The Internet Says: Ignorance is Bliss

Ignorance is bliss.

Is that true? Well, according to one source, it’s a misquoted line from a Thomas Gary poem. According to the website’s author, the mere idea of ignorance being bliss is absurd. The author suggests  ” Which would you rather be … stupid or smart? What would anyone walking down the street choose? Smart, right? In fact, if someone did choose to be stupid, you would think something was wrong with them … or that they really were stupid.”

Ignorance isn’t always a choice, chief. That’s part of the problem. Although, people do choose ignorance all the time. Every day we see it. People having unprotected sex, people smoking cigarettes, people in abusive relationships, people who believe science is all made up. People are willingly ignorant all the time. People who suspect their spouses of cheating willingly explain away the obvious signs. Why? Because they’re more comfortable telling themselves a lie (i.e. living in ignorance) than knowing the truth (having knowledge).

My point: even though the line is misquoted, it’s still kinda true.

Evidence: People are incredibly willing to pass on information that supports their opinions, even if they don’t know how true it is.

Example: My brother hates me. He’s super conservative. I’m not super conservative, which to him makes me super liberal. It’s all about dichotomies. Since any of my beliefs are automatically wrong because I’m a super liberal, he helps me out by sending “articles” that “prove me wrong.” I need to start sharing these with you, because I truly believe that analyzing rhetorically deceptive “articles” is a valuable learning process.

I digress. So this most recent article claims that democrats are wealthier than republicans, but give significantly less to charity. I don’t care that the article fails to link to the study I assume it used to get its data, because I know (as should everybody) that a) studies only suggest, they never prove, and b) one study isn’t very sufficient evidence for most things. Any time a study makes conclusions based on implications, they are allowing their own personal biases to intervene, thus taking actual facts and making them opinions. Call me nuts, but I don’t trust “scientific studies” enough to make facts based on one. Besides the fact that I don’t know how these data were collected or how they define “charity,” I simply refuse to base any perceptions on one study.

Anyway, it says what it says: Democrats are wealthier, republicans are more charitable. Got it.

Next, I did another quick google search to see who was wealthier, republicans or democrats. Then I found this little gem titled “Why Republicans are Happier, Smarter, Better-looking, wealthier…” As you can tell by the title, the blog is completely academic and neutral. The author himself clearly states (as if he needed to) that he has NO political affiliation at all. One interesting note: the more I read (i.e. the more I learned,) the more annoyed I became. That is to say, if I hadn’t read this or learned this, I would have been happier. Ignorance is bliss: it’s coming full circle.

Here are some very assertive quotes from the blog:

“Why is the average Republican wealthier than his Democratic counterpart? I set out to investigate this idea. What I discovered not only confirmed some well-known stereotypes… but revealed a host of other differences too…”

“Most people I talk to believe Republicans are richer than Democrats. That’s not simply a belief. It’s a fact.”

“As I’ve discovered, there may be some serious genetic, neurological, and psychological factors at play It explains why liberals have a tougher time “rationalizing social and economic inequality,” according to New York University psychologists Jaime Napier and John Tost.”

Whoa there, buddy. Let’s talk about this for a minute. For starters, you can’t “confirm” stereotypes, Dr. White Guy, M.D. Stereotypes are over-generalized conceptions applied to people based on one of their many attributes. A stereotype isn’t something that can be confirmed; “that stereotype is true” does not make sense in any way at all. Besides, a lot of us poor, angry liberals believe that stereotyping is childish and ignorant. We believe that, rather than judging a person on his or her gender, political affiliation, or income, one should judge a person on his or her individual character. No wonder we’re so unhappy and ugly.

Secondly, “…Republicans are richer than Democrats. That’s not simply a belief. It’s a fact.”

Okay…well I’m sure that some republicans are richer than democrats, and I’m sure that some democrats are richer than some republicans. Those are facts.

If you mean that the average income of all republicans is larger than the average income of all Democrats, then it’s awfully vague and general to sum that up with “republicans are richer than democrats.” Again, he’s taking a fact, putting it into his own words i.e. adding his own biases, and claiming it as a fact. Not cool, bro.

But wait a second…another blog told me that science shows democrats as being wealthier than republicans. Now republicans are wealthier? Not to mention the stats I found regarding which party is more likely to use welfare. Now science is telling me very contradictory things…but I’m supposed to believe it all. It’s all science, right?

Oh, speaking of science.  I searched those two psychologists that stated for sure that liberals have a harder time “rationalizing social and economic inequality.” Turns out I couldn’t find any indication of that original report, or of any popular publications by the team. I did, however, find two pages worth of other blogs that quoted that claim from this original blog that fails to cite the survey or the book or anything. That is, people read this blog I’ve been quoting, have accepted it as fact, and have quoted it as a means to support their beliefs that liberals are genetically inferior. Awesome. At this point in time, I’d like to remind you of yesterday’s post that discussed the dangers of people ignorantly passing on maybe-true information without seriously evaluating it.

I couldn’t stop. I found another blog that quoted this finding from this website, and good Lord did I regret it. The stereotypes were bursting from the seems in this one. It’s claims included:

“The recent surge in home foreclosures, for instance, is due to poor economic choices on the part of borrowers, a conservative might think. Liberals, on the other hand, seethe at predatory lenders and lax government regulation of the mortgage industry.

The result: conservatives mix a martini and hit the country club, while liberals write angry letters and stage protests.”

Now I don’t know which one of these claims is my favorite– the assertion that either individuals or predatory lenders are at fault for home foreclosures (again, what would politics be without dichotomies?); that democrats typically don’t hold individuals accountable for their poor financial decisions; or the assertion that getting drunk and playing golf is the right thing to do and political activism is the wrong thing to do.

Above all, this article optimizes the dangers of stereotypes, generalizations, and dichotomies. It’s a great example of how generalizations are used rhetorically. It exemplifies the ways in which surveys are blindly trusted and quoted. It exemplifies the ways in which people’s’ presumptions simplify their lives, creating right/wrong, yes/no solutions to incredibly complex situations.

Most importantly, both of these authors exemplify just how blissful ignorance can be. It’s so much easier to make your point when you don’t take all information into account. It’s so much easier to support claims with facts when you don’t actually know where the facts came from or how they were formed. It’s so much easier to stroke your own ego when you don’t acknowledge all the potential shortcomings of the studies you use to prove your point.  It’s so much easier to believe things when you don’t think critically about them.

The less you know about an individual, the easier it is to stereotype him. The less you know about the other, the easier it is to claim they’re dumber, uglier, and more likely to be on welfare. The more ignorant you are, the easier it is to think you’re right. Ask Socrates. The less you know, the more you think you know.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Rusty Southwick
    Jul 05, 2012 @ 02:46:13

    Nice thoughts behind your thoughts there, Andrea. The generalizations you speak of are indeed rampant. One could also add that a plethora of them are hasty. In the information age and now thanks to social media and ironically blogging, there’s increased opportunity for propaganda to proliferate with little effort. We’re practically swimming in it. I would even go so far to say that we are now entering the Disinformation Age.

    There are so many pseudo-journalists out there who think a Facebook account is all they need to be an expert on something, and you’re right that they don’t even see their biases. A careful study would reveal to them that biases are a prevalent part of life, and a better approach would be for people to account for them and not try to be authoritative in an attempt to be impressive to people. What’s more impressive is acknowledging what isn’t known and what things don’t prove, or even give strong evidence of.

    There’s no crime in having an opinion, for sure, yet that opinion should be tempered with a dose of recognition that one perspective is just that. Likewise, one shouldn’t feel threatened by others’ ideas, but welcome them as a complement to their own. And where there are conflicts in interpretation, there’s no real deadline to get them all neatly ironed out and suitable for framing. Life should be a little messy.

    I do have core beliefs and moral positions, although I try to be flexible in how I approach most things and not look at contrast as my foe but rather as my yardstick. As much as people hate to admit it, we can learn a lot from others we think we disagree with.

    Thank you for being a non-ignorant voice out there. More of these are the only hope against the morass of generalized thinking. Kudos…


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