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Willful Ignorance in the Age of Information: The General Musharraf Case

Willful Ignorance in the Age of Information: The General Musharraf Case

“Knowledge is not wisdom, but it is a prerequisite for wisdom – and that’s one thing the digital revolution hasn’t changed,” wrote William Poundstone, author of “Head in the Cloud: The Power of Knowledge in the Age of Google.” In other words, Google searches will give you answers to your questions, but not the wisdom to ask the right questions or the smarts to search for what you should be looking for.

The wisdom to be responsible about how we use the internet, to check for authenticity before forming an opinion and sharing a sizzling news piece or soundbite with peers is the key difference between ignorance and knowledgeability in this age of information. With every breaking story, we have a chance to check ourselves and look for more information before taking sides and falling for propaganda. But that only works should we choose to check ourselves.

One such instance for me, recently, was the conviction and sentencing of Pakistan’s former President, Pervez Musharraf. It was a decision so inflammatory, it turned social media platforms into battlegrounds for his supporters and critics.

A retired Chief of Army Staff and former President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf was sentenced to death for imposing a state of emergency and suspending the Constitution back in November 2007. According to Article 6 of the Constitution of Pakistan, this is classified as high treason and is punishable by either death or life imprisonment. The verdict was split 2-1, and the nation was torn in half. Social media erupted with arguments favoring the decision as a well-deserved punishment for crimes against the State and Constitution. This stood as a counter-narrative that his power grab was a necessary evil and a move that saved the country from corrupt politicians who were most likely to come back to power to further its ruin.

If you’re throwing around unsubstantiated social media posts and out-of-context soundbites without checking yourself or your source, you’re simply feeding into ignorance. You are, then, complicit in spreading propaganda.

All these viewpoints were necessary, and such discussions are important to have so we can learn by listening to varying perspectives. And that’s the catch right there. You can only learn if you’re willing to listen. Additionally, this can only be achieved if the discussion is well-balanced with a healthy dose of verifiable facts and figures, rather than rhetoric and vitriol. If you’re throwing around unsubstantiated social media posts and out-of-context soundbites without checking yourself or your source, you’re simply feeding into ignorance. You are, then, complicit in spreading propaganda.

Looping this back to General Musharraf’s case, an inflammatory soundbite boasting a woefully short range of two to fifteen seconds sprouted within a quick span of 19 hours. The clip depicted General Musharraf repeating just one line against the sanctity of the Constitution of Pakistan. It was recklessly shared across Facebook, Twitter, and other forums without context, and mostly without any critical reasoning.

I turned to the same social media to dig deeper into this, and with the help of like-minded friends, was able to find the complete statement the soundbite was plucked from.

The difference between the two clips is clear as day, and so are the intentions of those sharing the first soundbite whilst conveniently disregarding the second. The intent was purely to incite unfavorable feelings at the cost of truth and ethics. Even though both the clips were available on the internet, you still had to search long and hard for the one that gave you a complete picture. Of course, you can argue the merits of his entire statement. After all, that is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy. But at least that argument would be informed by putting his words into context.

If you’re not searching, if you’re not checking your biases and preconceived notions at the door before entering any discussion or search on the internet, and if you’re not willing to learn from an opinion disagreeing with yours, you will forever remain ignorant, even in this age of information.

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Let’s be clear. I’m not debating General Musharraf’s case here, and my search wasn’t about whether I favored him or the decision against him. My search was necessary to me so that I don’t fall for fake news. It was necessary so that I don’t become part of a vicious mindset that demonizes someone without context and complete information, simply because we disagree with them or the issue.

This is the con that comes with our use of the internet.

If you’re not searching, if you’re not checking your biases and preconceived notions at the door before entering any discussion or search on the internet, and if you’re not willing to learn from an opinion disagreeing with yours, you will forever remain ignorant, even in this age of information.

And that will hurt everyone.

Image courtesy of @etribune/Instagram
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