Friday, May 30, 2008

There's nothing wrong with ignorance, unless you cherish it

There’s nothing wrong with being ignorant. I’m ignorant. There are lots of things I don’t know. There are lots of things that I could learn about, but I don’t want to. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as it is an admitted fault. The problem is, many people refuse to admit their ignorance, and then proudly display it by discussing those very subjects in which they are ignorant.

I have thought about it, and concluded that there are several types of ignorance. Some are natural, some are accidental, and some are intentional. All of them revolve around the notion that a person does not know something. Here’s what I view to be the types of ignorance.

General ignorance: A natural state that all humans start off in. Babies are “ignorant” of just about everything. This can be easily corrected by trial and error, self-teaching and instruction.

Circumstantial Ignorance: A state of ignorance that results from a person’s circumstances of life. As a native-born American, I have circumstantial ignorance of the rules of the game “Cricket”. Although this can be corrected, the time and effort needed to do so doesn’t match the resultant gain of knowledge (I can learn all I want about Cricket, but since the likelihood of my ever playing in, or seeing firsthand a Cricket match is minimal, the effort would not be useful). This usually starts off as a subset of General Ignorance, but becomes Willful Admitted Ignorance once it is identified.

Willful Ignorance: There are two types of Willful Ignorance, Admitted and Ignored.

Admitted: This is when a person recognized and acknowledges ignorance of a subject. As stated above, I have Willful Admitted Ignorance about Cricket. Usually, a person who Admits Ignorance of a subject will shy away from detailed discussion of such subjects. This does not preclude a person from participating in such discussions, but they will generally keep their participation to a minimum so as to learn more about the subject (which in turn will limit or eliminate the Ignorance of said subject).

Ignored: The most dangerous form of Ignorance. Also, it is the most difficult to eliminate. This occurs when a person acknowledges an area of Ignorance (either General or Circumstantial), and makes a conscious decision to Ignore it. Often, this occurs because to eliminate the Ignorance (i.e., learn about the subject) would challenge deeply held convictions or beliefs. Instead of allowing personal beliefs and convictions to be challenged (and potentially overturned), the person refuses to admit that such knowledge exists. This results in a stifling of learning, stagnation of intellectual growth, and often leads to conflicts with others who have knowledge about the areas in which a person has Willful Ignored Ignorance.

There is nothing inherently wrong with ignorance. It’s a fact of life that everyone is ignorant. I would hazard to guess that there is more to be ignorant about in this world than is possible to know. However, to admit such ignorance and either choose to correct it (where possible) or acknowledge the gap in knowledge is an admirable thing. This allows a person to grow and learn in areas in which they are interested in, and add any and all knowledge that comes to them, no matter what the subject, which helps in eliminating Ignorance.

The most damaging and destructive thing a person can do to themselves and others is to have Willful Ignored Ignorance. If a person’s beliefs or convictions cannot stand up to and survive the onslaught of potentially contradictory information, it is most likely that the beliefs and convictions need adjusted or replaced, not the knowledge that challenges them. Although this can be a painful and difficult process, the personal growth in knowledge and capabilities will see a person through.

Another damaging result of Willful Ignored Ignorance is that people who possess it attempt to pass it along. Often, because they Willfully Ignore the information that would correct misperceptions, errors or lies – ones either they were told, or ones they pass along – those errors and lies get passed on to others. These others often don’t realize there is knowledge that would fill in the gaps or correct the errors, and are caught in a dilemma. Although they’ve received Willfully Ignored Ignorance, they themselves suffer from Circumstantial Ignorance, because they did not recognize that they were Ignorant of outside information. Unfortunately, these people are often told not to listen to anyone who disagrees or contradicts the Willfully Ignored Ignorance. When these unfortunates are finally confronted with knowledge that contradicts what they’ve been instructed, they are forced into an unpleasant and extremely difficult decision. Do they continue to abide by the information they’ve already received, and thereby force themselves into Willfully Ignored Ignorance, or do they work to learn the new information, and intentionally discard information from what was a trusted source?

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