Ignorance or Emotion

A friend commented on Facebook: “Why are there so many ignorant people?”  The comment reflected the friend’s obvious frustration in trying to understand why so many people behave stupidly and say crazy things in response to George Zimmerman being found not-guilty by a jury.  The friend’s comment reflected a deeply felt emotion.

As I looked through the many comments that followed, I noticed that most of them were emotional statements.  In fact, almost all of them were passionate expressions of one sort or another.

First of all, all humans are ignorant, even the wisest among us.  We all are capable of demonstrating our ignorance, behaving stupidly, and saying crazy things.  It is our nature (and our nurture) to form opinions and attitudes emotionally, then to act in response to these feelings, without thinking.  Once these attitudes are formed, it is often difficult for us to change our minds.  We become emotionally invested in our ideas and opinions.

We form this habit of emotional ideation early in life because we lack the knowledge or experience to form our opinions rationally.   With maturity, we should learn to question, even analyze our opinions and attitudes, and their emotional basis, before we act, speak, or make important decisions.  Unfortunately, we don’t always do this.  Some among us almost never do this and it becomes a habit or a way of life, often with tragic consequences.

Ironically, responding to danger emotionally without much thought usually protects animals and helps them survive.  Likewise early hominid hunter-gatherers lived in a world that required a quick response to danger without much time for meditation.  Responding emotionally is not so helpful for modern humans living in complex societies.  But, this is how we are wired.

We also suffer from confirmation bias.  We tend to form our opinions based upon our feelings, and then we pay great attention to the supporting evidence while discounting or completely ignoring that which would change our minds.  We fool ourselves into believing we are behaving rationally.   We often remain firmly attached to these attitudes and opinions, and thoroughly invested in them.

If we find ourselves getting angry when we observe crazy behavior in others, or when an idea of ours is challenged, we should suspect that we are victims of confirmation bias.  The anger reveals the emotional foundation of our position.  This does not mean we are wrong, necessarily.

It is my impression that some people gravitate into positions of authority where their opinions and decisions are not subject to questioning by those they consider their subordinates.  They surround themselves with people who learn not to challenge their authority.  They do not seem to think it is necessary to explain themselves.  Unfortunately, we see this among many in leadership roles in all walks of life.

Passion is another dimension to our emotional lives, and it is a wonderful aspect of our character and a source of our humanity.  Passion without rationality is madness.  Passion without rationality in authority is tyrannical.

Yes, we are all ignorant or we are just ignoring our God given wisdom because it is so much easier to just emote?

About DocStephens

Retired college professor of science and mathematics, academic administrator, and president (emeritus).
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