Ignorance is Often Not Bliss – Values of the Wise



ignorance
Cecily Strong as a Wacko Parent at a School Board Meeting

There is a saying that passes as folk wisdom: ignorance is bliss. That is, if a person ignores information, facts, and wisdom (and remember that ignore comes from the same root word as ignorance, of course), or is otherwise benighted, misinformed, mentally lazy, or superstitious or biased to an adequate degree, then they will be happier. So it is claimed. I tend to believe that any person reading this blog knows enough about the approach I take with values of the wise to surmise that I am not terribly in favor of this concept. I consider it more dangerous than a route to happiness, in fact.

In a wonderful little book Shakespeare’s Philosophy: Discovering The Meaning Behind the Plays, philosopher Colin McGinn does a fine job elucidating what is notoriously complex: the wisdom, meaning, and values of quite a number of Shakespeare’s plays. From The Tempest to Othello, he breaks down into modern-day language what is going on that could be considered the marrow of the somewhat opaque works. We all know Shakespeare is a veritable genius with words, but he also gets at some very deep and often profound themes and aspects of the human condition. It’s worth a read if this kind of thing interests you, because McGinn became familiar with many aspects of Shakespeare scholarship and puts a philosophical spin on it. I came away having a much greater appreciation for Shakespeare.

I bring up McGinn (who wrote well over a dozen books) to provide evidence for my thesis, which is the following: humankind has bumbled and groped its way forward since, say, the writings of the Hebrews or the very early culture of the Egyptians, or Homer’s epics, or ancient Indian writings. At times we were just horribly misguided, foolish, and wrongheaded; in certain ways, though, lights of reason and wisdom pierced the haze. We went from inventing all kinds of gods and goddesses to explain all manner of mystery and such—I think here of the Greeks, but also the many varied societies of the Native Americans, or the Incas/Maya/Aztecs—to developing the scientific method. None of this is easy, and eschewing or avoiding ignorance and “unwisdom” has always been humankind’s challenge. On this, McGinn indicates:

“Skepticism begins at home, with the problems of self-knowledge. What a Shakespearean character says about himself, even at his most sincere, is not always a reliable guide to the truth about that character; the character may be self-deceived, or just plain ignorant of himself. Several of Shakespeare’s main characters seem to me to fall into that category (Othello, Macbeth, Lear)(p. 13).”

In other living creatures the ignorance of themselves is nature, but in men it is a vice. ~ Anicius Boethius

 

Interestingly, curiously, we are awash in ignorance and cognitive biases and a relative lack of wisdom in this country, and yet this is not necessarily the ineluctable, predetermined state for humankind. In fact, Aristotle’s book Metaphysics begins with five simple words: “All men naturally desire knowledge.” Something has gone wrong if so many in this country (and certain other industrialized nations to a great degree) would rather be entertained than informed, misguided than charting their own path, and benighted as opposed to enlightened.

Nowadays, Americans in particular have come so far that we are in grave danger of destroying our society (and the earth is slated to be virtually uninhabitable by century’s end). For all the art, architecture, literature, philosophy, and technological improvements, billions still live in poverty and toil for subsistence wages. Innocent people have languished (and died!) on America’s death row, and Republicans have (arguably) devolved from the party of Lincoln to being one step above insane they are so craven and wayward. The inimitable historian Michael Parenti notes that “Ecology’s implications for capitalism are too momentous for the capitalist to contemplate. [The plutocrats] are more wedded to their wealth than to the Earth upon which they live, more concerned with the fate of their fortunes than with the fate of humanity. The present ecological crisis has been created by the few at the expense of the many.”

The recurring theme for humanity is undeniably our progressing so rapidly that science and technology have now become a double-edged sword; social media has run amok, Putin is holding the world hostage with his nuclear weapons, and human trafficking and theft of COVID relief funds are stunning examples of how far we have come, yet how little we have grown. No less an authority on the barbarity and inanity of mankind, General Omar Bradley, has confessed that “the world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants.”

Men and women must be educated, in great degree, by the opinions and manners of the society they live in. In every age there has been a stream of popular opinion that has carried all before it, and given a family character, as it were, to the century. It may then fairly be inferred, that, until society be differently constituted, much cannot be expected from education. ~ Mary Wollstonecraft

 

McGinn indeed notes on page 3 that in Elizabethan England, when Shakespeare was writing, “uncertainty and ignorance seemed man’s natural lot. To give one striking example: so little was understood about the plague that devastated Europe in the late sixteenth century that orders were given in London to exterminate all cats and dogs—which were in fact the best enemies of the true carriers of the germs responsible, rats.”

Isn’t that just quintessentially human—the mob deciding the best idea would be to kill the animals (cats) which would happily kill the animals that carry the fleas that carry the plague (rats). All ethics aside… It just seems so damned dumb now that we look back on it. One would think that we have progressed beyond that level of stupidity, as science has had over 400 years to teach, educate, and edify us. One would be wrong in thinking so….

We now have Tik-Tok. We’ve got billionaires traveling in space. We’ve got folks utterly failing to put two-and-two together about climate catastrophe while they are standing outside their fire- or hurricane- or flood-destroyed home! Fox News exists, and it isn’t even the most extreme of the infotainment channels! Two-thirds of the members of the Republican Party, that dinosaur that refuses to die, believe that Biden cheated his way to a win—and deny that Trump cheated to win in 2016! It boggles the mind what some Republicans believe, and/or try to foist on the benighted populace. Orwell would be rolling over in his grave….

Thomas Paine would write, in Common Sense, that “the Almighty hath implanted in us these inextinguishable feelings for good and wise purposes.” But with respect to organized religion, he once said, “of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is none more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory in itself than this thing called Christianity.” ~ Eric Alterman

 

And organized religion! Don’t get me started on the utter lack of wisdom that tends to mark most modern, large religions. Think of how Salman Rushdie was knifed to within an inch of his life for writing a fictional book that referenced Allah; note some of the buffoonery coming out of “megachurches” (Creflo Dollar and Jimmy Swaggart being perhaps the most notorious); imagine the intolerance and egotism that accounts for why the Amish or the Hasidic Jews typically don’t interact with those they consider inferior—often withholding even a head nod or smile to non-believers! Gary Wills said, “Can a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution still be called an enlightened nation?” Alongside that note that writer Nicholas D. Kristof points out that “Americans are three times as likely to believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ (83 percent) as in evolution (28 percent).”

 

Take one look at the way we eat in America (and therefore the way we treat animals in factory farms); think of the Chinese killing sharks and bears for their superstitious beliefs (and many countries kill and eat dogs, which is appalling). Examples abound of our stupidity when one observes the Flint, MI water crisis, or the water crisis plaguing Mississippi as of this writing (link). Mass shootings and vaccine avoidance and the nascent “metaverse” are just further examples of how foolish humankind is. Astonishingly, with the advent of the Internet, we seem to have pulled off a marvelous feat: we have made ourselves dumber!

At least two thirds of our miseries spring from human stupidity, human malice and those great motivators and justifiers of malice and stupidity, idealism, dogmatism and proselytizing zeal on behalf of religious or political idols. ~ Aldous Huxley

 

Is there a more startling example of America’s lack of wisdom than what Jay Leno used to unearth with his feature called “Jaywalking”?  The YouTube link to this hilarious example of ignorance is here, and below are the questions he asks the audience to frame his interviews of college students:

“Everybody’s got Internet access. We’ve got volumes of information available to us at all times. But is the Internet, with all it has to offer, making us smarter? Are we focusing on the right things? In order to find out, we went to Universal City Walk to find out if people knew more about the virtual world, or the real world. This is frightening.”

He went on to host many of these Einsteins in studio. The answers they gave were preposterous. When a guy named Robert was asked a question of mid-range difficulty—”Who were the Rough Riders?”, his answer was, “A group of rappers headed by DMX.” Here is the link to this clip—if you can stomach it!

 

Indeed, as featured on a site called The Comedy Treasury, Dennis Miller—one of the many comedians who decry the utter inanity that is the extreme version of “political correctness” that is now en voguelaments:

“We live in an era and a time where calling someone an Einstein is considered to be somewhat of an insult. Morons are out there in force making left-hand turns from right-hand lanes, trying to pay for drive-thru tacos with a fucking check, calling 411 to get the number for information, and in most of our fine metropoli, the riposte Fuck off! will get you a seat at the local Algonquin round table.” He is wise to ask, “What happened?!” His response seems somehow quaint, when we put together all the diminutions plaguing public education in the 20 years since he wrote these lines (and COVID really put a beating on education): “I’ll tell you what happened! First and foremost—as a matter of fact, numbers 1, 2, and . . . what come after 2—we didn’t pay enough attention to our education system.”

No Dennis, we did not pay enough attention to our education system. And you yourself went to work at Fox News, so please don’t think of yourself as the icon of the intelligentsia you once were…. Perhaps the person who took the “dumb persona” to astonishing heights was David Letterman. Though you see a lot of wisdom when you watch his new show My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, he (like Howard Stern) showered millions with absolute inanity repeatedly (link to “Stupid Human Tricks”).

Ignorance along with apathy, hate, and self-assuredness are some of humanity’s most glaring examples of the lack of wisdom that has always plagued civilizations, but which is only marginally better now than in times past. Steven Pinker would probably disagree, as he points out the world has never been better. However, Voltaire would probably take issue with that level of optimism, though—much like he did when he satirized his contemporary, the intellectual powerhouse Gottfried Leibniz, for saying that we must live in “the best of all possible worlds” in his biting book, Candide.

Now, let me say that I love Larry David. I think Curb Your Enthusiasm is great, and that Seinfeld was classic. I respect Lucille Ball, David Spade, Norm Macdonald, Kevin Nealon, Dusty Slay, Mel Brooks, Anjelah Johnson, and Rob Reiner. I believe Bill Maher is a demigod, and the late George Carlin was a veritable god. Comedy is great, and I’m not much for political correctness. This is to say that I’m not always serious, and I am quite sure that I am not in the top 10% of accomplished individuals. I often feel not so smart. So I realize that I “live in a glass house” here!

But think of what it says about the American zeitgeist that when Chris Rock—a guy who is constantly joking, with a smile on his face but typically granting no quarter to those he is satirizing—made a little fun of his buddy Jada Pinkett Smith (actor Will Smith’s wife). Everyone now knows what happened—Smith ran up on stage and, in Chris’s words, “Will Smith just smacked the ever-loving shit out of me!” Then, Smith proceeded to slowly walk back, sit down, and watch the rest of the show. And win a fucking award that night! In fact, he mentioned in his acceptance speech—whereas most of us would be in jail by that time—that “to do what we [actors] do, you gotta be able to take abuse….” Everything about it, save for Rock’s grace under pressure, is just absurd.

The point of that farce being that Americans are mired in a hungry and never-ending infotainment nightmare, are rocked by disinformation and tribalism (link), and are acting out in innumerable ways. Clearly, a well-functioning society would probably not have such gauche displays of wealth and ostentation as the Academy Awards, nor would Smith have been able to win an award that night—or even be allowed to remain in attendance after his foolish battery of a comedian who told a pretty tame joke—at which Smith first laughed, for God’s sake!—a person who jokes around for a living but serves a pretty useful societal function.

…nothing is of more importance to the public weal, than to form and train up youth in wisdom and virtue. Wise and good men are, in my opinion the strength of a state: much more so than riches or arms, which, under the management of Ignorance and Wickedness, often draw on destruction, instead of providing for the safety of a people. ~ Benjamin Franklin

 

Nor do Americans seem to be duly concerned about deforestation, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (as the gigantic floating island of plastic is called), environmental toxins, factory farming and the methane it produces, thawing permafrost, or the like. This article by Pew Research Center indicates how far down on the list of concerns “global warming/climate change” (rather than all of these issues of environmental danger combined) lands. I will say though that smog in the Los Angeles basin,  acid rain, and the depleting ozone layer are the most prominent changes in which government has been able to lead the American people successfully. Automobile mileage standards are also making impacts.

About the above, it will no doubt again be obvious to a neutral bystander that the Republicans are the more benighted, the more ignorant, and the more dangerous of the three general political groups of Americans (Democrats/liberals/progressives, independents and/or libertarians, and Republicans/conservatives). If anyone can show me a topic about which Republicans or conservatives have been principled, consistent, wise, and correct, please email me. If you were to indicate the national debt, that would be about as good as you could do, and even that wouldn’t really hold water. Certainly since 2001, the conservatives have either slowly slid down a slippery slope of ignorance, cravenness, and self-concern—or have downright been seditious and violent in their chosen means (link)(link2)(link3).

By the final days of February, many public health experts were sounding the alarm about the coronavirus, and some people were listening. In the San Francisco area, major employers began directing their employees to stay home. Washington State declared a state of emergency. South Korea, Vietnam and other countries ordered aggressive measures. President Trump did not. On Feb. 26, he said — incorrectly — that the number of cases was “going very substantially down, not up.” As late as March 10, he promised: “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.” Some local leaders also continued to urge business as usual. In early March, Mayor Bill de Blasio told New Yorkers to “get out on the town, despite coronavirus.” This kind of advice appears to have cost tens of thousands of American lives, according to a new analysis by researchers at Columbia University. ~ David Leonhardt

 

As to why Republicans typically, by and large, with some notable exceptions tend to hold political views that ignorant, myopic, poorly-thought-out, and even un-American, Paul Krugman offers some answers in a New York Times editorial (link). One needs a subscription to reads a NYT article, but here are two brilliant take-aways:

“As everyone knows, leftists hate America’s military. Recently, a prominent left-wing media figure attacked Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declaring, ‘He’s not just a pig, he’s stupid.’ Oh, wait. That was no leftist, that was Fox News’s Tucker Carlson. What set Carlson off was testimony in which Milley told a congressional hearing that he considered it important ‘for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and widely read.’”

Friends, you can’t make this shit up. As well, Krugman points out:

“The problem is obvious. Closed-mindedness and ignorance have become core conservative values, and those who reject these values are the enemy, no matter what they may have done to serve the country.”

I can’t stop quoting this man when I read his trenchant essays! Referencing the red herring du jour—quite reminiscent of Joseph McCarthy’s quixotic crusade against windmills (Communism in America) I have to say—critical race theory (which isn’t even taught in K-12, by the way), being:

“…only one of multiple subjects on which willful ignorance has become a litmus test for anyone hoping to succeed in Republican politics. Thus, to be a Republican in good standing one must deny the reality of man-made climate change, or at least oppose any meaningful action to limit greenhouse gas emissions. One must reject or at least express skepticism about the theory of evolution. And don’t even get me started on things like the efficacy of tax cuts.”

I love the fact that I wrote a first draft of this blog about ignorance, and then went back and specifically tied in GOP extreme ignorance, and then found a piece by the estimable Nobel Prize-winning economist that constantly conjoins Republican and ignorance!

I don’t want to get myself into trouble regarding copyright infringement, so I will refer you to the article. However, here is a hint about where he is going with his cataloguing of myriad, seemingly unrelated conservative intellectual oversights and biases: “Accepting evidence and logic is a sort of universal value, and you can’t take it away in one area of inquiry without degrading it across the board.”

For you skeptics, here is an essay by Russ Douthat that strikes a more moderate, I dare say generous, tone on issues regarding what the matter with Kansas is, if you will (link).

If all this doesn’t scare you, I have to assume you’re simply not paying attention to what is going on around you. It must be gosh, 20 years ago now, that Anne Coulter was pointing out various bogeymen for her throng of mouth-breathing followers. She is renowned (notorious?) for saying, “I’m a Christian first, and a mean-spirited, bigoted conservative second, and don’t you ever forget it.” I mentioned McCarthy already, and you’ve also got Tom Delay, Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly, Rupert Murdoch, and a host of other ne’er-do-wells on the right.

It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this. ~ Bertrand Russell

 

The goalposts have actually moved as of late! I remember when Gingrich seemed cold-hearted, Bush seemed ignorant and immature, and Rumsfeld seemed callous and biased. Consider the fact that Trump was clearly shown to have said about women in the run-up to the 2016 election that if you see a woman, as a powerful man the technique is simply to “go up to them and grab ’em in the pussy.” Millions of women voted for him. That is straight out of a Mafioso’s playbook—or hell, Greek conqueror Agamemnon’s diary. So-called “Christians” have been voting for and supporting Trump without limit—despite what comes out of his dirty, uncensored mouth—or despite what they read about in the Bible (if they actually do read the Bible). His mouth actually seems more like Pandora’s Box to me than anything. His authoritarian, unprincipled schtick is ignorance mixed with hate leading to hypocrisy and aggression. Heck, I thought that when he was denigrating the veteran (and respected Senator) John McCain it would be a bridge too far. He even said he prefers war heroes to those who were captured in war if you can believe that. Turns out there is no bridge too far for modern right-wingers. I truly can’t tell if they better typify hate, or ignorance. God knows they seem to have no boundaries…

The GOP petrifies me now—and I live in Madison Cawthorn’s Congressional district. The man is truly an abomination; he is quintessentially ignorant and cocky and thoroughly unfit to be a Congressperson (link). Unfortunately, the crop of GOP’ers who are running for office in early 2023 are just as bad (link). They cravenly dance to Trump’s tune. It’s a nightmare for thinking people, and in fact all people of good will. As the link to the Anti-Defamation League above indicates:

“The right-wing extremist candidates who won their 2022 primaries subscribe to or espouse a range of extremist and fringe ideologies, including support for QAnon; ties to anti-government extremists like the militia movement and the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association; white supremacy; and antisemitism. Other candidates have sought to undermine the United States electoral system by propagating election conspiracies and participating in the January 6 Capitol attack.”

 

The heralded 18th-century thinker John Locke noted that, “The madman reasons rightly from wrong premises.” This is very important to understand. It means (to me, at least) that often we are doing what football great Knute Rockne (of all people!) lamented: “Most men when they think they are thinking are simply rearranging their prejudices.” Some of us are so sure we know what we think we know when we are actually just biased and didn’t think it all the way through. In such cases, people fall victim to cognitive biases, and arrive at the conclusion they really subconsciously wanted to be true (and thus delude themselves into believing what has no basis in fact/reality). The temptation to follow leaders of low character for all the wrong reasons is ever-present for some of us more than others, and, well, here we are. Indeed, as Voltaire said, “A person who can cause you to believe absurdities can cause you to commit atrocities.”

So, you can imagine, I am very scared about what will happen if the “knuckle-draggers”, as Bill Maher calls them, seize another of the branches of government (in addition to the SCOTUS) in the elections of early 2023. We could be in for a wild ride straight to the bottom. The Party is quite Orwellian, and just dumb as a sack of hammers, I am afraid. I am also quite sure that most Republicans (now that the thinking ones and the ones of character have left the Party) support leaders who would happily usher in a dystopia not unlike Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. We are one or two steps from fascism and absurdity, my friends. They are going to make me vomit with their non-stop impression of Cecily Strong doing an impression of them, and at this link as well, and liberals and reasonable people and true patriots should probably run for the hills should this gross state of affairs come to pass.

The recipe for perpetual ignorance is a very simple and effective one: be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge. ~ Elbert Hubbard

 

Here is something said by one of American society’s sharpest critics, Michael Moore (and if you can get a hold of his early work, a show called The Awful Truth, you will no doubt agree with my assessment):

“The political leaders — and the people who vote for them — have decided that it’s a bigger priority to build another bomber than to educate our children. They would rather hold hearings on the depravity of a television show called Jackass than about their own depravity in neglecting our school and children and maintaining our title as Dumbest Country on Earth.”

His books and movies can’t be beaten. He is, as philosopher Judy Barad put it, “America’s Socrates.” Indeed, Moore points out:

“In our glorious land of plenty, less is always more when it comes to taxing any lobe of the brain with the intake of facts and numbers, critical thinking, or the comprehension of anything that isn’t…well, sports.”

 

An actual movie was made called Idiocracy. It’s absolutely mind-boggling and is a must-watch if you’re picking up what I’m putting down. Awesome piece of filmmaking. I’ll never look at Luke Wilson—or America for that matter—the same way again. I worry that instead of internalizing the lessons of The Dead Poet’s Society, Pay It Forward, Fast Food Nation, or Fahrenheit 9/11, we are stuck in a Sisyphean tragedy we can’t seem to get out of. Heck, most people spend ten times the amount of time on the Internet wasting time than they do reading classic works of literature.

Actually, now that I read what I just wrote, I can’t believe I was that wrong. It’s easily 100:1.

Ignorance is the womb of monsters. ~ Henry Ward Beecher

 

Where I am going with all this is not merely to point out humanity’s foibles, a “species-wide vulnerability.” I was recently listening to a lecture on Homer’s The Iliad, and it is clear how many significant and time-tested drawbacks evolution has instilled in humankind. We can rise to amazing heights—in our poetry, our engineering, our political systems—and yet have made zero progress in 5,000 years in many ways. For example, in The Iliad, Achilles’ pride, vanity and recalcitrance are on full display. The war-like habits of the Athenians, their greed and their stupidity are laid bare. This is a society that was litigious, imperialistic, bombastic, patriarchal in the extreme, and that was based on a slave economy. And yet, it gave us Euripides, Leonidas, Aristotle, Democritus, Aristophanes, Zeno, and Thucydides. Epictetus was once a slave, and the Roman philosopher Seneca was required by his former pupil, the at-first-wise emperor Nero, to kill himself (which was not pretty). Philosopher and early Christian thinker Augustine wrote 50,000,000 words in his long and interesting life, and Alcuin was responsible for education flourishing in many parts of Medieval Europe (under his most interesting patron, Charlemagne). Don’t get me started on DaVinci, Galileo, Newton, Voltaire, or Bacon. Amazing combination of polarities we humans are!

So education in America is part of our culture of ignorance. We never really valued education for education’s sake in this country; it was founded by farmers and religious extremists and plantation owners and men in other privileged positions. It was in their best interests to have a populace that could read, and vote, yes–but education could go too far, I think they believed. Women couldn’t vote, and people from Africa (and their descendants) were held captives for the purposes of doing slave labor–under the threat of rape, whip, chains, and death. Teaching people to actually think–to question, to criticize, to imagine, to investigate–this was a bridge too far.

…a growing number of Americans are so intent on transmitting their own personal value system that they spurn the public schools altogether, preferring religious or home schooling. These customized forms of education may include a direct rejection of the community’s notions of truth. ~ Howard Gardner

 

I also think it fair to place a fair amount of blame for where we are in America nowadays–with our flagging educational system, incarceration at rates that are off-the-charts, and having lost over $1.1 million citizens in a pandemic that was much more manageable than we made it look–corporate media. As long ago as 1955, Edward R. Murrow was calling out corporatization of media, and the way we were beginning to have a very troublesome relationship with television. He indicated: “If we were to do the Second Coming of Christ in color for a full hour, there would be a considerable number of stations which would decline to carry it on the grounds that a Western or a quiz show would be more profitable.” Fox News is all about profit, and a news outlet like NBC is highly influenced by the almighty dollar. The entire point of certain social media platforms is to addict people and keep eyeballs on the screen long enough to advertise to them–even it if means showing them disinformation because it is sensationalistic. None of this is likely to reduce our ignorance. When virtual reality takes off–we can probably forget about trying to rearrange the chairs on the Titanic; it will be too late then.

The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.  (attributed to Mark Twain)

 

I was reading the back of a Noam Chomsky book once—and talk about a person who decries ignorance! This guy seems to have had 50 hours in a day, and seemed to have worked hard from age 20 to 90. The New York Times had a blurb that read something like “To be ignorant of Chomsky’s writings is to court ignorance.”

The phraseology to court ignorance is something that stuck with me. It’s a beautiful way of pointing out that we humans may have a genetic predisposition to be rash, tribalistic, cowardly, vain, gluttonous, prideful, slothful, etc. And yet, it is not a foregone conclusion that any person will succumb to the pull of the dumb. Stupidity and ignorance are not these juggernauts that command us or relegate us to mere puppets on strings. No, we do have some choice. I know there is a philosophical argument that our lives are relatively determined, and thus we don’t have much free will at all. But I just can’t believe that a Marcus Aurelius, a Susan Sarandon, or a W. E. B. DuBois achieved what they did by chance. I think they wanted it. They strove for it. They worked and worked, and they chose a certain path more times than not for countless forks in the road. Yes, as T. S. Eliot said, he “chose the road less traveled by, and it has made all the difference.” Poets like Yeats, Byron, Pound, and Millay work on their craft. Chomsky worked on his 350 days a year—I’m sure of it. Howard Zinn didn’t phone it in, he chose wisely and followed through. Sterling K. Brown and Ayn Rand really desired to be the best, and they put forth great effort.

I admit, there must have been ten billion human beings who have lived on this planet, and many didn’t have much of a chance—how could a Papua New Guinian boy or a Samoan girl achieve all that much as compared to a Shakespeare, a Bronte, a Dickinson, or a Chomsky? I think it is even fair to say that many, many Americans struggled and made their sacrifices at the altar of freedom and opportunity, and we know not their names because capitalism and colonialism are machines that stand on the backs of the “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free”—the proletariats and the commoners as it were. So achievement, equity, and social justice have eluded many, many people. I do not count them among the ranks of those whose lives are marked by ignorance.

Indeed, the high-achieving Congressman Daniel Patrick Moynihan offers this: “Most people who are ignorant can’t help it. They had no opportunity to learn. Militant ignorance is different. Ignorance that is proud of itself, that holds knowledge in contempt—that must be condemned.” I really resonate with that sentiment. It’s the purposefully ignorant I am lambasting in this blog.

If a person is on TikTok right now, I’m talking about them. If a person works hard so they can afford a car and cellphone—and in all other ways be poor, yes I’m talking about them. If one hides behind whiteness and nurtures their grievance like a perpetual victim—spurred on by, ironically, a billionaire sociopath mafioso fascist Donald Trump—I’m definitely talking about them. These individuals court ignorance. They ignore facts and replace them with convenient opinions and pseudo-facts. We all are wrong, foolish, misguided, and duped from time to time, but as Alfred North Whitehead wrote, “Not ignorance, but ignorance of ignorance, is the death of knowledge.”

Education ought to foster the wish for truth, not the conviction that some particular creed is the truth. ~ Bertrand Russell

 

I could go on and on, but I feel compelled to view the movie Goodnight, and Good Luck, the incredible recent black and white depiction of the story of Joseph McCarthy v. Edward R. Murrow—truly a good vs. evil story. I am inspired by Murrow’s willingness to stand up straight in the face of a supreme and dark level of ignorance as he did (and George Clooney is so fun to watch).

But I will leave you with the following two quotes—the first by the University of Chicago’s own Allen Bloom. The second by one of the hardest working, high-achieving, most perfectionistic of modern thinkers, the late Columbia professor of literature, Harold Bloom (and incidentally, one could do worse than to read all of the Blooms’ incisive written works back-to-back!):

“There are two threats to reason, the opinion that one knows the truth about the most important things and the opinion that there is no truth about them. Both of these opinions are fatal to philosophy; the first asserts that the quest for truth is unnecessary, while the second asserts that it is impossible. The Socratic knowledge of ignorance, which I take to be the beginning point of all philosophy, defines the sensible middle ground between two extremes.”

“Even a long life is too short to receive everything Shakespeare is capable of giving you.” Ω


 

I would urge the reader to look up the word ignorance—or any other that interests you—in The Wisdom Archive. It’s free, it’s ad-free, and it’s notable for both its depth and its breadth. See what the wise have to say that you find worthy.

LINK TO ORIGINAL ARTICLE

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