They say ignorance is bliss.

First, read this article (“We Are All Confident Idiots” by David Dunning) so you know what I’m talking about.

We’ve all seen this, haven’t we? People who are very convinced that they are right about something–even something made up. Just watch Fox News (but not for very long–at some point it stops being funny and starts being terrifying).

I used to teach university students, and (probably due to my own failure as an educator) I could see this very thing happen. Students would be convinced they understood something, and then when they didn’t score well on a test they were confused and usually made no effort to understand why they didn’t know what they thought they knew.

ignorantSuppose, though, you’ve read your Socrates and your Hume and your skeptics.

Imagine you know the things you don’t know (and it’s a lot–pretty much everything).

Imagine you don’t even fully trust your ability to make patterns because you know you seek patterns and causes even when they aren’t there.

Imagine you don’t believe you are a good, capable person, because these things mean nothing to you and are totally relative.

Imagine you think every system of rule is wrong. That every belief system is wrong. That every ideology is wrong. But that you don’t have a right one to replace them, because it would be wrong too.

Imagine you struggle to form opinions anymore because you don’t have ideologies or sacrosanct beliefs. Imagine you don’t have opinions because you can’t ground them in anything and so they’re useless to you because you want something to hold onto.

At that intersection, you have me.

And I guarantee you, it sucks.

Most of the time, I don’t even feel like a person.

It’s lonely.

I do think recognizing your ignorance is a good thing generally. I think this is why philosophy should be taught throughout a person’s education and not just as a random liberal arts credit. I think this is what professors should be doing instead of trying to drill act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism into their students’ heads. I think this is where I was unsure as an educator how to proceed.

Even within this article, you have a lot of foundational assumptions that could be called into question. The author is privileging “knowledge” and “reasoning” and “logic” as if those are real things too.[1] This is the bias of demonstrative truth.

“Showing that scientific demonstration is basically only a ritual, that the supposedly universal subject of knowledge is really only an individual historically qualified according to certain modalities, and that the discovery of truth is really a certain modality of the production of truth, putting what is given as the truth of observation or demonstration back on the basis of rituals, of the qualifications of the knowing individual of the truth-event system, is what I would call the archaeology of knowledge.” -Michel Foucault, Psychiatric Power, 238.

Making truly informed and “objective” judgments is impossible. The context in which we make judgments creates some kind of bias (innocuous as that bias may be).

This is all to say that we have to rely to some extent on ignorance, because universality and objectivity are myths. That’s why we can safely use probability and inductive reasoning to draw conclusions, but where we often fail is in providing context and in doing the archaeology of knowledge.[2]

There’s a saturation point where you have me, who really doesn’t know anything. I mean, sure, I know some trivial information. ‘98 Chicago Bulls starting lineup? Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, Longley, Harper. Capital of Nevada? Carson City. Where do you transfer from the Red Line to the Blue Line in Washington DC? Metro Center.

I even have a few core beliefs I operate with that are there inside me but that I generally fail to articulate. The more I recognize my own ignorance, I have a harder and harder time relating to other people to the point where most of the time, I don’t feel human.

I can get along in the world okay, but I have to treat it like a game.

If I had my way, I wouldn’t play the game at all. My preferred (and default) experience of the world is in terms of the big picture, and the bigger that picture gets, the less I know. The less I know, the less I can connect to other people, and the more I feel like I can’t play the game anymore. This is what happens when I stop replying to emails and answering my phone.

So where does that leave me but trying and failing to create something that explains how utterly fucked up this while I wait for someone to hand me the hemlock.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: enjoy your ignorance, but use it wisely.

[1] This author is also privileging the “Founding Fathers” which, fine, but they were self-interested human individuals too. Don’t forget that.

[2] Context comes in many forms, and which context is useful is always a question.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s