Saturday, November 24, 2018

Stupidity v. Ignorance

This idea was part of my notes for a post that appeared on April 5, 2018, called, “The Dangers of Relativism and Subjective Reality.” There’s a lot to be said for objective truth, but it goes in and out of style.

What are we to believe? Our very senses are no longer reliable. This is the digital age, and it has become easy to make us see or hear any damn thing. Our intellects seem to be the easiest thing of all to fool.

That previous article was about people embracing subjective interpretations of reality. I mean the folks that prefer to believe in their particular vision of the world, the world as seen through their eyes, as described, usually, by evil preachers and politicians. That idea seems so foolish that it leads us to some interesting questions:

Have humans suddenly lost a portion of their ability to reason?

Are people getting stupider?

Are they just easier to influence?

Is it like hypnosis or something. “Yes,” says the subject, “black thing is white. I see it clearly.”

It’s a real possibility that we are all getting stupider, but the real culprit could be a separate phenomenon that mimics stupidity.

Stupidity v. Ignorance

Stupidity, let’s face it, is a natural condition of the mind that renders it weak in the processing of information. My big Oxford Concise defines “stupid” as: lacking intelligence or common sense. The word is derived from the similarly used Latin word, “stupidus,” which is derived from the older Latin verb, “stupere,” which meant to be amazed or stunned.

Disclaimer: I am not giving myself any extra credit here; I’m not claiming any particular intellectual status for myself. I never do! You can look it up! I’m no great shakes. I have had a great deal of schooling, but I have always avoided math and science like one avoids violence and disease. There have been a lot of people who have thought me pretty smart, and many others who have judged me to be anything but. I have no official opinion on the subject, although I have formed the beginnings of a hunch.

Stupidity should not carry any blame, nor should there be any shame in it. It occurs of its own volition in something approaching fifty percent of human beings. That’s not me making a judgment; that’s the way scientists look at it. It’s a bell-curve with the median for IQ placed at one hundred. Fifty percent go up from there; fifty percent go down from there. It would be rude to say that anyone having an IQ that was under one hundred was stupid, but I’m pretty sure that most of those bottom fifty percenters qualify.


This is something else altogether. Ignorance can be either the absence of useful information on a given subject or the willful exclusion of certain facts from one’s thoughts and memories. That’s my definition, and I am somewhat at variance with the dictionaries.

My Oxford defines ignorant as: lacking knowledge or awareness in general; uninformed about or unaware of a specific subject or fact. From the Latin, ignorare.

See the difference? In the Oxford’s definition, all ignorance is innocent. In many countries there are schools where many of the students are very smart, but all of the students are ignorant. They are ignorant because no one has ever taught them anything. It’s not the fault of the students. I am ignorant of the workings of calculus, as are most people. I am blameless in this, because the subject never came up in any part of my considerable education. I only know one person who took calculus just because he wanted to. He passed it, too, and he had the nerve to say that it was fun. I wonder if taking calculus when it is not part of your curriculum is an ignorant thing to do. Is it a stupid thing to do? One or the other.

In my definition, ignorance can be culpable. It can be a choice. I would call that “willful ignorance.” Here are three types of willful ignorance, with examples:

1.   Avoiding new information. You see a fact coming and you shut down all new information on the subject and stop all consideration of the subject. Example: a wife becomes suspicious that her husband is cheating on her so she blocks out the entire subject and any new information that may be related to it. She doesn’t want to know. Many people today are doing something similar about Trump.
2.   Eliminate inconvenient memories. You have seen something or realized something, but it would be better for you if that thing had never happened. You close off all access to that idea and to all memories that may be connected with it. Example: you saw someone important to you do something illegal, so you choose to “forget” all about it. You don’t want to think about it. Trump benefits from this kind of thing too.
3.   Refusing to accept the truth of something. You decide that you will not accept a certain set of facts which are obviously, objectively true. You know all about it, and the facts are irrefutable, but you refuse to believe it. Example: global climate change.

This “willful ignorance” sounds similar to delusion, and I guess that I have heard the term “self-delusion” bandied about. The Oxford defines delusion as: an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is not in accordance with generally accepted reality.

I am not convinced that any of the above three examples represent “delusional” behavior. In each case, a fully functional adult has made a conscious decision to use their own mental functions in an ineffective way, or not at all. For me, there should be something pathological about behavior that is truly delusional. Like the Son of Sam killer long ago, who believed that his neighbor’s dog was instructing him to shoot people.

The Takeaway

Our current crop of pirates masquerading as elected officials has obviously figured out that stupidity makes people easier to lead around by the nose. They have also become adept at encouraging willful ignorance in the electorate.

Thankfully, I live overseas, beyond the reach of the preachers, politicians, and pundits who constantly bombard Americans with outright lies and alternative facts and snarky wise-crackery that is all carefully crafted to simultaneously flatter them and enrage them, to sooth them and to lead them astray.

There is a lot of willful ignorance involved. Almost no one actually reads anymore. Nothing of substance, anyway. People read comments on the Daily Caller or something, often responding with ungrammatical ad hominem attacks of their own. People shouting from the other side of the chasm read the Huffington Post or one of the other lefty news aggregators. That’s all an exercise in confirmation-bias. People get a blast out of having their prejudices reinforced.

The Internet is full of great stuff to read, but hardly anyone takes the time. There are articles that would actually give people a basis on which to form an opinion about things that are important. I’m talking about the Atlantic Magazine; the New York Review of Books; Vanity Fair; and other sites that give away more material that you’d have time to read anyway. If you really want to be informed, spend a couple of hundred bucks a year on subscriptions. At that point you could have the rest of the New York Review, and all of Harper’s Magazine, and the New Yorker Magazine. You could subscribe to the New York Times and read as much real news as you could stand. Or, God forbid, people could read a book every now and then, something besides the crap that the phony pundits write, things like “Killing Common Sense and Human Decency.” (Who wrote that one? I forget.)

Why take the time to read 10,000 words of the truth about the Steele Dossier in the New Yorker Magazine when you can turn on your TV and listen to someone with an empty head, a stupid expression, and a bad attitude condemn it as Clinton hack work in seven seconds? Which is a more efficient use of your time? That’s up to you, I suppose.

No, it’s much easier, and for many people more emotionally satisfying, to just watch that familiar old news channel. You know the one I mean. Do you think that I’m being condescending? Would you like to know what that news channel thinks of its viewers IQs? Watch their commercials. That entire TV channel, and all of the talking heads on it, treats its viewers like total Rubes, like a bunch of illiterate Hillbillies. Their condescension is breathtaking. If you ain’t stupid yet, you’ll be stupid after you watch a couple of hundred hours of Faux News. Either that, or they will enlist you in the ranks of the willfully ignorant, so that you too can get your snark on when the weather turns cold. You may be in on the joke, and you may be in it for the money, or you may believe that it’s all a Chinese Hoax, but the result will be the same.

The end of the world as we know it.

Unless that has happened already.

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