I keep seeing stories about the ignorance of the general public. You usually see this sort of story around election time. The stories typically involve statistics about, for example, what percentage of voters can name the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. (It's John Roberts.) The point of the stories is that the average person is clueless.
While I agree with that point, how does it help the average person to know the name of the Chief Justice?

Another statistic I have been seeing lately is that ten percent of American voters think Obama is a muslim. Your first thought might be that this misunderstanding could influence who becomes the next president of the United States. But ask yourself if any of the people who think Obama is a muslim are likely to vote for a black Democrat under any circumstance. I'm guessing that the ignorance of those voters on that particular point will have no impact on anything.

Realistically, it doesn't matter if you think the sun revolves around the earth as long as you wear sunscreen. Most ignorance is benign. That's lucky because any individual knows a vanishingly small percentage of the things that other people collectively think is important.

If you step it up a level, and consider how many voters understand the complexities of international trade policies, or economics, or national defense, the stakes are higher. If the country gets any one of those things wrong, it's a disaster. But experts always disagree on the complex issues. When knowledgable people can't agree on the best course of action, there's no reason to think ignorance will get you to a worse place than knowledge. The only thing you can know for sure is that the ignorant people wasted less time reading about things that didn't help.

Amazingly, the government still functions, albeit inefficiently, in spite of all this ignorance. It does this simply by observing what didn't work last time and occasionally trying something new next time. Apparently that is enough to limp along. It works for ants and it works for us. Or at least I think it works for ants. I'm actually quite ignorant about ant behavior, but notice how it doesn't matter?

When it comes to picking our next president, I can't decide if I prefer the smooth-talking, inspirational candidate who promises to give my money to people who don't work as hard as I do, or the old, short, ugly, angry guy with one good arm who graduated at the bottom of his class and somehow managed to shag a hot heiress and become a contender for president. It seems dangerous to underestimate that guy.

Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +19
  • Print
  • Share


Sort By:
Jul 3, 2008
Nice shootin' there Scott. You got flamed by both sides in the first three comments. And when that happens, you know it's a good posting.
Jul 3, 2008
Ignorance isn't a problem on its own, no. It's when people become proud of their ignorance and refuse to learn that it can become dangerous. Even _that_ wouldn't be so bad, except that the very same people steeped in ignorance and knowledge alike seem to think that things like whether or not the Earth orbits the sun are actually important. So the two sides clash, conflict ensues, and it leads to all sorts of terrible things like war and reality television.

Perhaps ignorance and apathy are natural defence mechanisms designed to protect the majority of the population from caring enough to polarize their opinions, thus preventing all-out warfare. The ones who do get involved in these conflicts die off or triumph, and then the rest of the population absorbs them and whatever knowledge they gained while society remains relatively unharmed, if changed.
Jul 3, 2008
A lot of people in this world work harder than you, yet are not fairly compensated for it, due to !$%*!$%*!$%*! beyond their control such as race or gender. Are single moms and immigrant families included in the "people who don't work as hard as I do" grouping?
Jul 3, 2008
"If 90% of the population is ignorant, 45% for each side, it will really be that 10% that is making the decision. "

I think the government has proved time and time again that it is mostly made up of representitives from the 90%. Of course I might be ignorant in thinking so....
Jul 3, 2008
That's the beauty about democracy, it's relatively insensitive to ignorance if that ignorance is evenly distributed. If 90% of the population is ignorant, 45% for each side, it will really be that 10% that is making the decision. It's like statistical sampling. You only need to sample a small number of whatever to get the right answer.
Jul 3, 2008
Sometimes I wish I were more ignorant. The more I learn about the world, the more depressing it is.

Maybe I can get a Ratbert level lobotomy.

Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog