By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.
Thesis: Ignorance is bliss.
Antithesis: Knowledge is power.
Disturbing Synthesis: A little knowledge and a lot of ignorance is damn frightening.
The first two statements are cliches.. But, as with all cliches, there is a great deal of truth to them. What I am finding is that the third statement, though not as pithy or memorable, is no less true. It seems like everywhere in America today, this disturbing synthesis is prevalent. The latest example is popular, and popularly misguided reactions to the ebola outbreak.
Those who are completely ignorant of ebola are not necessarily problematic. Approach them on the street and ask about the disease, and you may get blank stares and a shrug of the shoulders. They have no worries; no concerns; no knowledge. Honestly, the vast majority of Americans will never be affected by ebola, and so is it really surprising that our notoriously narcissistic selves may simply say, ‘who cares’? Many of the ignorant may be callous, a great deal may be apathetic, but they are not dangerous.
The antithesis of this state is knowledge. An understanding of how the disease transmits, what it does to those affected, and how likely it is to spread is necessary. A realization that help should be sent to Africa is nobly knowledgeable. Those with knowledge appreciate that there are much greater worries in this world than the highly unlikely chance of catching ebola. Knowledge, and its offspring perspective, allows an American to realize the food we put in our mouths poses a much greater threat to our health than any hemorrhagic fever. Nonetheless, the informed American appreciates the power, and horror of disease, and the necessity of containment. In our globalized age, a disease affecting Africa may not reach us personally, but the social revolutions, economic catastrophes, and military strife that may come as a result of the disease very well could. Being an isolationist is not an option when it comes to fighting microbes. Paradoxically, being self-centered should lead to a concern for the other.
It is the last, the synthesis, that should keep us up at night; it is the synthesis that must be fought against. The happy medium between knowledge and ignorance is not all that happy, but it is disturbingly easy to come by. Google, 24 hours news, and social media are the pushers of spin, sensationalism, conspiracies and half-truths. The American people are the addicts.
In a perfect world, Google allows us to find ‘truth’ in a simple easily structured search format. If you ‘google’ ebola, you will get articles from the WHO, the CDC, and the BBC. But, accidently put an ‘h’ after ebola, and the logarithm used by the website offers you the opportunity to search ‘Ebola Hoax’. Search that, and you start to fall down the rabbit hole.
I got a glimpse of this the other day. Riding home on the train, four adults, seemingly sane, began to discuss ebola. There were the typical concerns and questions. Some of the claims made were incorrect; the disease has not killed 30,000 in Africa, even though this train rider stated it was fact. But soon things got out of hand. One of the men shouted that ebola was actually created by the government; he stated that it was categorically true that ebola has been patented and that the government is controlling the disease. How did he propose to prove this shocking revelation? He said to his friend, ‘give me your phone, and let me ‘Google’ it. I’ll show you!’
The tools for finding information are there for us to use. They have the capability to provide anyone and everyone with the power of knowledge. Absolute ignorance is now, more often than not, a choice. The problem seems to be that most people choose to collect only snippets of knowledge. A ’30 second’ blurb here; a meme there. Throw in a facebook status posted by a friend with some strange conspiratorial theories, and the synthesis of ignorance and knowledge is off to the races. Though sprinting away from ignorance, we’re too often stopping far short of knowledge.