You are ignorant and you should be excited about that

Over the past couple of months, the chances are pretty close to 100% that you have been in the following exchange

Dude1: All (INSERT POLITICAL CANDIDATE) supporters are ignorant assholes and have no idea how this country works
Dude2: Oh sure, like getting a fancy college education makes you a better person, you (INSERT GEOGRAPHICAL REFERENCE) elitists don’t know what’s going on in the real America.
Dude1: Whatever, you’re a doodiehead
Dude2: No you are

You get the idea, right?

Not only is this kind of exchange counterproductive, it is exceptionally problematic in a few ways.

First, “Ignorance” and “Intelligence” are two very different things.

If you’re ignorant, you lack knowledge or awareness on a given topic.

If you’re intelligent, you have the capacity to apply knowledge in a given situation.

You can be intelligent and ignorant at the same time.

A stupid simple example. You have a PhD and were an only child. You are completely ignorant of what it is like to grow up with sibling rivalry.

In this example, you are clearly intelligent as you have achieved academic success and yet, don’t have the “boots on the ground” experience with a particular social/psychological phenomenon. However, if you cared enough about this particular phenomenon, like say your boyfriend is a middle child and you want to understand how that affects his life, you could, OH, I don’t know, talk to him about it, read some Psychology Today articles, talk to other people you know who have siblings. Heck go wild and post to Facebook asking for people to share what it’s like growing up in a big family. And thereby you become LESS IGNORANT.

Ignorance is not a function of intelligence. A diploma is not a magic wand that you wave about fixing all your flawed humanity.

Second, ignorance (and to some extent intelligence) is not a fixed state. If you are ignorant about a particular topic, you simply lack awareness. So follow along class, what can you do about that? Apply some awareness. Easy Peasy.

Here is a very sexist example for you. You tell a lovely lady she would be prettier if she smiled more. And that lovely lady loses her shit all over you and dresses you down like a drill sergeant in a nightmare. You could remain an ignorant asshole and say “God, women can’t take compliments”. Or, you could, stay with me here, I know this is tricky, say to yourself “huh, what must it be like to be told you always need to do something to be more attractive”. You could look around and see how the women in your life are affected by the societal stress of being not attractive. You could read up on impossible beauty standards perpetrated by the media. You could read about sexism and how that impacts a woman’s life. You could express some simple curiosity and humility and say “gee I didn’t think that would upset you, could you explain why?”. And then you become less ignorant about what it is like to be a modern woman.

Which leads us to our final point of the day.

The cult of ignorance in this country is terrifying. We have vilified intellectualism out of our own insecurity to the point of destruction. It is so pervasive that it is impossible to admit that you are not fully understanding of any given topic that we cling to talking point ideology as if our very lives depend on it. We rattle sabers because we are told something is bad and wrong rather than spend the mental effort to inform ourselves. We have no space in our psyche for being wrong and we fear it to the extent of killing someone to prove it.

And we fear the question “why” with pathological vehemency because inquiry and curiosity have the potential to undo everything we believe and make us look like fools.

However, if you choose, ignorance can be a potent tool that could very well change your life. Pain has a purpose. It shows you that shit hurts and maybe you shouldn’t do that thing again. Ignorance can have a purpose too. It can show you where lack humanity, empathy and compassion. It can be used to show you how to be a better person.

When the #BlackLivesMatter thing started, I was all “Hey guys, no, all lives matter. Really. We have to stop seeing black and white. We are all humans now let’s sing Kumbaya”. My humanist tendencies wanted to fast forward to the end point of a post-racial world where we are all happy and shit. Then I got that drill sergeant dressing down on the distinction between “black lives matter” and “all lives matter” from the black point of view. I was ignorant about what this experience was like for someone who was not white and female. And I forced myself to step over my ego, the fear of looking like an ass, my penchant to think I know everything and lean into someone else’s experience. In short, I allowed myself to become less ignorant with simple curiosity.

I’m ignorant. We all are.

The function of ignorance is to show you where you are a terrible human being. The question is do you have the balls to move beyond that and look like a big fat jerk. And become more human in the process.

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