Is Ignorance Bliss?

The Informed Generation’s Unfortunate Privilege.

A friend of mine recently told me about a documentary.

The documentary shed light on the lack of sustainability in the world’s meat market, highlighting how our current consumption of animals and animal products is having a negative impact on the Earth’s health.

After watching this documentary, my friend’s opinion on his own habits when it came to eating meat had fundamentally changed. Something that had been a consistent part of his everyday behaviour was immediately thrown into doubt. After a rational weighing-up of how much this would realistically impact his life, he decided to go vegan.

This was a decision that I ultimately, respected. If you knew your actions were having a negative impact on the world, wouldn’t you change them? I realised after our discussion that there was something holding me back from watching the documentary myself. Holding me back from confronting this issue as if I was somehow better off without it.

I thought of this behaviour as bizarre. If I categorically knew that I was doing something wrong, why would I not try and fix it? The impact of this ignorance multiplied further when I continued with my life completely unchanged, even after I’d identified this worrying personal flaw in my judgement.

The idea of not eating meat isn’t something that I think i’d struggle with, yet I still act (willingly) ignorantly when applying the battle of what I ‘do’ and what I ‘should do’ against each other. Plenty of people that I’ve met make throwaway comments like:

‘I could definitely be vegetarian’, or
‘ I don’t need meat in my diet to survive’

But are these comments are essentially worthless without the follow-through?

Considering the choice that is made by vegetarians at the most crucial point in their habitual change, there may be something to glean from the difference between the idea being voluntary or imposed. A child that’s exposed to slaughterhouses and meat production at a young age may not find the decision to go vegetarian overly difficult; even to the relatively limited perspective of a child, the process could quite easily be deemed as ‘wrong’.

As adults our habits are much more firmly bedded, so seeing a similar scenario may not have such a profound effect. We are desensitised and overly comfortable with our lives, so when we are exposed to propaganda that challenges our current behaviours, are we less inclined to listen to the truth?

This is not a tirade against meat-eaters or those who choose turn the other cheek. This is merely a self-reflection, somehow realised in the view of general societal behaviour. We regularly face similar choices in our lives, whether on an introspective or outward-looking level. Does smoking cigarettes and ignoring the health concerns mean there’s something wrong with us? Does driving petrol cars mean that we just aren’t bothered?

I (along with pretty much everyone else out there) advocate world-awareness for environmental welfare, yet I do nowhere near as much as I should. Few of us do. Does this choice of ignorance make us bad people, or just good people with a lack of scope, perspective and care?

The answer isn’t one that someone can support without appearing biased. Those that take these concerns onboard are unarguably right from an ethical perspective, yet tend to sadly be in the minority. Those that either feign ignorance or actively disagree seem to make up the majority of us, with a few here and there who are genuinely unaware. How many speeches or news stories does society need before it acts? 1? 10? Or are there some things that we just can’t be swayed on…

As I sit here and write this, I do so knowing that I will continue to eat meat, and mostly consume in the same fashion as I have done for years. I aim to do the best I can in how I interact with people, and I’d like to make my impact on the world a positive one. I’d say there seems to be a disconnect between the morals we exemplify with people (things that have immediate effect), and those that are much larger in scale (things that are less tangible in the short-term).

Morals are subjective, and as such, things that we can pick and choose. If that’s the case, could we choose to live our lives better? A whole-scale change of everyday behaviour would seem alien and inconvenient. Even changing habits when it comes to things that make our lives easier can bring a negative connotation to tasks that used to be so simple.

Our upbringings tend to prepare us for a life of comfortabilities and routine habits. Most of us haven’t experienced a life where living was a struggle. As such, we are almost conditioned to ‘hold shape’ and not defer too much from what we deem as normal. Those from less-privileged backgrounds may be much more akin to making sacrifices and changing their behaviour, whether voluntary or imposed.

Speaking as a member of the formerly mentioned group, I feel disdain towards the rigidity of our personal characteristics at mass. We are all ‘aware’, but we are also self-righteous and desperately outward-looking. We won’t change unless we absolutely have to, and that’s an upsettingly unfortunate trait of our modern culture.

If reluctance to change is something defined by higher privilege, then we are building a culture that is growing increasingly stagnant and unable to act on the things that we are collectively concerned about. Awareness is at its peak, yet action is still playing catch-up.

If we want to reverse this mindset, then we need to understand that choice does not always need to prioritise immediate benefit. As humans, we have a behavioural bias towards favouring choices that offer an immediate reward. So, when considering existing habits and changes that have no immediate positive effect, we are hard-wired to decide against long-term impact. Overcoming irrational decision-making can only be achieved through the perspective of a rational lens.

Secondly, whilst we do celebrate change, we tend to do so only when it’s absolute. A person that makes a small step towards positive change is certainly making an effort, so let’s encourage it. Just because someone doesn’t go full-vegan doesn’t mean they’re not trying. But someone who decides to cut their meat consumption by 50%? That’s a pretty considerable jump.

We are not bad people, just a society that values information over scalable action. Why celebrate that which is only complete? Let’s praise the baby steps as well as the great strides.

By reducing the barriers to change, we can help encourage it. Climbing a big ladder is far easier when there’s plenty of rungs in between.