While walking the dog this morning, my rather undisciplined mind stumbled over a surprising insight. It came to me, out of the blue so to speak, that there are really two definitions of ignorance: 1) lack of knowledge and 2) refusal to learn. We can be truly ignorant if we refuse to open our minds to possibilities, no matter how much we think we know. I’ve written before about the unfortunate marriage of arrogance and ignorance illustrated by so-called experts dripping with condescension as they discount, deride, and ridicule anyone who dares to challenge their authority.
So there are two dimensions of ignorance, one measured by how much knowledge we possess, and the other measured by whether we are open or closed-minded. This leads to four possible categories of people. I will choose to use these categories and their labels in the future when it is helpful. Yes, I’m retaliating against those who drip or hose their condescension on others. I’m tired of being bullied by the know-it-alls who really do not know enough.
On almost any subject each of us possess some knowledge. We fall somewhere along a continuum from uninformed to informed. For the sake of argument, let’s arbitrarily divide the world into those who are knowledgeable on a subject and those who are not. Likewise, each of us might be described as open or closed-minded to some degree about almost any idea. Someone who is open to other ideas might be considered as humble, in that they appreciate their own fallibility. On the other hand, someone who refuses to listen to any alternatives might be considered to be rather arrogant. Using these definitions, we arrive at four kinds of people: knowledgeable and open-minded, knowledgeable but closed-minded, not knowledgeable but open-minded, and not knowledgeable and closed-minded.
Most of us fall into the normal quadrant. We do not consider ourselves to be experts on most subjects, but we are willing to learn and appreciate new understanding. We recognize and respect intelligent people who seem to know a great deal and who we recognize for their knowledge. I believe they earn that status by their open-mindedness and their humility. No matter how much they know, they are very aware of how much they still have to learn.
Unfortunately, there are some in any society who are uninformed and unwilling to learn. They hold onto superstitions and false notions with a very tight grip. They do not listen, they do not read, they go through life without appreciating the many possibilities that exist. I cannot think of a kind word for those who fit this description, so I reluctantly call them stupid. I have some hope for these people because they can be salvaged through enlightened education. They just don’t know better. Perhaps they have not had many opportunities in their lives.
I’ve saved the worst kind of person for last. I call them the ignoratti. They are usually well-educated and often considered as experts. Unfortunately, their arrogance hides their true limitations, in their own fields as well as other fields of knowledge well beyond their expertise. They are the insufferable fools. They use ad hominem attacks toward anyone who disagrees with them. They are condescending and derisive, discounting anyone who dares to challenge them. They may possess advanced degrees from the finest institutions of higher learning, they may have studied and published copiously, but they just don’t accept the proposition that they might be wrong. These are the most dangerous people in any society.