The Price of Ignorance

There was a time in the not too distant past, when one could not be considered civilized if you could not carry on a conversation on topics like literature or scientific topics. When exactly did that stop being the case? When did ignorance become a point of pride? A lot of people like to trace this phenomenon back to the Bush administration. There seemed to arise this attitude that reality was whatever you thought it was and that facts depended on perspective.  We started to see more and more appearances of the thought that *every* fact and scientific opinion had two sides. But as Lawrence Krauss is want to point out, usually one of those sides is just wrong. But when everywhere you turn, there are paid lobbyists and their organizations spending millions of dollars to cast doubt on reality and research – does the average person really have the capacity any more to separate fact from fiction?

An argument could be made for the rise of a video culture over the last few decades that exalts athletics and the superficial over the intellectual.  When you couple that with the increase of highly religious people entering into American politics and helping to shift political discourse further to the right, you could see it as a rising tide that is very difficult to turn back. How do your reverse a culture that puts people like the Kardashians on a pedestal over people like Einstein or Darwin? Science isn’t just the domain of scientists, it should be the domain of everyone. Science affects every single part of our lives, more so now than ever and not only because it has afforded you the ability to read this blog.  🙂

Have you ever gone through your day and actually thought about how everything you touch has been impacted by science? From the engineering of the home that you live in, the science behind your electric lighting, there’s that car that you drive, the chemistry of your morning coffee or the modern medicine that you have access to – there is nothing in your life that modern science has not had a hand in. But if there was a disaster, would you understand any of it enough that you could help to rebuild society? Would you even be able to find food? To build a structure to protect yourself? How would your ignorance of basic science serve you if all of that were taken away? And science does more than that. It helps us to not only understand ourselves better, but to understand the world and universe that we live in.

Religion likes to work from the assumption that all the answers that you need are in whatever holy books is ascribed to that faith. It strives to indoctrinate as many as possible into antiquated belief systems that date back to before we even knew the Earth revolved around the sun.  It takes the end assumption that “God did it” to every question and warps the evidence to fit that conclusion instead of arriving at a conclusion based on the evidence. Despite all advances in our understanding of everything from evolution to astrophysics and cosmology, those who have a faith-based view of the world continue to fight against an evidence-based view of the world. And evangelical politicians continue to help blur the line by weakening education and trying to allow impressionable children to be taught religion as though it was fact. Even allowing things like the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter to function as though they were educational attractions is incredibly detrimental to the intellectual future of upcoming generations.

The price of ignorance is literally, lives. Religious interference in stem cell research costs lives. Such research could extend your own life or the quality of your life as you age. It could cure diseases like Alzheimer’s and alleviate suffering. Those who try to stop it, fail to understand science fully because they operate on a faith-based view of the world. Religious interference in women’s heath choices takes away the rights of women to make educated decisions on their reproductive health. This stance reduces the health and quality of life of both mothers and children under the guise of being ‘pro-life’, but in reality just an excuse to control and subjugate women. The price of ignorance is the cost of lives at the hands of climate change. In addition to the people who will die from rising sea levels, flooding, tsunamis and other extreme weather events, this is also a security issue. You think there’s an immigration issue now? What happens when humans can no longer live in areas like the Middle East?

I recently read an article from President Obama where he talked about the value of books to his terms in office. I will link to the article at the end, but this part struck me as it relates another article I read recently.

“At a time when events move so quickly and so much information is transmitted,” he said, reading gave him the ability to occasionally “slow down and get perspective” and “the ability to get in somebody else’s shoes.”

There was an article that has made the rounds again recently as President-Elect Trump has likely never read a book before. Research shows that those who read literary fiction have greater empathy. Given the disdain that those on the conservative right show for ‘intellectual elites’ and the equal disdain that they have for the poor, the disabled and anyone else that is struggling in today’s society, I don’t find this a stretch. This wave of ignorance that we MUST fight against is causing real harm to real people in the forms of everything from the climate to income inequality. We must ensure that there is an educated electorate that fully understands the consequences of their actions and their votes.

Ignorance is not a virtue, and we must stop treating it like one.


Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy


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