WillfulWisdom

WillfulIgnorance
Fresco depicting ancient Chinese philosopher and educator Confucius (551 B.C.-479 B.C.), found in a 2,000 year old tomb in an old residential yard in Dongping County, east China's Shandong Province.
" … we generally do not seem to conform to gross generalizations."

I sincerely wish that there were a wise counterpart to the wave of willful ignorance presently washing over us. Willful Ignorance, for the unfamiliar, is a polite way to describe stupid. It's polite because it presumes adequate intelligence, which only seems fair since measuring anyone's intelligence proves inconvenient and often impossible in the course of a casual interaction, so it concludes that in spite of adequate brain power, someone's apparently worked very hard to come to a delusional conclusion. These delusional conclusions are often quite provably fallacious by employing nothing more dangerous than elementary logic and … ahem … facts, but they tend to spark a childish round of 'call and denial', an equivalent to the old I Know You Are But What Am I? game of our youth. There's no talking with anyone entranced within their own twisted justifications. They've invested heavily in a storyline unsupportable by any rational or experiential means, a genuine flight of fantasy, but apparently will not divest, probably because they cannot without forfeiting a long-trusted element of their identity. I think of Willful Ignorance as a particularly virulent form of denial, a bury-the-head-in-the-sand strategy certain to ultimately betray even the truest of true believers. My usual strategy when encountering the apparently willfully ignorant involves sort of just putting them out to pasture. They do not appreciate my questioning and I don't really need their sideways justifications' lead weight in my life. Neither of us will be in the market for evangelical transformation.

What would a wise counterpart to willful ignorance look like?
How would I know if I encountered it? Maybe research scientists could serve as the template example of this WillfulWisdom. Scientists, you see, seek truth and work hard to try to avoid embracing the convenient lie. Their method involves changing their minds a lot, readily admitting error, and therefore seems awfully wishy-washy to the rest of us. One wonders if the scientist firmly believes in anything. He postulates and investigates very carefully. He's trained in the discipline of not simply blurting out some notion, but in crafting well-formed hypotheses then disciplining himself to try to disprove his propositions. Not just any notion will do, and ego involvement, while unavoidably involved, gets acknowledged and managed. A scientist can take a criticism and keep right on ticking. He fosters diligence and patience, for verifying and validating before concluding tends to take excruciating lengths of time. Research scientists tend to be no more natively wise than anyone, but through seeming acts of will, they sometimes manage to stumble into apparent wisdom in a mirror-image way from that the willfully ignorant employ to construct their explanations. Both great wisdom and great stupidity seem to require great diligence and effort.

But the willfully ignorant hold a great advantage, for their process need not acknowledge the presence of reality. They, as the scientist might say, inhabit a greater infinity than any researcher could access, for the researcher remains limited to the observable and measurable, and the willfully ignorant can construct perfectly satisfying castles out of little more than smoke and fun house mirrors. Theirs seems the less exacting effort, though the result seems infinitely more fragile, requiring huge injections of cynicism and firm belief. They know because they know, and damn you for questioning. The willfully wise must engage with more patience, and fewer firmly held convictions. The willfully ignorant speak in inexorable nouns while the willfully wise speak almost exclusively in fluid verbs. The willfully ignorant might go anywhere to "prove" their point. There are some avenues of inquiry no self respecting researcher will ever follow. The willfully ignorant understand that vast conspiracies underlie most effects. The willfully wise can deliberately suspect their own disbelief without getting all pissy about it, and can converse 'as if' without mistaking an allegory for underlying reality. The willfully ignorant construct their own reality then carry a grudge about having to defend it.

I exhibit characteristics of both polarities, which, being polarities, grossly over-simplify real world conditions. I despise learning anything that threatens my world view, and am capable of genuinely irrational justification when defending some foundation of my identity I've somehow imprinted upon. I am also capable of acknowledging my own errors of perception and judgement, … eventually. I do not warmly embrace my own fallibility or irrelevance, and genuinely prefer to be right the first time, though I recognize (usually in retrospect) that I only very rarely have been right the first or even the second time. I am, when exhibiting my very best self, a work in progress, a messy bag of unfinished business, and so I hold my convictions rather lightly. I do not believe that we're teetering on the edge of some great infamy or that only I stand in the way to deflect society's ultimate ignominy. I deeply respect intellectual honesty and revile lazy, vehemently-defended delusions, especially when I'm caught out displaying one. I do not believe that Hillary was ever even a little bit evil, though she is a lawyer, and we all sort of suspect lawyers' underlying honesty. I try to avoid gross generalizations of the form "Liberals think" or "Conservatives believe," for we generally do not seem to conform to gross generalizations.

I might be arguing for a certain mindfulness here, for the willfully ignorant seem to over-mortgage their minds to defend the logically indefensible. We can disagree, but I'd prefer to disagree authentically, and not justify based upon what 'everybody knows' or some supposed dastardly conspiracy. I consider cynicism as evidence of a wounded optimist who probably has fallen into the nasty habit of taking mean advantage of themselves. I believe that WillfulWisdom demands that one know enough to fully justify cynicism then refuse to embrace it. Cynicism seems a willful resignation, perhaps the signature illustration of willful ignorance. WillfulWisdom seems to demand a level of innocent hopefulness, an enlivening 'as if', and not simply heavily-defended 'this is' positions. I might be wrong rather than I'm certain I'm right. You might be right rather than I'm confident you're wrong. But spare me the hackneyed song and dance about how somebody always takes mean advantage of you and that you've concluded that you've just got to get even. There's no even, but there is truth which sometimes demands that even I admit that I'm simply wrong-headed. Feeling smart often accompanies willful ignorance. Allowing myself to feel stupid might provide a gateway to WillfulWisdom.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved








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