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

Albert Einstein.


“It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become prey to the active. The conditions upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime, and the punishment of his guilt.”

John Philpot Curran


On page 5 of The Cluetrain Manifesto tucked down at the bottom of the page you will see these words written by Christopher Locke: “As would soon become obvious, the Net was a powerful multiplier for intellectual capital.” Not long after he follows it with its uncomfortable partner, “voice”, in that the other thing the Net did was give voice to anyone, intellectual or not.

And therein lies the wretched hollow we live in within this world of 24/7 internet access.

And therein lies our eternal vigilance – our vigilant pursuit of information.

I suggest vigilance because no matter how siloed your ‘tribe’ is there is no way that you will ever know everything that everyone knows even in your tribe/group/connections/etc. Just think about that for a second. And I choose a second because if everyone in your circle googles something they will get over a million responses in one second and the odds they will choose different things than you to read has an extremely high probability. You cannot chase all the information available and even if you have some excellent parameters on how you filter your intake you will not know as much about any individual topic as someone you are talking with.

To maintain some sanity, we are all a bit purposefully ignorant.

Technically, purposeful ignorance occurs when a person knows the truth, but chooses to ignore it, or the person refuses to abandon false beliefs and pursue the development of further knowledge.

According to the Urban Dictionary willful ignorance is: the practice or act of intentional and blatant avoidance, disregard or disagreement with facts, empirical evidence and well-founded arguments because they oppose or contradict your own existing personal beliefs.”

But, to me, there are four levels of purposeful ignorance:

  • accepted ignorance: I have an attitude, perception or belief and I go about my life doing nothing to engage my thinking and expand what I know <unlearning avoidance is what I call this>

  • confirmed ignorance: with the intent to show everyone that I am not ignorant I actually proactively engage in news & opinion offerors … uhm … but I only do so with those who have the same attitudes, perceptions and beliefs that I do <learning how to better articulate what I already think is what I call this>.

  • ignorant ignorance: I actively engage with people who have different views and maybe even have some discussions and give the impression I am open minded, but even while nodding my head sagely I am simply building additional walls around what I already believe and think <listening without listening is what I call this>

  • selective ignorance: I only have so much time in a day and so much brain space and I will actively attempt to be smart on some things at the expense of being ignorant on others

The third of those three is the most heinous type of ignorance. You actually have the opportunity to learn and you choose to not learn diddleysquat. It is heinous to me because there are gobs of well-intended people who are smart, but just don’t actively engage in learning new shit because, well, they prioritize other shit. In other words, they have time, but don’t learn. Useless dangerous people.

So. Let me get to the ‘selective ignorant.’

The truth is almost every single one of us have moments of purposeful ignorance. At its worst it is a conscious choice to be ignorant rather than challenge our own thinking and acknowledge a truth about reality. At its best we have simply bucketed some things in our minds as ‘decided’ in order to short cut some things and invest energy in others <and we all do the latter>.

And I even give some people a break on this topic.

Psychological research tells us that some people are cognitively complex while others prefer cognitive simplicity, in other words, some people are open to experience while other are closed minded.  Some people are cognitively flexible while others are cognitively rigid.

I could suggest that those who are cognitively simple, closed minded and/or rigid are much more likely to engage in the ‘accepted ignorance’ level of purposeful ignorance that I noted earlier, but they are not stupid people by any stretch of the imagination. They most certainly have the ability to be ‘smart’ <or broader in thinking>, they are simply people who would rather be comfortably ignorant rather than ‘intellectually smart’.

In addition, Urban Dictionary suggests that some people are “cognitive misers”, i.e., they do not to examine things intellectually if they don’t feel they have to. Let’s call them lazy.

And another valid reason is, well, conformity. While this sounds ‘sheeplike’, it is not always. We all engage in some aspects of conformity because it helps us not only fit in, but provide us with some daily stability which permits us to engage our energy elsewhere. That is why a shitload of people tend to believe what those around them believe because questioning those beliefs would lead to conflict, possibly rejection and, well, energy investment.

And, look, there are some nice benefits to conforming. Conformists have the greater potential to find a mate, or mates, to climb the social ladder of “success,” to have others speak well of them and to enjoy the benefits of a social support system.

And, with all that said, you know what? I can live with that.

As much as a curious, always seeking truth, person like me finds purposeful ignorance to be an egregious and utter lack of responsibility to living Life to its fullest and being engaged in Life, in general, I accept that there are some acceptable versions of purposeful ignorance <and, yet, I will do anything I can to break thru to these people and engage in some thoughtful thinking>.

I absolutely believe that learning and unlearning, is a lifelong process and ultimately leads to a fuller, richer Life <and society> I will participate in learning/unlearning through my own discussions and I will engage with anyone, anywhere, on any topic, at any time. But I am clearly in the fourth group, albeit grudgingly so.

Let me end by saying I am an “anti-ignorance optimist.” I understand that deeply ingrained purposeful ignorance is incredibly difficult to change, but I also never, ever, underestimate people’s capacity for change. I will continue to be interested in the views of others, even where I disagree with them, and I will always be interested in understanding why others act and think in the way that they do.

I think this is a healthy way to approach things because, to me, this is the ultimate negotiation of ‘what will be.’ In other words, how we, as people, achieve the best possible outcomes for ourselves and society. Yeah. 99% of the time better thinking will lead to better doing.

“The voice of the intellect is a soft one, but it does not rest until it has gained a hearing. Ultimately, after endlessly repeated rebuffs, it succeeds. This is one of the few points in which it may be optimistic about the future of mankind, but in itself it signifies not a little.”

Sigmund Freud

Anyway. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that anyone can change the world – even if it is only the small part of the big world that you can control. And maybe the point of this rambling post isn’t that anyone can change the world just by thinking and speaking the truth, they need to be able to close the deal. While we are all a bit purposefully ignorant that’s no excuse for not attempting to change whatever ignorance exists. Maybe it is within our vigilance we can make a dent in ignorance and nudge the world toward a better place.  What I do know is one who seeks vitality against decay, one who struggles against indolence with relentless energy, one who understands the journey to enlightenment is one that never ends, is the one who never has stagnant ignorance. And maybe that is what we should all purposefully attempt – a lack of stagnant ignorance. Ponder.

“Life is a struggle between vitality and decay, energy and indolence”

Winston Churchill


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Written by Bruce