cult of ignorance (and I am scared)

 

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, cult of ignorance contradictionsnurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” – Isaac Asimov

<written in 1960’s>

 

“Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.” – Albert Einstein.

 

Note: Einstein’s comment was aimed at those who relied solely on common sense as an argument <I would imagine  because many of his theories are decidedly not common sense>.

 

So … this is about Ignorance.

 

Well. I will be the first to admit that not many things truly scare me.

 

Ignorance, itself, doesn’t really scare me.

Frustrate me? Absolutely.

Scare me? Nope.

I won’t let it because I have to believe the rational will always inevitably beat the irrational. If I didn’t believe this … well … I guess I would go mad.

 

Now.

 

What does scare me is Ignorance <or the ignorant> can often take on the characteristics of a cult. As bands of ignorant opinions gather together and create small tight knit tribes of aggressive insulated close minded citizens of a larger population.

And, yes, that is when I become scared.

 

Cults are tight knit groups difficult to dissemble … and can become quite powerful ideologically if they either have enough mass <even being a minority> or if they have a large enough pulpit <or megaphone>.

 

When Ignorance reaches this point becomes very very scary.

Especially if it is ‘purposeful ignorance’ or what I would suggest we call ‘combative ignorance’ in which someone simply digs in on a contrarian belief despite all the information stating to the contrary.

 

I sometimes scratch my head on this issue because it seems slightly odd because one would tend to think the combination of technology <the web> and cult of ignorance so many questionsa general underlying human thirst for understanding ‘more’ would converge providing people with an unprecedented access to gobs of information <and real data points – facts> of what we know now … as well as historical. And in this convergence we may not actually find answers but would certainly become intellectually stronger in discerning fiction from fact.

 

Realistically most of the work has been done for us … all you really need to do is analyze information objectively and knowledge is available at your fingertips.

Unfortunately I do not see this wave happening.

It’s odd because I see another wave overcoming us … a wave where it seems that a world of facts is being replaced by feelings and a disturbing seemingly free floating certainty.

 

And this is why I believe the ignorance is almost cultlike.

If the world is driven solely by feelings <and I do not mean emotions but rather ‘opinions’> than people will gravitate toward other people with the same feelings and cocoon themselves in some false certainty of ‘that which we believe is as certain as any fact.’

 

“I think” becomes “I know.”

 

That , my friends, is a cult.

 

How the hell does this happen?

I imagine the real issue behind ignorance is … well … a natural irrationality.

We humans like to think of ourselves as a smart thoughtful intuitive group.

In general … we are not.

 

One psychologist did a study in which it describes how people are fairly good at predicting the outcome of elections based solely on photographs of the candidates.

This suggests  even if we research and understand a person’s beliefs and policies, part of our end behavior falls back on some subconscious  instinctual ‘gut feeling’ based on appearance. ‘If they look the part they must be able to do their part’ type thinking.

Hmmmmmmmmmm …. I would suggest that in many cases this is not an entirely rational decision making process.

 

How about this?

Another study.

Think you can change a friend’s mind about an important issue? Think again.

They call this the backfire effect.

Simply mentioning facts that another person won’t like will cause that person to harden their position. It is called ‘doubling down’ on an opinion despite facts.

 

By the way … I have gobs of examples.

 

One of the most prevalent topics being discussed <and trust me … I could have selected a dozen or so> is global climate change.

Yikes.

<insert a double yikes here>

 

I am not an environmental nut. I am clearly in the skeptical category … yet … clearly in the ‘why wouldn’t I do what’s right for the betterment of the place I live’ category.

 

Frankly … I probably didn’t need any climate change rhetoric to agree to that but nonetheless … the global climate is changing <that is unequivocal fact> … I assume humans have some role <that is also a fact> … the degree to which humans have a role has been defined <99% of experts agree> and yet … there is a fringe group of people simply trying to mislead people into believing climate change is the figment of someone’s imagination.

 

And the fringe ignorant is sly.

They make statements within the guise of expertology <I made that word up>.  They take slivers of existing research out of context and make the sliver seem as if it represents a whole tree if not the whole frickin’ forest. And then they shout it at the top of their lungs and say it over and over and … well … over.

Until it almost becomes truth.

 

Oh.

And they often couch this expertology within expert sounding groups:

The Heartland Institute is a fossil fuel-funded think tank that gained notoriety in May 2012 for launching an ad campaign comparing those who agree that humans are causing global warming (that’s 97+% of climate scientists and the majority of the rest of us) to the Unabomber and Osama bin Laden.

 

Look.

 

I am not going to debate climate change with anyone … just skip to the linked article which does a nice job of highlighting the lack of doubt and the general consensus that we humans are contributing to climate change:

 

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/28/ipcc-climate-change-deniers?commentpage=1

 

 

The point behind this example is that there is an almost cultish attitude with regard to actually fostering ignorance. And they do so using slivers of information to seed doubt.

 

They double down on a relatively absurd position.

 

Denial versus simply … well … who cares what climate change is called?

 

Blame nature <primarily> … blame people <minorly> or blame whatever.

Anyone’s research and data <even denialists> will tell you climate change appears to have sped-up during and since the Industrial age.

Pick any reason you want.

 

Semantics will not improve matters regarding the detrimental effects predicted.

It seems a little crazy … at least in my pealike brain … that the most intelligent species on the planet <that is us humans by the way> would actually sit on our intellectual asses have some meaningless debates all the while simply doing a ‘wait and see’  while we could actually try to do something.

 

Anyway.

I began with the whole climate issue because it is a prime example of a small cult of ignorance working its web of ignorance to trap the majority. It is a prime example displaying how doubt can be spread in such a way that it impedes any progress <and in fact encourages investing energy where it could be invested elsewhere>.

And this it isn’t about debating <which I could accept if not even encourage if it were to better knowledge and the minds and thinking> but rather this is about semantics fostering ignorance.

 

Ok.

Climate change aside <because this rant isn’t really about that>.

 

I have some concerns, in general, about this strain of anti-intellectualism that cult of ignorance sharksAsimov suggests in the opening quote.

This general cult of ignorance which appears to be weaving its way into today’s world <and certainly in the good ole USofA>.

 

To be fair … maybe it isn’t really ignorance … maybe it is simple confusion <because it can get really really confusing discerning truth amongst the shouting>. Regardless … it is concerning.

 

Here is what concerns me … aggravates me … disappoints me.

 

Throughout society and the media it seems that ignorance is no longer a void to be filled but a virtue to be celebrated.

We seem to be celebrating aspects of ignorance under the guise of ‘selective truths.’ Celebrating ‘being open minded’ more than celebrating ‘being mindful.’

Yes. I understand what I just shared is a very very fine line.

 

But I imagine the real point is we seem to celebrate the cults who espouse ‘common sense’ as more meaningful than facts.

And not surprisingly these cults know what they do works.

 

Want another example?

 

PewResearch just did a follow up to their 2009 survey on ‘Do you “believe” in evolution?’

While the survey reveals that the answer aligns with basic conservative versus liberal – or ‘open to more risk’ – thinking which of course aligns with political loyalties < 67% of Democrats accept the validity of evolution in contrast with 43% of Republicans> that really isn’t the concerning output.

It’s the fact that the latter figure, the 43%, decreased from 54% over the past 5 years.

Uhm.

Yeah.

 

Our knowledge is actually devolving … or unraveling … through the actions of the cult of ignorance.

 

Ok. Moving on. Because I do not want to debate issues but rather simply discuss ignorance.

 

 

I believe recognizing your own ignorance is not something to be ashamed of … it is an opportunity to learn. Shit. I do it each and every day.

 

I know nothing schultzBut there is a certain type of ignorance which is almost becoming a badge of some type of warped superiority over those who do have knowledge or expertise.

 

The cult sits around discussing topics with others sharing similar points of view which only leads to some intellectually lazy assumptions about the people making arguments that of a different perspective.

Simply put … it is much easier to sit around with friends discussing how stupid & naïve the other people are than actually discussing and thinking about the issue. Shit. People even sit around dismissing research & scientists as ‘kooks’ or ‘do not know what they are doing’ or saying things like ‘it is flawed.’ They state these things unequivocally despite the fact that if someone were to actually read an entire research study <instead of the soundbite that media latches on to> you would find that they are smart well thought out studies with facts and conclusions <the most famous of these is most likely the infamous ‘right brain-left brain myth’ … which the original researcher has spent a lifetime trying to get straight>.

 

So we have cults sitting around in their thinking cocoons and some semi-reputable sounding entities <and some really smart people on editorial media shows trying to drive ratings> creating as much distraction and doubt as they possibly can and where there’s the appearance of any doubt … politicians jump on board … and then?

 

Well.

We are off to the ignorant race.

How grim is this race? Well. I found this well written rant somewhere:

 

 

“However, I propose that we consider a more grim reality.  Americans have become ignorant, complacent, and incompetent at virtually everything we do.

Before you throw out my theory as pessimistic rants, consider more deeply your workplace, the places you shop, and the things you see and hear everyday as you go through life.  Evidence of our ignorance, complacency, and incompetence is all around us.  We are so ignorant and complacent, in fact, that most of us do not even realize that we are wallowing in dysfunction.

Sure, the failings of borrowers and lenders are at the heart of the financial collapse that just took place, but a more insidious disease has enveloped society as a whole.  Most of us are too dumb to know what is going on around us, we are too lazy to do much of anything that does not bring instant gratification, and we stink at what we do for a living.  Fortunately, since these qualities are shared by our bosses, peers, friends, and family, we can all get along well enough and avoid feeling like a bunch of bumbling idiots.

 

 

Well.

That was harsh.

 

And I don’t agree with the depth of the semi-rant <albeit it is a fun disturbing read>. I do not believe we are incompetent, nor complacent, nor dumb.

 

But I do agree that there is a thread of purposeful ignorance … maybe simply call it lazy ignorance … woven seamlessly into today’s society <uhm … society … that would be us … we the people>.

 

In my eyes it almost seems like there is confusion between intellectual hypotheses and real intelligence.

Look.

Mental masturbation always feels good. But at some point science & facts & research driven proof overcomes sheer hypotheses.

 

 

While the depth of ignorance scares me at it’s root, it’s foundation, it is actually easy to see how it happens:

 

                   “… if falsehood, like truth, had only one face we would be in better shape. For we would be as certain the opposite what the liar said. But the reverse of truth has a hundred thousand shapes ignorance stuffand a limitless field. “- Montaigne

 

Anti-intellectualism or this purposeful  ignorance can take on a hundred thousand shapes <maybe an endless number> versus truth.

Whereas truth has one and only one face and shape.

 

In a world where quantity often overshadows quality … many people tend to begin to think all the quasi-intellectual theories being shouted inevitably takes shape as overwhelming evidence of truth … and the inevitable opposite … that something that is actually true is not true.

 

This is simply the many faces of falsehoods coalescing into some absurdly limitless shaped field facing the one truth. Truth gets smothered by a dazzling array of doubts <garbed in common sense or slivers of fictional fiction>.

 

And sometimes this anti-intellectualism often challenges real knowledge under the guise of ‘simplicity.’

Like ‘if this is true … then the entire thing must not be true.’

Shit.

 

Truth is not like a house of cards in which if you pull out one card the entire house falls.

If I have 52 cards that say one thing and the other card shown is a joker I tend to believe the 52 cards. The house remains as it is.

 

Regardless.

This all becomes more challenging because we live in a world where it is quite possible for someone of average or below average intelligence to still place a high value on knowledge, education, and intellectual pursuits.

 

In other words … I don’t have to be Einstein to appreciate that studying hard and becoming as well-educated as possible gives children more opportunity and that smart people deserve respect.

 

Likewise, it is entirely possible to be of above-average intelligence and still be anti-intellectual.

 

However.

 

I do believe there is a link between anti intellectualism and intelligence.

Because if someone cannot understand something they revert back only to what they can understand … and fear that which they don’t understand.cult of ignorance illusions

 

I hesitate to throw IQ into this discussion but it is a proven fact that most people, as in over 50%, simply aren’t intelligent enough to grasp a substantial portion of science.

 

This isn’t elitist.

It cannot be.

Because it is me. I am the enemy and I can see myself.

I am not intelligent enough to grasp a substantial portion of science.

Shit.

I m not intelligent enough to grasp many things.

 

While we can debate the complete accuracy of IQ measurements the one thing that even the most vehement detractors can’t deny is that it provides a highly accurate overall predictor of one’s ability to grasp difficult concepts.

 

For example, if one were to place bets that an individual with an 80 IQ will never, ever be able to calculate the velocity of an object through space given a certain gravity and distance traveled would become a very rich person indeed if they could find someone to take the bet.

If we jump just a few points ahead, to 100 IQ, the limitations are not as extreme. However, they’re still significant. You won’t find any quantum physicists with a 100 IQ and you’d be very hard pressed to find a college graduate in the sciences with a 100 IQ.

 

 

Now. Science is interesting as I rant about ignorance.

Because inevitably you have to throw into the mix the fact science is by its very nature a constant reshaping of “truth” into ever more accurate models.

Because, like it or not, science reserves the right to change its mind <and I am using science as a metaphor for almost all things>.

 

In almost all things we give the best estimate of an answer given current knowledge.  And we reserve the right to change or modify that answer if more information is found.

Even worse?

The new information is often very difficult to grasp even for experts in the field.

 

Regardless.

Couple points to make.

 

IQ does matter.

Which means those who do have the ability have a RESPONSIBILITY to use it properly.

 

And for all of us <iq aside>.

 

“It is wonderful how such celebrated opinions are born of such vain beginnings and trivial causes. It is precisely that which makes it hard to inquire into them: for while we are looking for powerful causes and weighty ends worthy of such great fame we lose the real ones: they are so tiny that they escape our view. And indeed for such investigations we need a very wise, diligent and subtle investigator, who is neither partial nor prejudiced.

Many of this world’s abuses are engendered – or to put it more rashly, all of this world’s abuses are engendered – by our being schooled to fear to admit our ignorance and because we are required to accept anything which we cannot refute. Everything is proclaimed by injunction and assertion.”  – Montaigne

 

Montaigne said this in the 1700’s and yet the point is that this ignorance still matters. I imagine I can find some solace in the fact he recognized the battle with cults of ignorance even then. But the battle is in the here and now.

 

A relatively recent Newsweek report stated that “the world is becoming more and more inhospitable to incurious know-nothings — like us.”

 

ignorance and the worldFor quite some time Americans, in particular, have gotten away with not knowing much about the world <I have gobs of research to support how un-knowledgeable we tend to be with regard to geography, history, economics and government>.

 

That’s not going to work in the future.

The information economy demands brains instead.

Its kind of interesting because there is a relationship between knowledge and politics <which also scares me>.

 

                          “The issue isn’t that people in the past knew a lot more and know less now. It’s that their ignorance was counterbalanced by denser political organizations.” – Jacob Hacker

 

Overall ignorance has consequences.

An uninformed population is more easily fooled <or driven into selective information cults> leading to less working understanding of current events with significant power to drive events at exactly the same time.

 

The cult of ignorance can only be challenged by people assuming some responsibility to learn more. I would argue it is an obligation to civilization but that sounds too high handed. So lets suggest it is simply a responsibility to who we are and the world, and country, we live in.

 

 

“When you live in a democracy, there are very few good excuses for not having minimal knowledge about what is going on in the world. How much newspaper reading would it have taken to realize that between 1992 and 1996 the deficit decreased? Or to realize that Saddam did not have a hand in 9/11? Now ask yourself how much time the average American spends watching mediocre television. People can choose to be ignorant or disinterested, but that choice is fundamentally their own.” – Isaac Chotiner

 

 

Ignorance undermines our entire culture.

When people are ignorant, candidates are more likely to lie, confident in their ability to get away with it. When the electorate is disengaged, policymakers feel less pressure to exercise good judgment, they pander to the lowest issue common denominator <which tends to be money in someone’s wallet> therefore promising more money <or better economy> … knowing that once elected the game changes.

 

And we need to be careful to not flippantly respond with “I just do not have time.”

 

Americans always make time for the things they find important.

That is culturally and sociologically how we work.

We watch sports, follow celebrities, make reality shows successful … pick whatever you want. When we want to care or make time for something … we do.

At some point we need to care about becoming more enlightened thinkers … or cults of ignorance will grind us to a halt – intellectually and tangibly in ‘lack of doing what is important.’

 

And while I am scared of these cults I am more likely scared of the consequences.

What do I mean? Our debates with these cults, which are actually anti-intellectual debates, grind us to a meaningless standstill.

 

In the end.

 

I will admit that I am scared … yes … scared … of the growing cult of ignorance.ignorance and closed mind

The most critical issues of our society – the economy, climate change, gun violence – it seemingly matters only what you believe in.

 

And instead of responding upon lines of reason, on which these voices would increasingly lose a coherent argument, they respond with volume, and emotion driven under the guise of common sense.

 

And here we are today.

 

Believe what you want and shout it really loudly.

 

It doesn’t matter if it is true or factual … just believe it and shout.

 

I shake my head because it’s never been easier to get — and stay — well informed.

 

People just have to take some responsibility.

 

I am not suggesting we shouldn’t accept some pride in what knowledge we may have … but I am suggesting we are more humble in accepting the limits of what we know.

 

This also assumes we are confident enough in ourselves so that we do not need to denigrate others for doing what we cannot and knowing what we do not.

This also assume we accept our own ignorance as a spring board to learn more and become better.

 

Do I consider myself ignorant, complacent, and incompetent?

In many respects … absofrickinlutely.

 

But.

I also have a sense of self-awareness about it.

 

And that gives me hope that I can overcome my ignorance at some point.

 

Ignorance, complacency, and incompetence are not immutable traits.

I say this despite the fact people <attitudinally culturally> tend to ignore all sorts of things that don’t fit into what we conceptual believe to be true.

 

Research suggests that a paradigm shift in society don’t happen incrementally but rather in great leaps:

 

During the period of normal science, the failure of a result to conform to the paradigm is seen not as refuting the paradigm, but as the mistake of the researcher …therefore … as anomalous results build up, science reaches a crisis, at which point a new paradigm, which subsumes the old results along with the anomalous results into one framework, is accepted. This is termed revolutionary science.

 

 

This thought … that conceptually … at almost any time … more knowledge can negate the truth of any given idea is slightly unnerving. And it is more unnerving because I know these cults of ignorant prey on these constant movement. They seek ‘immutable truths.’

 

And yet we are being demanded to adjust based on the most dissonant ‘truth.’

 

And who the hell discerns a dissonant truth from an ignorant truth?

Yikes.

Someone smarter than I.

 

Regardless.

What I do know is that simply shouting shouldn’t discern truth.

I also know that a quantity of facts supporting something is more important than a minority of dissenting opinions.

 

I fully understand in a web based world where data is available at our fingertips that we are actually all simply being crushed by the weight of data being thrown at us.

Therefore the path of least resistance is that most people is fall back on emotion and feel good <or feel bad> factors.

 

“I say there is no darkness but ignorance.” – William Shakespeare

 

There is darkness in the truth that most of us are unable to judge our ignorance.

As psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger discovered more than a decade ago, the least competent are usually prone to overestimating their talents.

 

How do I <personally> find light in the darkness of ignorance?

I seek out the humble … the ones who tend to whisper their knowledge.

I tend to find them the minds that … well … matter the most.

 

“I consider you the most honest and truthful of men, more honest and truthful than anyone; and if they say that your mind . . . that is, that you’re sometimes afflicted in your mind, it’s unjust. I made up my mind about that, and disputed with others because the mind that matters is better in you than in any of them. It’s something, in fact, they have never dreamed of. For there are two sorts of mind: ignorant people understandingone that matters, and one that doesn’t matter.” – crime and punishment Dostoyevsky

 

 

Becoming knowledgeable.

Fighting ignorance.

We all must be accountable for ourselves. We each must take responsibility.  We can make meaningful contributions to the world. We must fight the urge to join a cult of ignorance <any cult> … and I admit … that is difficult … because it is always easier to sit with those who share your opinion.

Maybe we all must listen for the whispers of truth & knowledge a little more closely.

 

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Written by Bruce