hey presto, one finds more, than one is seeking—spelling, meaning, pronunciation and even usage along with all possible synonyms as well as antonyms. No need to carry around heavy books, just a light-weight smart phone can do wonders.

Today, the social media is flooded with every teeny weeny bit of information about almost anything so much so that at times it appears as if bloodless revolutions are bound to occur in many countries considering the way opinions, ideas and possible solutions find their way on the many think tank groups. The cyberspace has words swimming around like marine life of the oceans revolving around the globe but heading nowhere. Pick up any topic of choice and lo and behold, the lights of wisdom start shining and within no time, the eyes are blinded by the brightness of seemingly authentic points of view.  

One wonders that if such devices were available at the turn of the twentieth century then perhaps world wars could be averted as any politically induced propaganda would be diffused with counter-information which the public would have eagerly shared with one another and at the end nothing conclusive could have been drawn because every news would invoke contra debate with the combatants not knowing what to believe and what not to believe. These days too, a great deal of data is in circulation. Take the example of Covid-19 pandemic. A cursory look over the months ensuing between March 2020 and the vaccination drive will prove how true and false information spread like wildfire. From bats to conspiracy theories, from influenza to pneumonia, from indigenous home remedies to advanced treatments—all genres of news clips and videos were generously shared and we not only were able to ‘diagnose’ the disease online but also found miraculous ‘cures’ but in the long run we suffered colossal loss of lives and global economic recession.

The most bizarre angle of whether or not information should be shared is when it comes to governments and the public, especially in the context of Pakistan. Many a times there is reluctance on the part of public officials to provide information when asked for even though the Parliament has enacted Right of Access to Information Act, 2017 meant to ensure constitutional requirement.

Right to information [Article 19A]

“Every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law.”

The Supreme Court of Pakistan in Watan Party & Others v Federation of Pakistan & Other PLD 2012 Supreme Court 292, held:

“Article 19A has thus, enabled every citizen to become independent of power centres which, heretofore, have been in the control of information on matters of public importance….. Article 19A is a grant of the Constitution and, therefore, cannot be altered or abridged by a law enacted by Parliament…It is, therefore, not for this Court to deny to the citizens their guaranteed fundamental right under Article 19A by limiting or trivializing the scope of such right through an elitist construction whereby information remains the preserve of those who exercise state power.”

Situation becomes freakish when the government falsely tries to cover up something which already is in the domain of the public though not officially. The state-owned channels are briefed to only impart certain information in a certain manner so as to influence the public opinion in a particular way. This is of course apparently done in the best interest of the country but in the age that we are living such acts can be quite ludicrous, especially when the innumerable private channels blare out truth.

Perhaps this is best explained by Tom Clancy in these words: The control of information is something the elite always does, particularly in a despotic form of government. Information, knowledge, is power. If you can control information, you can control people.”

Here is where wisdom plays a pivotal role, both for the disseminators and the recipients of information. Being gullible is the most convenient characteristic as it does not require exercise of thinking skills allowing believers to relish the sweet bitterness of falsehood. Those who are wise do not jump to conclusions but take time to dissect, understand and digest whatever they hear and see reaching their decision in a sensible manner because they know that knowledge without wisdom can be extremely destructive. 


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE).

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