Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Invincible Ignorance

with 7 comments

That’s actually a term in Roman Catholic theology.  It refers to the state of someone who, no matter how determined to know Christ, cannot do so–originally, because he was living in a place the Gospel had not been brought to and so had never heard of it, but later also applied to people who have had experiences of the church so horrendous that they can’t get past them (like, I presume, the victims of priest pedophilia).

But it’s a good term for this discussion, for a number of reasons.

Let me start by pointing out that I would have fel the same way about Sarah  Palin–as she presented herself during the campaign–if she hadn’t been running for anything at all.

It has nothing to do with what schools she went to, or whether she’s for or against abortion, or has a large family. 

It certainly has nothing to do with whether she hunts.  Practically everybody I know up here hunts.  For some families in the far northwest corner, it’s the only way they get meat in the winter.

In fact, what bothered me about Palin wasn’t even her ignorance.   Ignorance is a disability, but it’s curable if you want to cure it.

What bothered me about Palin was that she didn’t want to cure it. 

In fact, she made it perfectly plain that she had no intention of doing anything to cure it, that she was just peased as punch to be bone ignorance, because that made her a “regular person,” and that anybody who pointed out what she didn’t know was just practicing “gotcha journalism.”

Sorry, but there’s no place for me in a party that is willing to take somebody with that atitude and present it to the country as something to emulate. 

I also think that most of what you think were complaints about her “lifestyle” were in fact just code discussions for this attitude. 

If the Republicans had nominated a garage mechanic from Duluth who’d responded to his lack of knowledge on the necessary subjects by going, “gee, okay, let me WORK on that,” and then gone ahead and worked on it, I’d have thought the experiement was admirable.

But it looked to me as if the Republicans didn’t want that garage mechanic.  What they wanted was somebody who would do just what Palin did–parade her ignorance as a badge of honor and declare the superiority of stupid over intelligent, ignorant over educated. 

For what it’s worth,  I don’t think Palin got slammed any worse than Clinton did during the run-up to the impeachment.  At least, I’m sure that there were no U.S. Congressmen giving backyard firearms demonstrations meant to “prove” that she’d killed someone.

And I don’t think that this is peculiarly the function of American politics.  Nothing Palin was slammed with looked worse than what I used to read in the British tabloids about  British politicians on a regular basis–or what you could read about President  Bush in supposed respectable German newspapers right through the end of the administration.

And the country vindicated my faith in it, so I’m not going to have a complete meltdown here.

But this started as a discussion about ignorance, and it’s ignorance–and not politics–I wanted to talk about.

I don’t have a “damn the audience” attitude.  I’m simply not willing to cater to people who think the standard of value should be whatever they’ve managed to pick u with the least amount of effort.  

That attitude–and the attitude that everything should be brought down to that level ifit is to be valid as art–is more dangerous than Sarah Palin’s lack of knowledge about Russia could ever have been.

In the meantime, I’m reading Terry Pratchett’s Witches Abroad, which was a huge best seller, is funny as hell–and would require an education much better than mine to catch all the references he uses.

You don’t have to cater to stupid to write a successful novel, even for the popular market.

You do have to accept the fact that there are some audiences not worth having.

Written by janeh

August 1st, 2009 at 8:59 am

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Responses to 'Invincible Ignorance'

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  1. I have met some of the invincibly ignorant, and they’re as frightening as hell in person. The bone-deep knowledge (it’s more than certainty, it’s as obvious to them as gravity) not only that they already know everything worth knowing, but that the rest of the world–the part which thinks education is good–is Wasting Valuable Resources that they themselves would put to much better use…They know that we’re wasting our time with all our fancy education, but they wouldn’t care if they didn’t think it made *us* think that we’re better than them (which may or may not be projection.) And we’re also wasting tax dollars with things like libraries, & advanced classes in schools, and state supported universities, and all this other nonsense.

    From my experience, most people with poor educations are not like this. Most either had no chance for a good education to begin with, or didn’t have the mental capacity to make good use of it, and accept that some people do. But the people who *do* think this way tend to be loud, and often nasty and resentful.

    If you want a good fictional take on this kind of person, read Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! paying special attention to the Elucidated Brethren. Hilarious, and frighteningly accurate.

    Lee B

    1 Aug 09 at 12:29 pm

  2. I also don’t think that the coverage about Palin made fun of her working class roots, hunting and large family. But to really analyze that, we’d need more than our impressions. I can only say for myself that those aspects of Palin didn’t bother me at all. In fact, I always am impressed with people from working class backgrounds who make good, and I’m even more impressed with women who have tons of kids and somehow still have a career. I take my hat off to people like that. I couldn’t hunt and dislike trophy hunters, but in upstate NY people also hunt to fill up their freezers, so that didn’t bother me either.

    I agree with JH that it was her insistence that you didn’t need to know anything — or didn’t need to follow laws and rules — or didn’t need to study really hard — that scared the heck out of me. And also, because I live abroad, I was very conscious of how she looked to the rest of the world. The rest of the world largely thought she was drop dead gorgeous (which she is), but were shocked by her ignorance. It was like Dumb and Dumber come to life.


    1 Aug 09 at 1:45 pm

  3. “I also think that most of what you think were complaints about her “lifestyle” were in fact just code discussions for this attitude.”

    If that’s so, they were coded beyond my ability to interpret. Which isn’nt impossible, I suppose, but this is the first time I ever got any inkling of this possibility.

    And most politicians have to spend some time on the national stage before they’re screwed up badly enough or made enough enemies to be viciously attacked in the national press. It doesn’t happen as soon as they arrive – even as the initial rumours and then information was coming in about her record as governor.

    I’m an enormous Pratchett fan, but I would never have connected the Elucidated Brethren with this discussion. They’re partly based on those social clubs and secret societies which were so popular in the fairly recent past – and still exist. But mainly the members were devoured by envy when they went on about getting worse fruit from the greengrocers than anyone else and having fewer or inferior goods than their brothers-in-law. Envy often also includes the conviction that if the envious person can’t have something, no one else should either – as in the lightening strikes, IIRC, destroying the other person’s property. And envy isn’t linked to intelligence, or lack of it. It’s a different category of thing entirely than what we’re discussing here because the envious person values what he does not have and can’t figure out how to get.

    The kind of ignorance I think Jane is referring to would be the kind I knew of in a man who announced that he could and would (although in fact no one took him up on the offer) teach any grade and any subject in the local school, K-12. He may or may not have envied the teacher’s salaries, but his ignorance was shown in the contempt he had for the work they did – he considered it so trivial that he could do it himself, even though he knew nothing about any school since he had left his.


    1 Aug 09 at 5:44 pm

  4. “I also think that most of what you think were complaints about her “lifestyle” were in fact just code discussions for this attitude. ”

    If it was code, then I failed to decode it. The whole episode left a nasty taste is my mouth. It seemed like a self appointed elect saying “She’s not one of us!”

    But other than glance at the headlines, I didn’t bother to follow the election.


    1 Aug 09 at 8:04 pm

  5. The three non-American posters seem to agree that their perceptions of the attacks on Palin are entirely different from the perceptions of the American posters.

    We talking past each other, it seems.


    1 Aug 09 at 10:09 pm

  6. mique, I admit that I didn’t follow the election closely. Which means I didn’t read “Palin gave a speach in which she said …”

    What I did read was comments by RAM posters and various columists in the NY Times. And they tended to be “Palin has a bigger than average family and her teenage daughter is pregnant. Therefore Palin must be an arch conservative opposed to birth control.” That sort of “argument” simply infuriated me.


    2 Aug 09 at 2:18 am

  7. You’re not going to let this one go, are you? Well, I refuse to get into an argument about what someone was trying to look like when she appeared on TV. Besides being pretty subjective, I’d have to watch TV “news” and I’m not going to. But let’s talk about ignorance.

    Vincible ignorance. Yes, I looked it up. That’s the term when someone can know and chooses not to. It comes in two forms. What Jane’s complaining about is supine ignorance–just not doing your homework because it’s work. It’s the sort of pig-ignorance exhibited by, say, a Vice President of the United States who thinks FDR was President in 1929–and appearing on TV to enlighten the American people. Or by a President of the United States who thinks Hirohito came out to the USS MISSOURI to sign the surrender documents. Deciding that history is “boooring” and therefore should be skipped is not generally regarded as a great move for people who want to run countries, but morally, it’s only supine ignorance.

    The worse state, in canon law, is affective ignorance. This isn’t laziness: it’s not wanting to know. You put your hands over your ears and sing loudly rather than be told something which might require you to behave differently.

    During the last Presidential campaign, many people made a big thing of John McCain rarely sending e-mails. It was fairly easy to find out that sending e-mail HURTS if someone beat on your hands and arms for eight years to ensure you’d never fly a plane again–but the people complaining about him not sending e-mails didn’t want to know that.

    It’s affective ignorance if you know that women make 65% of male pay, and blacks 83% of white pay but don’t know that pay is the same regardless of race or sex for those with the same education training and work experience.

    It’s affective ignorance when someone knows out to decimal points how badly young black men are over-represented in prison–but doesn’t know that they’re under-arrested compared with crime victim reports.

    Ignorance. There’s a lot of it going around.


    2 Aug 09 at 9:44 am

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