ignorance as virtue

I've recently become aware of a strange trend on-line among writers of culture. I'm trying to stay away from any specific links or examples, as I try and see things in a more general over-arching fashion. And I don't want to call anyone out about something specific, as I don't know anything at all about their individual background or approach. All of that being beside the point anyway. The point is essentially a simple one, lack of knowledge, experience, or interest in historical culture milestones being treated as a virtue or point of pride.

An actress who doesn't know who Rock Hudson is. A film-writer who hasn't seen any of the Star Wars films. An art reviewer who doesn't know the works of Jackson Pollack. I could go on. All of these examples are ones I have run across lately. The thing that unites them all, beyond just the sheer ignorance, is the attitude in which they were presented. As if such gaps are sources of pride. A choice that had been made to purposefully ignore obviously important and significant history, within their own field of interest.

Before I go any further, let me be clear. I'm not saying that everyone needs to experience, know, learn, see, and hear everything. That would be silly and also impossible. I am saying that a musician who doesn't know who the Beatles are, is purposefully being ignorant. And such a choice, while totally their right, is not something to be proud of. It is clearly a sign of ignorance and an embarrassment for that musician. I'm a huge film fan and I have never sat thru an entire viewing of "Gone With The Wind" (as an example) and I probably never will. But that doesn't mean I don't understand the significance of that film, the time in which it was created, and the impact it has had since.

It is interesting to contemplate as a trend, if it is indeed one. From where does such an attitude about the past originate? Is it a reaction to the overwhelming pace at which new information is being presented to a modern generation? Have we begun to experience the results of max-saturation? Is this a lack of processing power in our minds? These are obviously much bigger questions than I am attempting to answer myself.

I liken it to the exuberance of pride un-educated people take when pushed into a corner on a subject to which they have no knowledge. It calls to mind a recent case in which a young man ended up being killed by a Police officer simply because he was convinced, beyond a doubt, that he knew the law better than the Officer. I remember the case because it stood out to me as an example, not that ignorance is potentially harmful (duh!), but that pride in your own ignorance is harmful. Its one thing not to know something, we all have blanks in our knowledge base, but it is another to cover those blanks with a false sense of pride.

There are no unexpected virtues of ignorance. But perhaps all of this is nothing new. Perhaps it just rubbed me the wrong way this past week because I bumped into a half-dozen examples. Not knowing something is not a problem. Ignorance itself is simply a hole waiting to be filled with knowledge. We all have them. The point really is the way in which you choose to deal with your own lack of knowledge. Covering it up with baseless pride is never the right choice in my humble opinion.

Try to keep up. The world just keeps turning.


  1. The reason for that is the "everyone is a special snowflake" culture. That you are valuable regardless of merit or effort. Hence being dumb doesn't decrease your standing with the society. If it's not a stigma, than - if unique - can be a source of pride.

  2. My 2รง.

    Maybe they think that not knowing the masterworks of their trade means that they are as good as they (think that they) are because they were born special.

    "I am a natural born -insert trade- because I wasn't inspired by masterworks since I don't know them. Also I am so good in my trade, that I don't need to know the masterworks of it to be so good"

    It's just arrogance in the ME!, ME!, ME! culture of Internet. Admittedly I am in my 40s so there are things I will never understand of the post-Internet world, and conversely the Internet children will never understand some of the things we old folks know without Googling them...

  3. Another explanation is exposure, human kind didnt change over the last 20-30 years, there's no explosion of 'dumb' people, the social dynamics did change due to the 'social media'. It is meritocracy but the change in social behavior that is needed to enjoy the good sides of that cant keep up with the system pace, assisted by commercial interests. Everyone loves 'jersey shore', nearly everyone knows the social behavior in there is undesirable to say the least, still the persons became 'stars'. Its a bad 'situation' (..) In the best scenario one could see it as 'startup' issues, hopefully society can deal with this and ultimately enjoy the real perks.

    hozan v

  4. There is a long and tedious history of taking pride in ignorance in various forms. The British political class has taken great pride at times about not knowing anything about math or science or the works of mere tradesmen and boffins. It can stem from needing to state that something is beneath a person (I have people to do that for me) in order to validate their ignorance or some sense of cultural snobbery (I haven't bothered with it, so it lacks value) or just a need to be contrarian (we all know that guy).

    But it isn't new. What is more likely to have changed is that we're getting older and are probably more likely to set stock in the significance of things, so it rubs us the wrong way when people not only don't see it our way, but actually brag about not even having the foundation from which our point of view stemmed. Add in the extra exposure to other people that the internet gives us and it might seem like something dramatic. But it was always there. Circle of life and all that.

  5. (And, of course, I'm sure we've all been on the flip side, where somebody exclaims in despair that you have seen/heard/read something "very significant" to the point that you start to feel like yanking their chain a bit. At one point I took perverse pride in having a Kodak Disc camera around some friends who were all total Nikon snobs.)

  6. I believe it has to do with being "Above the Hype", as in "I have not seen the previous Star Wars movies, so I am above any previous hype / fanboyship connected to that franchise".

    Being unattached and objective is what can give you credibility in todays internet debates where the Ad Hominem/Character Assassination always lingers in the air.

    In order to be credible, you cannot be too involved. However, to understand the quality of any art, you need to get involved.

    Also it makes it a lot easier to turn yourself into an authority on just about anything just because you have or had a semi/very popular blog at some point leading to people actually putting value in your opinion on different matters. Today people are asked to consume the cream of the crop of more than just one sub-culture, you need to know all the greats but in reality on day to day life matters, the focus is always the "new release".

    I also saw the same tendency, and this has been my evaluation of it. If you have a weakness, embrace it, make it yours and own it. If you are a stupid moron, flaunt it, before it is used against you and you loose peoples ears.

    I tend to make up my own mind, if I like something I don't give a shit about what others whine about - best not let them interrupt you while you are having fun.

    /Paraa Trahn/Lorain Zantable/


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