It seems there are few insults that wound better than being called ignorant. It brings about all kinds of connotations of being lower class, stupid, foolish and the like. Someone can shout profanities at you but that is more about volume than effect. To be called ignorant is to be challenged on all manner of personal characteristics. This is unfortunate because my preferred definition of ignorance is: not knowing. Not only is it harmless in that context, it seems like the base state in which we will all live our lives. There is apparently something wired in to us (or learned) that to not know is inferior. On many levels we will go to almost any extent to fill the hole of not knowing concocting whole narratives to pretend at knowing. This permeates our lives. Every day there is a narrative about why the stock market is up or down. ‘Today the Fed Chairman passed wind during the meeting and that was viewed as a sign of his/her comfort about current conditions, markets were up on the news.’ This is treated as news and taken more or less seriously but we don’t know that is why markets did one thing or another. On an individual level it is hard to avoid hearing or reading someone holding forth on some area where we strongly suspect little knowledge.
The other side of the coin is how transient knowledge can be said to be. Much of what we think we know is something of an illusion. In some cases what we know is just the best version of something at the moment. We don’t even know how far along the line we are in what there will be to know about the item or whether new work will completely tear down what it is we think we know. You can feel how perilous our knowledge is when a study or experiment is recreated later and the expected effect isn’t seen. Other bits of knowledge that were developed as offshoots of the original study now come in to question. Is part of this branch of knowledge valid or invalid?
This isn’t to adopt the stance that we can’t know anything but rather to highlight the uncertainty. Ignorance is certain. Knowledge is uncertain. We seem far better served with that as a model than the other way around.
Connecting ignorance with another thread: ignorance, or putting oneself forth as being ignorant(not knowing), strikes me as a vulnerable state. I’ve been reading recently about vulnerability as neither a good or a bad thing but rather just as something that exists within ourselves. How we access vulnerability determining any number of ways that we experience things. If, as posited in the reading it takes courage to be vulnerable and if ignorance is rightly thought of as a form of vulnerability, then it would seem to follow that it takes courage to live in/with ignorance which would in turn open oneself to pursuing knowing.
For this combinatorial I am indebted to:
1) Ignorance: How It Drives Science by Stuart Firestein.
2) Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
3) Brainpickings.org by Maria Popova (for bringing these to my attention)
PS I felt the need to add not knowing in parenthesis after being ignorant in the last paragraph because the word still feels too loaded, even after having defined it a particular way above. I wonder why that is?