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Beyond Ignorance

2018-09-29

Recently, somebody sent me some fake news about how core components of Linux were going to be revoked due to some kind of “Social Justice Warrior” backlash. This was then going to cause society to collapse as servers shut off one by one. I was about to explain why the claims in the article were false, but then it occurred to me: it is literally impossible for me to convey to this person why the article is false.

Fine. I’m being a little melodramatic. But, it would take at least 1-3 years to explain everything necessary to evaluate the claims made in the article. And… they can forward the article to a lot of people during that time, which will result in a lot of needless anxiety!

According to the Merriam-Webster:

ignorance (noun): the state or fact of being ignorant : lack of knowledge, education, or awareness

This definition suggests that ignorance can be remedied by supplying knowledge, education, and awareness. It just might take several years of effort. This raises the question: are there cases where no amount of effort will ever fill the void of ignorance? If so, then is it really fair to label this as “ignorance”?

Consider the following: are dogs ignorant of modern communication? Or, more specifically: can you teach a dog how to use the telephone?

Sure, you can teach some dogs how to dial specific numbers on a phone designed especially for their paws. But, can this knowledge transfer over to a different phone apparatus? Probably not. Do they really understand what a “phone number” is? Probably not. Do they understand that they can call anybody as long as they know that person’s “phone number”? Probably not.

Is it really fair to claim that dogs are “ignorant” of modern communication? Probably not. They are just fundamentally incapable of grasping it. The threshold of understanding is “beyond ignorance”.

Whether we like it or not, the same is true for humans as well. There are concepts that we are fundamentally incapable of grasping. Our minds are simply not wired to cross these gaps.

Furthermore, no two human minds are wired in quite the same way, either. As such, there are concepts that are knowable to one human that are unknowable to another. For instance, I have a form of synesthesia that causes all of my senses to be cross-wired with the sense of sound. Hence, I can “know” what a silent movie sounds like because I am able to “hear” the motions on the screen. Yet, there is no amount of knowledge I can transfer that will allow others to acquire this skill.

In other words: I can tell people what specific motions sound like. But, even if you documented what 1000 different motions sounded like, you would never be any closer to being able to hear these motions yourself. Similarly, teaching a dog how to dial 10 different phone numbers does not bring them any closer to understanding “modern communication”. They are simply repeating a sequence of actions that they had been taught.

I’m concerned that the same can be said about many aspects of modern society. People are simply pressing the buttons that they were taught to press. But, there is no understanding about why they are performing those specific actions.

Likewise, there is no understanding about why those actions suddenly stopped yielding the results they used to yield. Why college educations are no longer guaranteeing good jobs. Why working hard at a job is no longer paying the bills. Why. Why. Why.

We just keep pressing the buttons, taking anxiety medication, hoping that the machine starts working again. But, for many of us, the understanding we are seeking might be beyond the gap of ignorance.