'Game of Thrones', Season 2 Episode 3
One of the perennial quotations to come up in TOK essays (usually in a very trivial way) is ‘Knowledge is Power’ (attributed to Francis Bacon who began the work of explaining the nature of science). This is the perfect Q to explore the quotation in a wholly relevant way, since one of the insights we can gain from it is a ‘sense of who we are’ as powerful political agents. The key knowledge issues are, however, what is the nature of this power and how far does it help or hinder our pursuit of self knowledge?
The clip from ‘Game of Thrones’ neatly foregrounds the nature of political power in terms of perception: your power is a function of how others perceive you. Historically, and in dictatorial regimes, this has lead to an almost cultish development of a ‘cult of personality’ in which the head of state projects himself to be at once revered and feared by the public. An ethical dimension to this idea is the way in which such tyrants claim to know and protect a whole moral code to which the masses have no access (think of the pigs and the ‘Seven Commandments’ in George Orwell’s Animal Farm.) The implication is, of course, that the dictator makes you dependent on him for everything - including your sense of right and wrong. Authority worship is everything. Resistance is futile.
Of course, such a conception of power need not always lead to an abuse of it. Consider, Gandhi’s non-violent ‘passive’ resistance to the English oppressors in the colonial regime of India and Martin Luther King Jr’s development of this precept in his own resistance to the US policy of segregation. Some might argue that these two figures also commanded a cult-like following or promoted a cult of personality – but did they command respect from fear or some spurious and elitist notion that they had access to truths about human nature to which everyone else was blind? Here, the implication is that the ‘passivity’ in such resistance doesn’t come without a cost - it involves a commitment and discipline to the very human principles which any authoritarian regime appears to negate, sometimes at the expense of many lives. Such power is the very antithesis of authority worship.
If perception is so linked to power, then in a very disconcerting sense, perceptions can kill...