The Need to Generalize the Spread of Knowledge for the Development of Civilization

The rise of civilisation around the world has been accompanied by an increasing intellectual development.  Early on in this evolution intellectual development and the concentration of knowledge was very much limited to specific individuals or classes of individuals, whether through natural processes of development, or through various forms of stratification that withheld knowledge and education for the vast mass of society while supporting it in a ruling elite or a religious leadership.  In India, for instance, the Brahmin caste developed and focused the intellectual learning of the society within that group; while others received only specialized training in the specific areas of their action, such as, for the Kshatriya, the science of warfare, government and practice of the physical culture of arms.  For the Vaishya there was a focus on business and the necessary capacities related thereto, such as measurement, money management, and the intricacies of trade and exchange.  In the West a similar system obtained, and the ability to read was tightly focused on the religious orders, and in certain parts of government where such powers were required.  The vast mass of society remained uneducated on an intellectual level.  This allowed those with education to manipulate and control and direct the mass of people without the training in thought, logical reasoning and language skills, and who also did not possess the factual basis that could be acquired through education, so as to be able to understand and analyze complex issues.

With the development of the printing press, the renaissance, and the industrial revolution, it became useful and necessary for larger segments of society to obtain an intellectual education, at least to some limited degree and eventually mass education systems arose.  Ruling elites needed educated people to run ever more complex systems and processes, and with the development of the digital age, this became even more necessary.  However, the down side, which they soon experienced was that an educated populace is less easy to manipulate and control, so counter-movements have arisen in the modern day to try to reduce the educational access and manipulate people through mass media and digital information feeds, thereby concentrating the power in the hands of the ruling elite more tightly once again after the experiment with widespread education had been tried.  It is not possible however to actually develop civilisation over the long term without a broadening of the base of education and the increasing of the amplitude of the intellectual growth.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Civilisation can never be safe so long as, confining the cultured mentality to a small minority, it nourishes in its bosom a tremendous mass of ignorance, a multitude, a proletariate.  Either knowledge must enlarge itself from above or be always in danger of submergence by the ignorant night from below.  Still more must it be unsafe, if it allows enormous numbers of men to exist outside its pale uninformed by its light, full of the natural vigour of the barbarian, who may at any moment seize upon the physical weapons of the civilised without undergoing an intellectual transformation by their culture.”

“Knowledge must be aggressive, if it wishes to survive and perpetuate itself; to leave an extensive ignorance either below or around it, is to expose humanity to the perpetual danger of a barbaric relapse.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 8, Civilisation and Barbarism, pp. 76-77