Asking the Right Questions in the Right Places

Commoditised knowledge is power. With great power comes great responsibility. The responsibility to address our own ignorance.

On this day each year, International Women’s Day, endless numbers of idiots post the same question on social networks: “But why isn’t there an International Men’s Day?”

If they are a particular brand of idiot they add a hashtag like ‘#equality’ or ‘#justsayin’. Far from showing their digital literacy, this behaviour demonstrates a complete lack of appreciation for what the internet has given them: untrammelled access to the world’s knowledge.

If they cared about the answer to their question, they would have typed it into a search engine. Then they would know that International Men’s Day is on the 19th November.

They would learn this before the comedian Richard Herring has to point it out and in doing so, publicly shame them for their crass stupidity, which he spends this day each year doing.

They might also find some information about the continuing inequality between the sexes and realise that the tone of their question is offensive and ridiculous when asked in this venue.

As Marshall McLuhan said, ‘the medium is the message’. Where you ask questions counts.

Ask such a question of a search engine, and you’ll get a sensible answer. You will learn and be improved.

Ask it of a social network and you will be rightly pilloried. Because even if your question was an honest one, the venue in which you’re asking it carries as much meaning as the message itself.

This is because such questions are rarely asked honestly in a social venue. More often, asking them in this context is the worst form of passive-aggressive cowardice. Should they be challenged, the questioner tends to dive back under cover and wave a little flag marked ‘#justaskin’. They claim that they have been wronged by the angry response and their respondents should ‘calm down’.

That’s not acceptable any more.

‘Knowledge is power’ is a phrase for which the earliest attribution from Wikipedia is to Imam Ali back in the 7th century. I know this because today, knowledge is commoditised. If you have access to the Internet, you can acquire knowledge at a marginal cost near zero.

Those of us who are connected all have access to knowledge. We all have access to power. And to quote a less erudite though no less important source, Ben Parker, ‘With great power comes great responsibility’ (no, I didn’t have to look that one up).

We have a responsibility to apply the wealth of knowledge and power at our disposal, and to do so for good.

No-one should be denied their opinion. But equally we should all accept that in an age where information is more available than ever before, to be wilfully ignorant is to be a poor participant in society. It is a dereliction of duty to your fellow humans, whether they are geographically close to you or located on the other side of a social network.

For those who continue to be wilfully ignorant, the pillorying of comedians like Richard Herring is the absolute least they should expect.