Power, Knowledge, and Aliens

Foucault states that power is knowledge, instead of the common thought that knowledge is power.  When speaking about power, he would be referring to the individuals who hold a large amount of authority and credibility giving them a higher social status in society. His claim that power is knowledge assumes that these figures of authority use this power, intentionally or unintentionally, to add credibility to their already high position in society while influencing the rest of society- the lower class individuals. In Capitalism, Marx saw the association between the power of the upper class citizens and social relations through a societies means of production and political power of the state. The same economic class, the upper class, of individuals controlled both using force. Foucault agreed with Marx’s original analysis, but thought it was too restrictive. He added insight of the existence of an ideological state apparatus as a show of force such as institutions of education and politics. These powerful, wealthy institutions use their credibility to portray their claims to be the universal truth, which most individuals believe without questioning. This is seen within our social structure and social relations among one another in the United States.

Money is the means of our production, making it possible for capitalism to thrive. The richest one percent in the world own more of the means of production than the combined ninety-nine percent of the rest of the population. This gives the one percent the control over the structure of our society, not just the means of productions, exercising this power in the form of discourse and knowledge. This is the same at a national level as well as a international one. Individuals with the most money in our society are the same individuals who claim to have a certain amount of expertise within a subject (for example, science) and this expertise is given to the rest of the population, which is  immediately accepted due to the social position or status of the individual stating the scientific evidence. New discoveries are made often in science by people with degrees, but there are also people with degrees that hold social power that portray certain knowledge to be true that is not or we simply don’t have enough evidence to prove. A great example of this could be the show Ancient Aliens. On this show many people with degrees in various subjects discuss the possibility of alien life as it is a fact, relating all successes of previous civilizations to the existence of extraterrestrial life forms. It’s been exceedingly clear since I began college when I was 17 that they speak with no real evidence. They look at certain features of a particular culture and tie it into their theory to try to prove it. Their theory that they are trying to prove is the existence of aliens. They are doing this by devaluing past civilizations and using their power to create false knowledge and generalizations about previous cultures.

In our society we have the tendency to let the individuals with power determine our knowledge. We blindly trust those who seem older, wiser, and educated and ignore those who are young and have not yet graduated with a degree. I am not saying that we should not trust these individuals with titles, but to be aware that knowledge can be interpretations based on the context of the individual’s life and beliefs spreading the knowledge; for instance, the educated degree-holders on Ancient Aliens. As individuals we should feel personally responsible to learn the knowledge our world holds for us; therefore, we should seek answers ourselves and not immediately trust the first person in a position of power to tell us the objective truth.

5 thoughts on “Power, Knowledge, and Aliens

  1. I agree fully that the show is lacking at best. I don’t know if it’s science to blame but rather the manipulation of authoritative titles that gets people. Look at shows that bring on “experts” of any kind. Half the time they over hype their prestige as a professional or use that to convince the public anything they say is credible. I think people also need to take some responsibility and maybe brush up on their scientific literacy skills.

    However, I personally am not a huge fan of Foucalt. I understand his reasoning but I think damning all science is jumping the gun a little. Sure, science has been used in terrible ways but I see it as a problem with the intention of those in power over science. While I may not know his full philosophical outlook because I have not read his work, to completely disregard any good science has done seems over reactive. Everything has good and bad aspects, you cannot regard one without the other.

  2. Knowledge is power otherwise we would not be going to college it is the way we use that power or education. I have seen some doctors use their authority in a very positive way and that they have helped a lot of people. The person that use’s knowledge to serve the greater good is what makes knowledge powerful. When this class started we didn’t have a strong knowledge of theory. As the semester is winding down our hunger for more has grown now like Marx’s we would be considered a different class.

    1. But a key point that Foucault is making is that those in power not only get to be the experts, they also set the standards for what is considered valid knowledge. The kind of power we’re talking about is far beyond the everyday practicing nurses and doctors we see!

  3. You are absolutely right about “experts” and people in authority having the power to make themselves heard. In regards to scientific discoveries, sometimes it’s a case of seeing who can shout loudest and with the most confidence. If someone gave them a TV show and set it up in documentary format, you’re likely to think that their information is accurate. Personally, I love Ancient Aliens. It’s one of my favorite sci-fi shows right up there with Star Trek and Stargate in both entertainment and scientific credibility.

  4. Ah, the old “those brown people couldn’t possibly have built these wondrous things” shows! I once had an argument with a dear friend of my parents when he started to spout Van Daniken and alien stuff at me at a formal dinner party. (I had to attend so that I would learn the social rules of dining.) He was very nice, he wanted to have an interesting conversation with me. And I was completely contemptuous and dismissive.
    I was 12. My mother never forgave me for my breach of social etiquette.
    Of course, at that age I didn’t get the “brown people couldn’t have made those” argument. Now I’m doubly horrified by this insistence that ‘primitive’ peoples are somehow quite unlike us. Hello, same species??????!!!!!
    As for experts on these shows – do have a bit of sympathy for some of them. Our professional organizations tell us that we need to get out there and ‘market’ our fields. So we agree to interviews. And then they are edited. One paleontologist I know was absolutely horrified at how they edited his interview to make it sound as if he had proof that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time. He made the mistake of being snarky … and they treated the snark as the core of his message.

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