Monday, March 8, 2010

In Praise of Ignorance

"Dear Mr Delibes,

It is always a pleasure to hear from someone who’s read the blog. I don’t think many people do, to be honest, and only about half a dozen have ever written proper emails, rather than quick comments. Not all of them said anything relevant to what I’d written, either, but there you are. It’s nice to know you have some kind of public, so I thank you for being mine.

You may, however, not have quite understood the point of my recent posts, which were, I admit, out of tenor with the stated purpose of the blog, and with most of the usual content. But why not, it’s my blog, and I’ll digress if I want to. (That’s quite snappy in its way.)

I wasn’t suggesting that I aspire to ignorance. I don’t. I’ve been fairly well-educated for far too long to really want to change that much. I like knowing things, and I wish I understood more of them...

Old habits etc. And better the devil you know, you know. We invest much of our security and happiness, and probably our sanity, in our own ideas about what we are, and I can’t imagine not knowing at least what I know, because I would be someone else, or I might just not exist at all. It’s a frightening idea isn’t it, not being who you are? And I’m not trying to force ignorance on anybody else, either. Don’t think I’m being hypocritical. I am not suggesting we should stop trying to educate the young nor that we should expose foetuses to neat alcohol, merely that there may be some advantages to be found in total, or almost total, ignorance.

I suppose it can never be considered a goal in life, partly because no one who is not ignorant would ever wish to be, and those who are are, I should think, incapable of conceiving the difference between themselves and others clearly enough to articulate a meaningful desire to remain as they are. I hope that makes sense. I just mean that I don’t think anyone would consciously wish to be ignorant, and ignorant people probably don’t realize that it’s not all bad- or that it’s not all good, either.


In order to explain why I think there may be benefits in ignorance, we have to look at what it means to have learning, or at least a little knowledge. So let’s consider a few things:

The more you know, the more you realize there is to know. Socrates said it, more or less, and a lot of other people have discovered it to be true. Why is it that the people with the loudest, most unshakeable opinions on any subject are those who know least about it. It’s easy to oppose fanatically a law when you haven’t read it, or condemn a film you haven’t seen, or label a person you don’t know as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or some such thing...

...all we do is confuse ourselves, take away our certainty, and waste a lot of time, all for nothing. It’s much easier not to know, and better psychologically, surely.


So the first obvious reason to remain in ignorance is that it makes for greater intellectual comfort and avoids unnecessary complications. In other words, it makes for a quiet life, which most of us would consider an excellent thing..."

The photo shows our local river, the Guadiana, last Sunday. It is usually no more than a foul-smelling ditch, but this winter it is a genuine swirling torrent. it even smells like a river now.

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