Friday, March 11, 2011

To Question Authority or Not To Question Authority?

   Over the last few weeks stories have been spreading through Egypt at the speed it takes to press 'send' on a mobile phone. These stories always start the same way; "Confirmed news" or "True story" and end with "plz spread" and the like.

   All this coupled with people's reactions to television news (I'm thinking specifically of state-run television here) has made me wonder why Egyptians are so ready to believe what they're told without question. In my opinion, the blame lies with the education system. The Egyptian national education system is very old-fashioned in one vital aspect; it relies on rote learning and not the understanding of concepts to achieve high grades. Year after year, regardless of the subject, students cram the facts into their heads then extract it all in the exam and wipe the slate clean for the following year. This continues all the way up through to university. The only time it doesn't happen is when children go to international schools which follow a foreign system or one of the private universities where grades can also depend on research papers.

   My point is, if for the major formative years of one's life the only way to succeed is to blindly and deafly repeat what a higher authority(teachers, lectures, textbooks) has said then surely this will have an effect on one's ability to think critically? If that authority is thought to have all the answers, surely one learns not to question that authority for fear of failure? And when the authority behind that comes out with statements about the state of the country one has become so conditioned that once again, no one questions it.

  Yes, things are dangerous here in Egypt, but my question is this; is it more dangerous or a different kind of danger? I'm not saying that all these people are lying, or that the people behind these messages are not well-intentioned. Nor am I claiming that all is calm on the streets. However, what I am saying is that there is, in my opinion, a great risk of panic spreading among people. Everyone who reads these messages believes them and sends them on to their contact list. But no one seems to bother to find out where the story originated from. The cousin or friend in the message could be anyone. Please, if you get one of these, call the person who sent it and ask if they wrote it. If they didn't and are just forwarding it, please try to verify the story before sending it on.

   Mad-Eye Moody from the Harry Potter is always urging "Constant Vigilance", this is certainly the line we should be taking, just make sure vigilance doesn't turn to paranoia.

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