Posts Tagged ‘Ignorance’

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 291933-ebola-virusknowledge.  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.

Ebola-is-realIn 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.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Moments after the explosions in Boston, the rumors and fear-mongering began.  It took law enforcement a couple days to identify the culprits, but the media immediately clamped onto any whisper they heard that held promise.  Not revealing its source, the New York Post reported hours after the bombs went off that a young Saudi man was being held in custody. Internet sites picked this up, and major outlets, most notably Fox News, ran with the story.  Though the story was disavowed by authorities, the media erroneously reported it because it fit a paradigm of Islamic extremism that many within the country hold as gospel truth.

Erik Rush

Erik Rush

The New York Post is known for sensationalism; the truth will often take a backseat to a juicy headline.  But with this ‘breaking news’, the Post opened a Pandora’s Box.  Political talking heads were thrown their red-meat, and they let an inevitable spew of conjecture and invective fly.  Erik Rush, a Fox News contributor, political pundit, internet personality and sometime author quickly took to Twitter, throwing gasoline unto the fire.  After the Post reported about the Saudi man, Rush ‘tweeted’, Everybody do the National Security Ankle Grab! Let’s bring more Saudis in without screening them! C’mon! In response, one young man complained, You are already blaming Muslims?  Rush tweeted back, Yes, they’re evil. Let’s kill them all.

In a public forum, a media personality labelled 2.2 billion people as evil.  He called for the murder of these people, which would include 2.5 million Americans.  After this tweet gained unsurprising notoriety, and Rush faced harsh criticism, he responded with the defense that his ‘tweets’ were obviously “sarcastic”.  Whew!  That’s good. He was only being sarcastic in his call for the murder of millions of people.  I feel so much better now. (Note the sarcasm.)

You know, on second thought, let’s not allow Mr. Rush to get away with this that easily. First of all, Rush’s ‘sarcasm’ defense needs scrutiny.  Not that I necessarily think he was being serious about killing a worldwide religious community, but he should understand something about sarcasm: It only works if it is clear that the sarcasm is the antithesis of your thoughts and feelings. If it seems to fit your past rhetoric, then sarcasm can fall a wee bit short.  This is what happened in Mr. Rush’s case, and why his obvious sarcasm was not so obvious. You see, Rush is an outspoken proponent of what I have labelled in a previous post, our “Age of Hyperbole.”  Here is just a taste of the claims Rush has made during the last year (I could give many more examples, but there is only so much I can take):

– Rush has claimed that gay rights will lead to governmental tyranny.

– Rush suspects President Obama will classify Christians as mentally ill, and ship them off to asylums.

– Rush hints that President Obama is a sign of the coming  Apocalypse.

– Rush wrote an 2012 article titled “Yes, Islam is the enemy.”

Mr. Rush doesn’t shy away from radical invective, including a serious distrust of Muslims.  It is no wonder that his ‘sarcasm’ was missed. But, Rush’s invective, and excuse of sarcasm is a microcosm of a much larger issue facing today’s 17lede_greece-blog480culture. Though offensive, disturbing, or violent language is thoroughly frowned upon, it is increasingly justified or rationalized by what I am terming the ‘ISI’ stance: Ignorance, Sarcasm, Irony.  Rush’s defense of his statement as sarcasm is by no means the only instance of the ‘ISI’ excuse being used recently, with varying degrees of success.  A month ago, Geogios Katidos, a 20 year old Greek soccer player, celebrated a goal by giving the ‘Hitler Salute’ to the crowd.  In a sport where racism and fascism are often simmering under the surface, Katidos was banned for life from playing for his national team.  Katidos’ explanation for why he gave this horrendous sign?  He was ignorant.  He supposedly had no idea what the salute meant (which raises the question of why he was doing it in the first place).  In America, Katidos’ story was overshadowed by a different controversy, but one also intertwined to the ISI method. Country singing star Brad Paisley’s song  ‘Accidental Racist’ made ripples in the blogosphere a couple weeks ago for its depiction of race relations, and Southern American history.  In the first lines of the song, Paisley informs his listeners that his Confederate flag t-shirt does not mean he is a racist; only a Lynyrd Skynyrd fan.  Paisley’s song is about irony; the irony that others see the flag on his shirt as a sign of hatred, when he intends for it only as symbol of his bad music taste. He is innocent.

Brad Paisley

Brad Paisley

Paisley, Rush and Katidos share the same important benefit from the ISI defense that makes it so useful for public figures: It converts them into innocent victims. In the case of Mr. Rush, this is wonderfully ironic, since he hates our culture’s “Cult of Victimization.” Oh sure, he made a malicious and violent statement filled with hate, but he is not to blame; those who misunderstood him are to blame. Rush has been misconstrued by a mean, bad world of those who hope to destroy him. Thus, Mr. Rush’s sad excuse for an apology deflected any personal blame onto the ‘idiots’ who did not recognize his rhetorical gifts. It is our fault we took him serious about murder, not his for saying it.

Hopefully, Mr. Rush will disappear from the public scene after this media din. But unfortunately, I fear his ‘Ignorance, Sarcasm, Irony’ has no bounds.