Is Ignorance Really Bliss?

We are fortunate to be living in the midst of a remarkable time in the history of our planet. While it is an anxious time for many, and a tragic time for many more, it will no doubt fill many chapters of future history books.

But who will read them? I am struck by the remarkable lack of intellectual curiousity around me. In a day and age when so much information is so readily available, and in so many formats, why do some refuse to read it?

The political climate has certainly raised my awareness of the level of ignorance. We’re in the midst of a historic election, on the verge of electing either the first black president, or the first zombie president (okay, McCain’s not a zombie yet). With so much at stake, you would think people would be excited and intrigued to learn as much as they could about the candidates, the process, and just generally soak up the historic atmosphere. Yet what I find is most people already know who they’re going to vote for and have no inclination to look into the matter further. In fact, they’d rather not even talk about it.

Stephen Colbert created the word truthiness, a word that describes truth that doesn’t come from books, but from the gut. You believe what you want to be the truth, facts be damned. How many people do you know that fit that description when it comes to politics?

I consider myself fairly independent, however in our two party system that usually means I vote for the Democrat. The Republican party has become the epitome of truthiness. They hold to a few core talking points regardless of how clearly facts contradict them. For example, R’s are the conservatives and want limited government, yet the R’s increased the size of government when they had control of the White House and the Congress. Yet they still run on the smaller government platform! And their supporters spout the same talking points. Democrats may be all over the map when it comes to priorities and positions, but I prefer that to the single mindedness of the Republicans and their truthy way of looking at things.

I don’t mind a philosophical debate, I actually enjoy it. But lately it seems I run into an uninformed debater who will staunchly defend their position even if the facts disprove them. They even refuse to look at the facts! I’m not smarter or a better debater, I just read, listen and learn.

My daughter wrote a paper for a school assignment. It was an opinion piece on how she felt the war in Iraq would impact the 2004 election. She felt the deaths of so many civilians, along with uncovering our reasons for going to war were truthy, rather than true, would have a significant effect. Well she got an A, but the teacher wrote in the margin in red ink “there are no civilians being killed in Iraq, only terrorists controlled by Bin Laden.” I was stunned, as at the time, sectarian violence was running rampant and scores of bodies were found in alleyways murdered gangland style. Yet this teacher, this educator, had a truthy position and felt so strongly about it as to instruct my daughter on it. I spent a few hours getting all the data I could about the civilian deaths in Iraq for my daughter to bring to her teacher. We eventually decided to leave it be.

I have a few friends who are dedicated Republicans. They flat out refuse to hear anything that isn’t in line with their belief system. They will excuse away any fact as spin, and will actually create their own facts, made up entirely of blaming Democrats for everything. Truthiness surrounds us.

The internet can add to the problem, as we quickly scan various sites for information and may only read the pretty blue headline, never actually reading the story. We’re now informed with four or five words about the topic and move on with that knowledge. I’ve had people tell me that Harley Davidson is owned by a Japanese company (they are not) and that Target is owned by a French company (no, uh uh). People believe Barack Obama is Arab and a Muslim (he isn’t) because they heard it somewhere. People will read chain emails and forward them as if they were accurate. I had someone tell me Warren Buffett is so rich because he has all that money to invest. A small investor can never attain that (Buffett started his first investment partnership with $1000 of his own money).

I won’t even go to religion, where truthiness rules the day. Okay, I’ll go there a little:

Is it just me, or is it ironic that people who follow the teachings of Jesus are:
* conservative
* intolerant
* believe in the death penalty
* support war

I mean, Jesus was a liberal Jew. He railed against the established religious leaders as they lived greedy sinful lives. He associated with lepers and prostitutes, preached peace and tolerance, love for all people. Who would Jesus bomb?

Anyway, I digress. We live in a time in the US of A where our educational system has fallen behind those of other advanced nations. China and India now produce more engineers than we do, more physicists come from Europe than the US. Millions of graduating high school seniors can’t afford to go to college. Our kids are taught based on the federal exam they must take, since the schools funding is tied to the performance on these standardized tests. So any real and substantive discussion on issues tends to take a back seat to learning what will be on the test. What are we to do? How do we ensure our future generations produce the kind of brilliance of which they are capable? I don’t have any answers, but I know one thing for sure, my kids read. They read a lot, and they listen. I will do my part to instill in them the desire to learn, the desire to know, the desire to improve. I’ve always felt education should be for adults, when they can really appreciate a US History class, or Social Studies. You can’t appreciate that when you’re in 9th grade. So I continue my education on my own, and encourage you to do the same.

After all, is ignorance really bliss?

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