Two kinds of stupid

I am ignorant, dumb, and stupid. No, I’m not having a self-esteem
crisis. I’m just being honest. My ignorance is immense and I am sure that some
of my most confident conclusions are dead wrong. Add it all up and it means I’m
a pretty dumb guy. I am not reluctant to admit this. In fact, I think acknowledging
my ignorance and stupidity makes me a better person.

Hopefully we can all agree that everyone is ignorant and stupid to
some degree. Nobody knows everything and no one is always right. But while some
people are eager to learn—and willing to change their minds when faced with contradictory
evidence—many are not. Our world is filled with people, probably in the
majority, who are content if not determined to remain ignorant and wrong. The
stubbornly stupid seem to care little about any learning that may create
conflict with strongly held views. This form of willful ignorance is not only a
tragedy for the individuals, who may live diminished lives as a result, it is also
a problem for everyone else as well. The entire world is crippled by those who
voluntarily cripple their own minds. Where might we be today if freethought,
critical thinking, and the courage to change course when wrong were common
traits?

We humans love to divide ourselves. If it’s not according to
nationality, race, religion, or gender, then it’s economics or politics. But there
is one fundamental divide among humans that we pay little attention to. We
should, however, because this one matters as much or more than any other.
Humankind is split, unevenly, into two kinds of stupid. One side is ignorant,
dumb and stupid, but knows it, admits it, and is trying to do something about
it. The other side is ignorant, dumb, and stupid, but refuses to do anything
about it. This latter group is bad news for everyone. At best, these people are
wasted potential we could use. At worst, they are a destructive drag on
progress.

If only more people would take the first step and acknowledge their
ignorance. Why does ignorance get such a bad rap, anyway? Ignorance can be a
source of great motivation. It certainly is not a weight around my ankles or a
ceiling above my head. Ignorance drives me to learn and grow. It demands that I
keep looking for that next good book or conversation that offers a little more enlightenment.
Ignorance is no curse. It is a blessing because it inspires me to keep asking
questions. The day I cease to feel profoundly ignorant about the universe
around me and inside me is the day I stop learning with great passion. I hope
that day never comes.

Those who realize they don’t have all the answers, and are eager to
embrace new and better information, are good for the world. Regardless of
formal education, these are the people who more often can and do bring about
positive change. Contrast their kind of stupid with the other kind, the sort
that ignores or denies all facts that do not support tightly held positions. People
do themselves and everyone else a disservice when they refuse to learn and
change. By choice, they are imprisoning their minds in a dark cave when they might
have brought more light to the world. Look around, humankind faces very serious
challenges. We need more intelligence, more ideas, and more creativity. We
certainly don’t need a massive portion of the population refusing to think,
denying reality, and forfeiting their intellectual powers in the name of
tradition, comfort, laziness, or fear.

Shouldn’t loyalty to truth and reality trump everything else? Why
would anyone want to believe a lie or defend a mistake? If something you are
sure about turns out to be wrong, then dump it and move on. For example, I do
not believe in Zeus. I concluded long ago that he is almost certainly a fictional
character made up by ancient Greeks, nothing more. However, if tomorrow Zeus
descended upon Seven Mile Beach and began tossing lightning bolts at tourists,
I would change my position. I would not bury my head in the sand and refuse to
believe just because I had once been so certain he was not real. No, I would be
shocked but I would adjust my worldview to include the existence of at least
one Greek god. Whether I would feel Zeus is worthy of worship or not is another
matter.

What would you do if something you had concluded to be true and real
was shown to be almost certainly false? What if new information came to your
attention and demanded that you reevaluate your stance? Would you have the
courage and the honesty to act accordingly? Or would you avert your eyes? Would
you learn? Or would you cling to your error no matter what?

Too many people look away. Too many people deny the obvious in front
of them so that they do not have to admit they were wrong and alter their
worldview accordingly. This mindset is one of the primary reasons we suffer so
much madness throughout the world today. Many millions of people cling to
thoroughly discredited notions and refuse to budge, no matter how negative the
repercussions to themselves and the rest of us may be. Don’t be one of them.
Use your mind and follow where it leads you to. Be bold, be honest, and try to
be smarter tomorrow than you were yesterday. You owe at least this much to that
powerful and magnificent brain resting inside your skull right now. Appreciate
it. Your brain—with its abilities to learn, imagine and create—is the most powerful
thing on Earth. Don’t fence it in or dim its power out of fear that it could
lead you to discoveries that might be uncomfortable. Let it run free. The world
needs you.

Guy P. Harrison’s columns appear twice per
month in the
Observer.
Contact him at [email protected]

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