Monday, May 25, 2009

Musing on Ignorance

So on rereading, I realized that the earlier Definitions post makes me sound a bit like an arrogant, elitist bastard. Which I really need to correct.

I'm not elitist at all.

Don't get me wrong, I used to be, but musing on those ideas was what actually made me realize one of the bigger failures of elitism. To start with, when talking about 'elitism', I'm talking about the idea that some group of people is just 'better' than other people. More desirable in any situation. I could keep describing, but I think you get the point here.

I was, at one time, what one might call a 'reverse elitist'. I wasn't for any particular group, but I was certain that deliberately ignorant people are worse in all possible cases. Of course, with that postulate in mind, I started thinking about why that might be the case. That's when I realized it wasn't true. Mostly because 'Ignorance' is so very ubiquitous.

Ignorance. Lack of knowledge. Everyone is ignorant of something. There is no one who knows everything. As an aside, I don't believe that it's impossible to know everything, as I find acceptance of impossibility to be something of a cop-out, but I do not believe that any human person currently possesses the sum total of human knowledge. Which means that Jay and Dom are wrong, but don't tell them I said that. So everyone is ignorant of something. Not only is everyone ignorant of something, but there are times when people deliberately refuse to acknowledge information. I'm sure everyone out there can think of an example.

Here's the sticking point. There are times when ignorance, even temporary ignorance, is required for some virtue. A fireman knows the risks of going into a collapsing structure. However, most of them who describe doing just that will usually say they 'weren't thinking about that'. They were 'doing what had to be done'. If you'll remember, I mentioned in my last post that I don't value judge (assign automatically as good or bad) ignorance. Courageous people are one reason why. They deliberately ignore physical danger in order to do something for the greater good.

In a wider light, I've been reading Science of Discworld recently, and it illustrates that all life is precarious, constantly threatened by catastrophe. In day to day life, most people choose to remain ignorant of that fact. That ignorance is all that keeps people going, that keeps them moving forward, that keeps them building a society that might, someday, become catastrophe proof. Much of which is done by lack of ignorance, but none of which would be possible without it.

So. I'm planning on becoming a teacher. To dedicate some portion of my life to the eradication of ignorance. I'm already writing, and like most science fiction writers putting bits of knowledge in to remove more of it. All this knowing that ignorance is a near requirement for success. In part, that's because I really don't think it's possible to eradicate ignorance. In part, it's because the neccessary ignorance can be manufactured at need with adrenaline and endorphins. In part, it's because I hope for a world which is both catastrophe proof and ignorance optional.

But mostly it's because I still don't like ignorance.


  1. If ignorance is bliss why isn't the world more blissful? :p

  2. ignorance is strength! War is Peace! Freedom is Slavery!

  3. Dana - The world is moving uncontrolled through space at several thousand miles per hour, occasionally collliding with other such uncontrolled objects at speeds capable of blotting out the sun for centuries at a time. It is dangerously close to an uncontrolled, unshielded fusion reaction big enough to engulf it without blinking, which is scheduled to do so in less time than the planet has been solid. In addition, the biosphere experiences worldwide extinction events every fifty thousand years or so, the last of which was roughly fifty thousand years ago. There are far more local and prosaic dangers as well, which have been known for decades if not centuries, yet those same tidbits are trumpeted by the evening news as if they are new information, because most people are unaware, and fear makes good ratings. Given the precarious nature of our existence, I'd say we're pretty blissful, and most of it is because as noted we're not aware of the dangers we face every day.

    Trip - While the latter two take some very specific worldviews to agree with, the former is actually fairly accurate. While knowledge can be powerful, ignorance, specifically ignorance of the likelihood of failure, is what sends droves of individuals toward some grail-like goal. Like army ants, most do not make it, but once someone does, the rest of us then walk over the metaphoric corpses of the ones that didn't. This is even more true since Gutenberg.