Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A to Z: Ignorant Idiots

Ignorance abounds.

And though it is said that "Ignorance of the law is no excuse" it is also said that "It is no crime to be ignorant."

Wait. What? O.K., that obvious contradiction aside, I'm going to say that I don't think there is shame in being ignorant.  After all, we're born ignorant. Everyone is ignorant of something. No one knows everything and we all have to learn to go from a state of ignorance to knowledge.

So why am I gearing up for a rant against ignorance?  Because you can sense it coming.  I know you can.
It's obvious this A-Z letter is on the dark side of the coin, being something I find distressing or makes me want to spit.  So what gives?

Ignorant Idiots.
Someone can be ignorant, not a problem. It is correctable.  What I find unforgivable is Pride in Ignorance.
That is what I'd label an Idiot.  And it seems to be catching on.

I have seen an increasing frequency in what I call the culture of ignorance.  You've probably noticed it.
People who are proud of being ignorant.  Brandishing their banner of not knowing facts.  Wearing their ignorance like a badge, proud to not understand something.  America has become so "anti-intellectual" that it is considered by many a mark of distinction to not understand science, economics, history, other countries and to not only not understand these things, but to resist learning about it!
We are on the threshold of an Orwellian nightmare.

* Less than 40% of Americans believe in Evolution.  That amount roughly doubles for those who didn't go to college. Of those who don't, most do not understand the basic ideas of evolution.  How can an opinion be formed about something that isn't understood?
- Less than 1/3 of Americans understand that DNA has something to do with heredity!

* Americans apparently do not know what Socialism is, though it is becoming popular to throw the word around in the same manner as "Communist" was in the Cold War, or "Heretic" was in the Middle Ages. Most who use it as a boogeyman word don't realize all of the aspects of socialism that we rely on in this country.  It's one thing to criticize from a position of knowledge, but quite another when from ignorance.

* 26% of Americans don't know what country the U.S. won it's Independence from.

*For a country that is so involved in world affairs it is shocking how ignorant the population is of the rest of the world:
  30% of Americans can't find the Pacific Ocean on a map. 85% Can't find Iraq.
  20% of Americans think the sun revolves around the Earth!
I hope that statistic is just inflated by a portion who simply don't understand what "revolves around" means.

When I flew to Minsk the first time, on leaving the last US city, heading to the lay-over destination of Frankfurt, Germany, the airline ticket agent asked if it was my final destination, I said "No, from there I fly on to Minsk."  She asked "Oh, is that another city in Germany?" This is someone who works for an airline!
I know Belarus isn't the largest country or commonly in the news here, but she works for an airline!
It's the capitol of a country!  A country that isn't Germany!

But it gets worse...

The first time I went to China, afterwards I was asked by someone if I drove there.  Not, did I drive while I was there.  But did I drive to get to China. I live in California. Not Korea or Russia, just how did she think I could drive to China? What does the world look like in her mind?  And this person was a student at a University of California school! Yeah.

Back to the focus of this... it seems that there is a new pride in ignorance thriving in America.  People are proud of being ignorant. They see no reason to correct it. That is being an idiot.  No one can know everything, but to think you are superior because you don't understand is so backwards it makes my head spin.  The happy pride people have in being ignorant makes me half depressed and half enraged.

I have heard people criticize other countries, saying "America is the best country on earth". My response is "well, it may be, what evidence do you have? what is it about the system in country X that you don't like? Have you ever been to this country?" The answer is invariably "I don't know about their system, why would I want to? Never been to that country, why would I want to? America is the best."

We really need to be teaching basic logic. This argument is so flawed it's hard to understand how it can form in a human mind. No country is perfect, how can we improve if we can't self-critique ourselves?
How can we do that if we are more interested in congratulating ourselves on our shiny ignorance?

It is now common for politicians to site falsehoods as facts, and if called out on it they can just say they said what they feel is true, and somehow that's fine.

We have some of the best universities in the world, but there is a big gap between those who can get into them (and graduate out of them) and those who struggle, and possibly fail, to get out of high school.
It is popular now to blame the education system.

But that's not it. Education can only be offered, it can not be forced down someone's throat.  As long as it is considered cool to be stupid, as long as ignorance is considered better than being an "intellectual elitist" or as a mind-shield to preserve a blissful ignorance of unexamined faith, then no education system has any hope of ending ignorance.

I think George Carlin was on to something.  The obsession with self-esteem might be at the root of this.
The message that you can be an idiot, but it's ok, because you try, or maybe you don't, but you might, and by golly that's good enough. You're special.  But it isn't ok!
It is ok to not be the smartest, to not know everything, as long as you know how to learn, can be open to being corrected, to actively try to continue learning.  But that's too hard.  We've opted for being proud of being dumb-asses and thinking anything we don't understand is unimportant or stupid.

When someone's pride in self and self-identity is based on what they do not know, that is truly scary.
If someone's self-identity is based on a belief, and they are open minded, there is nothing wrong with that, no matter what they believe: if they are right, wrong, different opinion than you, all of that is fine because it is open to new information & change.  But the growing numbers of people who do not want to know facts or to be informed about something, who are proud to not know, proud to be ignorant, actively try to keep themselves from information... that is idiotic. I see this a lot.

This level of ignorance is dangerous.
Ignorant idiots vote for ignorant idiots and the whole system is more easily controlled.
Orwell said it best: Ignorance is Strength.
But it won't be us wielding that strength.
If we have a culture of ignorance we're going to only see an increase in ignorance the longer it goes on.
The only solution? It is our culture that has to change.
But how do we do that?

I don't know. I'm ignorant of how to accomplish it, but I'm not an idiot: I know we need to find out.

Well, in the meantime enjoy this:

This has been an A-Z Challenge post. 
For the month of April there will be an update for each letter within the theme of: Things that influence and inspire me, or the converse: things which I find distressing or make me want to rail at the world.
Some of these will pertain to the miniatures hobby, but many will venture off to atypical territory for the duration of the challenge, then it will be back to normal with mostly minis and an occasional blithering.
You can find out more about the A-Z challenge my clicking the logo at the top left of the page. 


GDMNW said...

I suppose this demonstrates how vital faith in other people is. It appears that a great many people would prefer to live without the facts or engaging in critical thinking about those facts.

If that's true for the majority then it is probably true for the minority in other areas.

I wonder what aspects of my behaviour and conduct are built upon my ignorance of the underlying facts and my unwillingness to consider the facts around me.

To that extent I think we're all idiots to some degree or another.

The Angry Lurker said...

I was ignorant of your stats on what some people didn't know, frightening stats but a great read!

Fizzle said...

As an American, I truly hope these statistics are false or at least somewhat inaccurate. But honestly , I wouldn't surprise me if they were %100 true.


Chris said...

I think there is a bit of a trend towards ones convictions being more important than facts or statistics. If you believe in something strongly than it doesn't matter if it's true. I could cite several public national instances of this trend but the disturbing part for me is that I encounter it with other young people my age and younger, many of whom have had some higher education. Like you I don't know what the solution is, or even if there is a solution, I have noticed the adherence to ignorance seems to break down a bit if you isolate and bombard an individual with facts, but the mob mentality quickly reestablishes in groups. I like to try and focus on the positives though, the general progression of humanity is evident as a species even if there seems to be some cultural trends towards isolation or dogmatic belief in belief.

Rodger said...

That was a fantastic read. Very scary stats. Does make you wonder where our world is headed.

Paul of the Man Cave said...

INGSOC lives indeed!
Some truly scary stats there.

My favourite all-time ignorant question from one of your countrymen, when I told him where I came from, was "Whats its like having 6 months of darkness?" When I explained that that occured in Antarctica not Australia, I was told quite emphatically that they are the same place!

Pete said...

To play devil's advocate for a second, one of "Western Civilisation"'s most highly regarded thinkers is Socrates, whose MO used to be to declare his ignorance of a subject. That said, it was a way to better understand a subject and consider it holistically, not an excuse to have no thoughts. There are lots of pieces of knowledge that it isn't much use to have, such as how to safely build a nuclear reactor or the correct etiquette for addressing a Duke, as they don't have a very broad application. That first is handy for nuclear technicians, I'll grant!

But when basic knowledge, such as heliocentrism or the name of the leading politicians in one's country, is lacking, it does alarm me. British TV has a quiz show called Pointless, which is by turns amusing and frightening. They ask a hundred folk a question, and the contestants then have to try to give not only the right answer, but the one that the fewest people knew. The answers are sometimes startling. A contestant once suggested that "US Secretary of State" was a post in the British Cabinet. Of the hundred people, only about 40 or so could name the two best recognised Cabinet posts: the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary.

It's alarming when a nominal democracy doesn't even know who's running it. I suspect that ignorance of geography might be a result of teaching practices. My geography lessons (in the '90s) covered vulcanism, onion skin weathering, oxbows, human geography and so on. My parents' geography lessons (back in the '60s, mostly) may have been duller, but did instil them with basic knowledge as national capitals and primary exports. They also were taught where cities and other places in the UK were. I've picked up those titbits mainly by driving to cities and through areas.

It's a very odd situation.

Mr. Lee said...

Ignorance is a crutch.. have to say that I use it a bit in WHFB gaming.. as the tomb of 800+ pages of rules is too daunting, and I would rather just toss dice and have a good laugh. Letting the others tell me what the rules are and learn the hard way ( like finding out fighting in trees means no steadfast ).

Frightening stats though, great photos, and better video..

Oh and as far as a dark trend in your A-Z.. its better than mine would be.. :)

S. L. Hennessy said...

Wait, DNA has something to do with heredity? Nah, you're kidding right? Just joking.

And I agree - the state of public intellect is starting to really concern me. Orwellian nightmare for sure.

Alfrik said...

But eliminationof Ignorance would also eliminate ones ability to say "here's yer sign".....

GDMNW said...

To be fair, there are times when ignorance is appropriate.

Take the british cabinet for example. Is this really a useful piece of information, to know all of the positions and who occupies each when compared to say, where you can buy the best pizza?

In my experience the most 'ignorant idiot' out there will often have an area of 'expertise' where they are anything but ignorant.

To an extent therefore how ignorant a nation appears is very closely linked to what question you ask them. A well informed person might know where Iraq is geographically but this no better qualifies them to cast their vote as to whether or not the US should be sending troops to intervene in the area.

I'd suggest that that same fella who didn't know where Iraq is might be able to give you a detailed statistical break down of the performance of his favourite team and players for a number of years. Ask those questions and suddenly he sounds like a genius.

It's all about the questions.

Pete said...

Oh, I wouldn't claim myself to know every person in the Cabinet. But there's a minimum level of knowledge below which most people seem to have dropped, if only forty-something know that the PM and Home Secretary are in it. It demonstrates a total lack of engagement with who is governing us and why. The same quiz show had a contestant on once who thought that Gordon Brown had been a Tory Prime Minister. That's burying one's head in the sand to a mad degree. It's been reasonable to know who he is since '97, when he became Chancellor, and not knowing which party he's in is just weird.

I agree with you that people probably are experts in some subject, but I find it alarming that someone could tell me who has been murdered and how in Eastenders or that Tottenham have won the League five dozen times, but can't identify the political party of a Prime Minister. Ask me a question about football, and I sound like an idiot, but footy is a hobby, a sport, an entertainment. Knowing who's running the country is actually important, if only because you can vote for the other lot when the ones in power annoy you.

Laughing Ferret said...

Very interesting comments & ideas being thrown around!

GDMNW: I'd agree with you, in fact I have ;) There isn't anything wrong with ignorance in and of itself: everyone has more ignorance than knowledge really, there is just too much to know: I doubt the human brain can store & access half or more of all information known to us collectively as a species. The problem is in willful ignorance. It's one thing for the person in your example to not know where Iraq is, quite another to be proud of not knowing, not want to know and think it makes him a superior person because he doesn't care. That's the big problem I see.

When it is about important issues, things that affect people's lives, which they can have a direct or indirect impact on, that is scary.

When the culture creates pride in ignorance, and people want to be ignorant, that's a set up for a 1984 scenario.

Dianna Fielding said...

Blech, ignorant people! I have met too many people like this. People who joke when I use a word with more than two syllables or try to think critically about a situation. It's ridiculous! Thanks for calling them out.

Good luck with the challenge!

Dianna Fielding

Anne said...

This trend is by no means limited to America. This is now global. And I know I joke about conspiracy theories, but I do think that the "dumbing down" in educational systems is a calculated maneuver. People who think like sheep, herd like sheep and follow like sheep. To be a willing participant in this phenomenon is pure lunacy. And ultimately it's why I home schooled my daughter. She can speak five languages while most children in public schools can barely manage to speak their own language with any degree of fluency. You've hit on one of my soap-box issues with this one.

Very nicely done and love the vid.

Laughing Ferret said...

My Pleasure Diana!
Great website name, I'll have to check it out.

Anne: Sad that it is global! I didn't have the impression it was as bad in other countries as here.

I hope you're wrong about the education conspiracy. I don't think it is calculated- not that the powers that be wouldn't *like* there to be a design in that, but I don't think the system is organized enough to accomplish it! I think it is more of a snowball situation. In America, most decisions take place at the local school board level. This is a big problem with our education (and government) system: no training, expertise or knowledge is needed to get in a position of making decisions. People who don't understand science or history are making decisions about what and how these subjects are taught. All of their biases and comfy ignorance becomes implemented. Some things are decided on the state level, but often that is just a larger version of the same. Get enough people who think creationism is science and your state can teach it as if it is. In California, "World History" is now taught in a way that tells the story of 'how the history of the world has lead to American democracy" as if it was all part of some grand design to get to 'US' the highest form of civilization. It is shocking. But most of these decisions aren't centralized, they lay in the hands of groups of ignorant people.. who in turn establish the pattern to further that ignorance, and it's repeated. If I had kids I'd give serious consideration to home schooling them too.

Dice Plague said...

That´s a world wide phenomenon. Don´t know if It´s the daily loads of info (most made of crap) or just the impaired natural selection of the modern life that let the idiots to mate and have idiot childre but this world is more stupid every day... Great post man!

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