Knowledge as a Means of Manipulation and Oppression

During the Storey reading I was struck by the statement “discourses produce knowledge and knowledge is always a weapon of power” (7). I found this to be one of the most significant truths I have ever come across in philosophy.

As mentioned in Storey’s paper, with the example of the Victorians creating the concept of sexuality through discussion, the discourse that follows observation, studying, and experimentation of a certain subject allows for the generation of knowledge in that specific field. This then facilitates the creation of power, as a better understanding of something or a theory can be used to categorize and organize behavior, dividing it into “normal” and “abnormal.”

I had never really thought of knowledge as a weapon, but, when looking back at historical examples, it is seemingly a very relevant means by which to control people. Time and time again, history has proven that if you have knowledge, or appear to have knowledge, you have a better chance of manipulating and then taking command over people. We can see this with dictators, corrupt politicians, etcetera. Furthermore, people are naturally drawn to people who are or seem knowledgeable, because they want to be with those who seem to have the answers to unknowable and understandable questions, and are prone to adhering to societal norms generated through the public awareness of certain forms of knowledge for fear of appearing strange or “abnormal.”

Because the human mind is prone to categorization, people tend to divide the world into very black and white terms, deeming one thing as good and the opposite as bad. Through the process of the creation of knowledge through discourse, which is then followed by categorization and organization of behavior, the people who have a good understanding of the subject undergoing exploration hold power over others who lack that knowledge, and are able to decide, based off of their own personal opinion, what should be deemed right and wrong. Therefore, knowledge at the most basic of level can be turned into a weapon depending on the hands of the people it falls into, as it can be used to manipulate and control the innocent or naive.

When I read about the relationship between knowledge and power, it made me a bit nervous in terms of the negative effects it can have upon society, and how there is seemingly no way to combat it if it falls into the hands of or is developed by unscrupulous people. Do you think there is any way in which to prevent the obtainment of knowledge from being used to manipulate and oppress people?

3 responses to “Knowledge as a Means of Manipulation and Oppression

  1. I think you pose an interesting point about the relationship between knowledge and power, but it seems as if you are only characterizing power as negative, but I think Storey characterizes Foucault’s argument as neither negative nor positive. I think the power garnered from knowledge could certainly be used for malicious purposes, but based on the readings I don’t think it has to be negative by any means. While we tend to characterize power as a negative characteristic due to the corruption that often comes with it, Foucault discusses knowledge and power more for the sake of discussion than anything else. But that aside, I think you pose an intriguing question about if it is possible to prevent people with negative intentions from obtaining power through knowledge. The problem is I think that if someone is totally hell-bent on destruction then they will garner the knowledge necessary to accomplish their goal. I also think that a large role of the education system is to break down the chance of that corrupt form of power synthesizing.

  2. Knowledge has always been power. If you’re in an argument with someone, you not only have to be careful of what you and your opponent know, but also be aware of what he knows what you know, and that you don’t give too much at first so you have more information at your arsenal to use. In fact, it’s a practice where you say something you know but don’t give the whole truth, so your opponent says something that you want to say, in order for you to trap him or her. People look to those who have more knowledge them; it gives them security, and whether that is good or bad is dependent on how those with knowledge use them. For example, if a parent protects their kids by not telling how their family is going through but just drops several hints or makes subtle insinuations, is that a noble lie or something disastrous?

  3. I love how this thread of comments has become a well developed discourse on the subject of power as a discourse. If that makes any sense at all. I do think that power or knowledge can be used as a means to oppress and manipulate people but like Foucault said, “where there is power there is resistance”. Where in some cases knowledge might restrict us or enslave us the relationship lacks directionality and can at the same time be freeing or even provide some sort of avenue or means to exert power over our oppressors. In many ways this relationship reminds me of Hegel’s Lordship and Bondage relationship, part of an elaborate discourse on consciousness. The Lord was able to use knowledge and claim a certain power in order to subjugate the Bondsman. Then it is revealed later that the Bondsman, through that subjugation, is able to free himself from the Lord and become a being for self.

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