The Thing About Arrogant Ignorance
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The Thing About Arrogant Ignorance • Posted: Nov 29, 2016 14:26:52Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

Ignorance is not knowing, not knowing the facts, and not understanding the consequences of not knowing the facts. Arrogance, on the other hand, is the belief that one is infallible, infallible in wisdom, infallible in decision, infallible in action. Combine the two within one individual and you’ve got a very dangerous person standing next to you, dangerous to both themselves and those standing around them, including you.

During the Viet Nam War, conscripted men unlucky enough to find themselves under the command of an arrogantly ignorant superior officer soon found themselves thinking, “Why don’t I just put a bullet in this guy?” Some of those same men didn’t just think, moan and groan, and eventually acquiesce, as did most. Instead, they acted. And more than one arrogant ignorant superior officer finished with an unexpectedly short career.

For those few radically independent thinking soldiers, an already dangerous reality came down to obediently following orders that threatened the mission and needlessly placed lives in danger, or indisputably sacrificing their own good name, honor, and career for the welfare of fellow soldiers and the mission. Not a trivial choice. Not an inconsequential choice. Not a comfortable choice for anyone. But, it’s an old story contemplated many times before. Mutiny on the Bounty is one version. There are countless others. But, who is to say such a decision to act isn’t also born of one’s own arrogant ignorance? Several of the Bounty’s mutineers were brought to trial over that same conjecture. Three were hung.

There is a classic social psychology experiment done long ago wherein subjects were placed within a kind of jury tasked with deciding if one of three lines drawn upon a piece of paper was shorter or longer or the same length as the other two. Unbeknownst to the real subject, other jury members were not subjects like themselves, but confederates. Their covert task was to secretly agree amongst themselves as to what the “correct answer” should be, then voice that answer before the lone subject voiced his or her choice. Not surprisingly, a significant number of experimental subjects agreed with the confederates’ choice, even though that answer was objectively false. The lesson from that experiment is that peer pressure appealing to an innate human desire to belong, to not appear different or uncomfortably contradictory, often wins out over any desire to be correct or even honest.

So sad, so weak willed, so manipulatable we humans can sometimes be. But then again, every now and then, there appears among us one who is unafraid, unwilling to quietly go along with the crowd, unhindered by convention, unfazed by the possibility of recrimination, one who bravely states what is patently obvious to anyone with courage enough to look, “The Emperor has no clothes.”

Our collective understanding of reality is undeniably a work in progress, like the story of the five blind men comparing their individual experiences of an elephant. None of us has within our heads the entire complete picture of what we all, or even most of us, are dealing with. But to imagine we ourselves totally understand reality independent of and in spite of facts, with insight no one else possesses, is surely folly of the highest order, something way beyond confidence, or faith, or even admirable independent scholarship. To those of us tasked with suffering the consequences of such a person, may we all at some point consider the soldier’s/sailor’s dilemma, reconsider the actual facts, and somehow find courage enough to act constructively, but in decisive defiance, for the widest greatest truest good.

Muscle, bull headedness, cruelty, selfishness, and bombast are not, never have been, and never will be sustainable substitutes for wise and socially responsible good judgement based upon well reasoned and well researched facts, facts taken in context with long considered perspective.

Let us all hope the road ahead tends toward enlightened sustainability instead of darkening chaos born of fear and the recklessness of arrogant ignorance.

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016