Posts Tagged ‘knowledge’

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 Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

***This post is dedicated to my freshman students, and all of the lovely freshman new to our university. And all freshman at all universities. And people who know freshman, or were freshman. And people who just generally like to smell and feel fresh. Is that inclusive enough? Ok, cool. Let’s do this.***

From comedian Demetri Martin's book of drawings called "Point Your Face at This."

From comedian Demetri Martin’s book of drawings called “Point Your Face at This.”


Hi. My name is Paul, and I don’t know much. And by “much” I mean almost nothing. And by “almost nothing” I mean absolutely nothing.

I was an awful high school student. I rarely studied, rarely did my homework, and never lived up to my potential. My GPA was never even as high as Lindsay Lohan’s resting BAC.

When it was time to apply to colleges, my top choice was the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. When my advisor reviewed my transcripts with me to see if I could get in, all she said was, “Oh, honey. That’s not gonna work out.”

She then asked me if I knew how to dig a ditch or work a deep fryer.

My teachers probably didn’t see me as the brightest student. I gave them little reason to. But that didn’t irk me quite as much as being labeled as one of the “dumber” friends in my social group. I knew I was as smart as any of them; I just had no evidence to support that claim.

In college, I got off to a rocky start. I switched colleges and dropped out twice in my first year. When I finally finished a full semester of classes, I managed to make the Dean’s List almost on accident. I hadn’t tried particularly hard, but somehow I earned two A’s and two B’s to just make the cut.

That little victory lit a fire under me and I started to put some effort into school. When I graduated, it was with honors and the distinction of being the co-winner of the “Departmental Award” for the best student in my major.

As I found more academic success, I started to really believe in my own intelligence.

Then I started to believe in it way too much.

By the time I was a junior in college, I was a hubristic little monster. And by the time I graduated, I was even worse. I had no doubt that I was an intellectual giant capable of any mental feat just short of telekinesis.

On second thought, I’m pretty certain I at least tried to move objects with my mind.

I told everyone I would be rich and famous by the age of 25: friends, family, classmates, people in line at Starbucks, the dude on the off ramp squeegeeing windshields with a newspaper. I didn’t have a get-rich-plan; my brain power was simply going to spring forth riches and glory.

Actually, my plan was to be a monstrously successful writer. (I mean, I am NOW with the Turtle….) I thought I was great. I thought I knew EVERYTHING. My success was predestined!

Yeah, not so much.

As it turns out, it’s actually quite hard to be great at something.

And as it turns out, I didn’t actually know everything about the universe by the time I was 22-years-old.

As I went through graduate school and got into teaching, I got the opportunity to meet many extraordinarily talented and brilliant people. I graduated from college thinking I was at the forefront of genius; by my late 20s, I had firmly moved to the back of the genius line.

Now in my department at Robert Morris University, I openly acknowledge that I am the least knowledgeable person on the roster. Even for the subjects I know a lot about – creative writing, movies, music, sports, humor/comedians – I can quickly identify someone else I work with who knows as much or more about those subjects.

I still believe I’m smart. but I eventually learned what most people learn with a little age, that truly intelligent people aren’t the ones who know everything. Truly intelligent people are the ones who are acutely aware of how little they know, and they want to fix that problem by soaking up every learning opportunity.

None of what I’m saying is meant to be discouraging, though it may sound like I’m saying, “Look around and realize how NOT awesome you are!”

Instead I’m encouraging you to recognize how much room for growth you have. Take every learning opportunity you can get so that you can get stronger, smarter, and better. Give yourself the chance to fulfill your full potential. Be confident, but don’t hype yourself to the point that you think you’ve figured the world out already. And don’t discredit any subjects or classes as if you are certain that info won’t come in handy in the future; that’s a terrible decision. Never push away learning opportunities. You’re just holding yourself back and if you do.

But look how preachy I’ve gotten. Ten years from now, I’ll read this post and groan at how obnoxiously sagacious I was trying to be.

And then I’ll groan about using the word “sagacious.”

And if you don’t know what “sagacious” means – take this opportunity to learn by looking it up.