Nelson Mandela on Education

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” That according to Nelson Mandela.

I object to the characterization of education as a weapon. Weapons are used as tools of destruction, not construction. Remember the distinction between tools and weapons: all weapons are tools (instruments; means to an end) but not all tools are weapons (“any device used in order to inflict damage or harm to living beings, structures, or systems.”)

Changing the world is a fine objective. Most people want some changes in the world around them and most people (though not all) want some change in themselves too.

Education changes the person, the individual. But that in itself does not mean automatically that the change is for the better. One can get educated into wrong ways of thinking. Indeed it is easier to get educated into wrong rather than right ways because there are more ways of being wrong than being right. Think entropy.

Change is inevitable, as the Buddha had noted. Impermanence being a fundamental characteristic of the universe, change is unavoidable. That impermanence leads to existential suffering because we want to grasp (cling, hold on to) what is changing. We want good things to last forever; and we want to change through an act of will what we consider as bad.

Politicians often talk about bringing about change because most people are dissatisfied with the prevailing situation. To be a successful politician one has to promise costless change. You have to sell your prescription that you will effect change that is all good and at zero cost. You have to convince people that all they need to do is elect you and then you will give them free this that or the other without anyone having to pay for it.

That is of course absolutely false. There’s nothing free. There’s always a cost to everything. Sure, you can mess around with the price of something but the cost does not go away just because you sweep it out of view under the carpet. The reason that politicians can promise free stuff to voters is because the voters are too stupid (or too lazy) to understand that nothing is free of cost.


Even freedom is not free. But that’s a topic for a later date.

Back to change. As I wrote a few years ago, change is a vector, not a scalar. “Sure we want change. But change is a vector, not a scalar. Change has a magnitude and a direction. You cannot just say that the goal is 5 miles away from where we are; you have to specify not just the distance but also the direction in which to proceed.”

In any case, short pithy statements like the one by Mandela are usually lazy and superficial ways of characterizing the world. Most political leaders are adept at that kind of statements because they derive their popularity from the masses — and the masses are only capable of clutching at the superficial and are too lazy to think for themselves. Thinking is hard for everyone but it is also unpleasant for the unwashed masses.

Physical or mental, exertion is not a pleasurable exercise for most people. A minority of people find pumping iron at the gym fun; a few more get to the gym but do it only as a grim duty; as for the rest, exercise is too unpleasant even to contemplate. Similarly, a few people think hard about things just for the sheer joy of it; the rest have to be paid to even exert any minor effort.

The reason why politicians make the kind of stupid, inane statements they usually do is plain. First, being a politician is being a professional. To be a successful professional, you have to specialize. It takes years of hard, focused, concentrated effort to become a competent lawyer or a surgeon or an economist or a scientist or whathaveyou. The “or” is important — you can be a great lawyer or a great surgeon or a great scientist. You cannot be a great lawyer and a great scientist and a great politician. (Exceptions test the rule. Benjamin Franklin types are exceptions. Besides he lived a couple of centuries ago, when the world was simpler.)

So politicians specialize in appealing to the public. Therefore they have to think like the public. Even if they know better, they cannot show that they know better. Here’s a simple exercise. Candidate A promises freebies for all and says it will not cost anything. Candidate B promises that trade-off will have to be made and if people want more of X, they will have to pay for it in terms of less of Y. When the people vote, candidate A will win handsomely.

Sometimes of course there’s the sincere but stupid candidate C. He misapprehends the world and thinks that everyone can have everything for free. These are rare.

Back to Mandela’s statement. It would be good to make a collection of stupid statements that sound very compelling to the masses. These are statements with very high stupidity quotients (SQ). Perhaps I will put that up on Quora.

Mohandas Gandhi was a master in the business of encapsulating a totally misapprehended view of the world into a minimum length sentence. An example? “An eye for an eye would make the whole world blind.” It is hard to find so much idiocy concentrated into so few words. The “stupidity per word quotient” (SQ) is astounding.

{If you’re wondering why I put that Denmark is free image, I wanted to highlight that nothing is free.}

Author: Atanu Dey


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