The dictionary defines ignorant as “destitute of knowledge or education,” “lacking knowledge or comprehension of the thing specified,” or “unaware, uninformed.”
I like to think of myself as being aware, informed, knowledgeable, educated. Of course, there are aspects I am ignorant of, as is everyone else: I’m ignorant of when I will die, what I will die from. I am ignorant of what will happen in the future, though I can make educated guesses based on the past — with the caveat that comes with financial advice: “past performance is no guarantee of future results.”
Being aware, informed, knowledgeable, educated: this is important to me. But why? Didn’t an 18th century English poet write “ignorance is bliss”? He was thinking of the perils of life, which only ends with death, and if we knew when that would occur, wouldn’t that overshadow any present happiness?
One night when I was 15, I lay in bed yearning to know everything there is to know in the universe. I no longer remember what prompted that desire, but it remains embedded deep in me.
For many years, I thought the way to learn about any subject was to start at the beginning, like a novel, and read through until I got to “the end,” which would be “the present.” The Hungarian Uprising in 1956 sent me to the World Book encyclopedia; I had to find out why Hungarians were rising up against communism, which my parents thought was quite a good system. Outlining the history of Hungary would answer my questions, except that it didn’t. The Six-Day War, in 1967 sent me to books about the Israeli-Arab conflict, except that some assumed Israel was right, and others assumed the Arab view was right, and I didn’t yet know how to dance through the evidence from both these viewpoints to determine my own opinion. I still thought it was like math, there was a right answer and a wrong answer.
As I moved through adulthood, I realized that I was never going to know everything there is to know in the universe. I decided there were some things I could remain ignorant of. India was one: until I read the Jewel in the Crown series, and decades later visited the country. I don’t know Spanish, so I decided to remain ignorant of Latin America: news stories occasionally pierce the darkness, but without much context. Even some parts of American history are shadowy: the Civil War, the antebellum period, the early Republic.
I started thinking about ignorance after reading a review article in the New Yorker about books on democracy. Universal suffrage allows many people to vote who are ignorant of policy, how the government works, who the candidates are and what they stand for, and even how to think rationally instead of emotionally. So should these ignorant voters have the same rights as more knowledgeable voters? Saying no leads to very undemocratic results. Saying yes can lead to our current president. Per Churchill in 1947, “it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time....”
I'm using this for one of my essays a week, which I have fallen seriously behind on. #52essays2017