Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Greatest Disability

Ideas of the Mind

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.
Charles Darwin

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity
Martin Luther King, Jr.

What is the greatest disability: a physical one or an intellectual one? It's the latter but not in the way it is typically understood. Ignorance is the greatest disability for humanity, and couple that with a political pulpit and you have a standard mode of inflicting on others views and ideas that do damage. Progress is halted, and sometimes nations move in reverse, to the detriment of humanity.

Stupidity is not a crime, since not everyone has the gifts of the mind; but it disables society when individuals who hold power conscientiously cultivate both ignorance and stupidity. Leaders ought not be stupid, yet many are—willfully and arrogantly so. Stupidity becomes a crime when it informs the thinking (or lack thereof) of politicians, who inflict their noxious, irrational, often divisive, ideas on others. It's often the case that behind every political leader with an irrational partisan mind there lies an individual full of hate and animus, whose purpose is to inflict his limited vision on others.

Too many politicians today are truly ignorant, untrained and unschooled in the principles of democracy, human rights, individual liberty; they are largely ruled by other passions and other interests, many of them monied and narrow. Listen to how many politicians speak, trying to explain their position on matters of importance to the electorate, often saying nothing, hiding behind a veil of meaningless words, and showing arrogance and contempt while doing so. Ad hominen atacks have today become the norm, doing nothing to promote debate and democracy.  It's not a pretty picture for democracy. I am here referring to those “ruling” over ostensibly democratic states; other forms of government do not concern this argument. (Totalitarian & authoritarian leaders do not pretend to be democratic.)

And, yet, such are the leaders who get elected, time after time, which shows that a limited understanding of the world is the best way to convey your message to the electorate. Keep it simple; keep it positive; and most important say it with confidence and a smile. (U.S. President Obama is one of the few exceptions, which often makes him a target of hate from conservative and arch-conservative news and opinion sites; such sites, however, are both boring and predictable.)  It also helps that most—but not all— of the mainstream media and some of the online media are themselves ready to keep the message simple and partisan. Complexity scares them, for obvious reasons. Watch a partisan political channel, and it becomes clear this is so. [Note to politicians: Much of the electorate is smarter and more informed than you or your handlers think.]

Truly, it takes effort to fight ignorance, the disease of every generation and people. It takes education, and the reading of philosophy, literature, history and political science—all within the possible reach of most educated persons. That is, if people can take the time and have the will to do so. I would add the following thought: If democracy is, to a large degree, rule by the people (politicians are only representatives), then the people have to become informed of the foundational principles of democracy and its application in modern times.

Too much of politics today is full of demagoguery, an appeal to emotions, the baser the better, it seems. If democracy is to ever become a robust institution, it requires less demagoguery and more rational, thoughtful arguments to encourage greater participation by the electorate—and not only during the election cycle. What this means is that individuals ought to progress beyond their fears, most of these being unfounded and  irrational.


  1. Pol Pot studied in Paris.
    While there, he studied Marxism and learned how to be ignorant.

  2. Pol Pot is dead, history. He's obviously the rule that proves the exception. More important, consider what's happening today in many western democracies, hijacked by special interests. A prime example is yesterday's U.s. Senate vote on gun control, a day that ought to be remembered as the shameful day it was, undermining the very principles of democracy. There is no justifiable or moral excuse for such a vote.

    Gabrielle Giffords, who knows intimately about the effects of current legislation, writes eloquently on willful ignorance in an opinion piece in the NYT.


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