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Darkness of ignorance, darkness of misinformation.

Elections are the main focus of adult Filipinos, at least for two more weeks. If something unusual happens, then it will be longer. Actually, at the moment, adult Filipinos are the voters, and millennials are supposed to be a main chunk of the electorate. And they sure do not seem excited or that attentive to the ongoing campaign. That favors the status quo, of course. Change is driven by the passion and numbers of the young. The older generations, on the other hand, will go their merry divided ways.

It is true that we are in the age of information, shifting fast from millennia of ignorance. Ignorance is a darkness of sorts. When one knows too little, there is not much to process and there will be little choices available. That is why belief and obedience were powerful tools of religions and the elite few who were studied. People did not read and write. They were largely immobile as well, contained in their respective small areas where they were born and probably died. What could not be seen and touched and heard were beyond the imagination of most.

The printed word, however, changed the landscape, particularly in Europe whose countries then colonized the rest of the world. Mass education followed and communication flowed more freely. Then, in the 20thcentury, a great leap occurred, and the age of information was born. Several decades into that new age, it has become obvious that it is only beginning, the ending of which is now unimaginable even to the most progressive of thinkers and scientists.

What is fact is that the darkness that blanketed mankind, the darkness of ignorance, is slowly but steadily lifting with the rising sun of information. That should be a good development. Information and knowledge are better than no information or knowledge. The shift, however, is sudden and radical. It is as if a dam broke. It is not water, though, that is flooding the earth, it is the light of information and data in limitless quantities. So much light that it is blinding.

For so long, only those who had more information and exposure to a greater world lorded it over everyone else. Information and knowledge gave power to their holders, not just swords and spears. The physically powerful became even more so because they had access to knowledge at a time when the darkness of ignorance was an effective slave master. Power was not kept only by emperors and kings. Power was shared with the wise and the studied because they were valued assets of rulers and kingdoms.

It even came to democratic governance with its three pillars - the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary - that a fourth estate was born. Information and knowledge were the main tools of media, first as a public service, then also as business models. People around the world were just transitioning from that darkness of ignorance and could know more - but only if they were fed the information and knowledge. Public education was just 200 years old and knowledge, while available, was more fed to the public than being sourced from them.

Schools became bastions of learning because they specialized in processing and packaging information and knowledge. Yet, school was still too specialized and focused on the basics of science, math, and language basically. For those not in school or already out of school, media evolved to become the source of what was relevant in the current times. Media focused on the news and the infrastructure to disseminate it. For a hundred years, people got so dependent on media that media became the fourth estate of democracies - and banned or strictly regulated in authoritarian regimes.

It was good while it lasted for media. Being the fourth estate blessed it with approximate power to a branch of government. Like government, media must have had lofty goals. But like any source of power, either bureaucracy sets in, human nature colors the sense of cold objectivity, or the business component alters the balance. The most delicate, though, is if media forgets that it was the disruptor for change at one time and that change will disrupt it as well when it becomes a power source. That's evolution.

Democracy is not a simple structure of governance. Democracy is a pathway and mechanism for power to get to the people. People themselves have not learned that power does reside in them. For too long, power was from somewhere and then used to control them. Now, those inside democracies are taught about people's rights - and how power resides in the people themselves. The application of what is constitutional to concrete life is not so clear about who owns the power, only who wields it.

The people, or netizens, may become players in using information and knowledge for their benefit. However, if the benefit is for oneself more than it is for what is collective, netizens create noise, not power. Numbers alone are not enough without their consolidation. And there are forces that will create confusion deliberately to neutralize the power of the citizenry. They convert information to misinformation, knowledge to falsehood.

Those who are well acquainted with power are in a good position to use the naivete or ignorance of the many so they will remain powerless. It is dangerous for traditional power to allow the citizenry to exercise their power. Whereas before they used the darkness of ignorance to their advantage, now they use the darkness of misinformation. If netizens do not want to be manipulated, they must be alert, intelligent, and diligent. The wrong information not only misleads but actually dictates what people think and directs their behavior.

Enlightenment can begin with more information that, when processed well, leads to knowledge. There are no shortcuts to wisdom, not even with the Internet or Artificial Intelligence. Wisdom comes only with maturity, with harmonious human relationships, with productive communities. It is still a very human world after all.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:May 3, 2019
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