Face it, folks – ignorance is self-imposed
I was sitting around the other day, basically just trying to break the useless barrier, when I started to have this fantasy. It went something like this.Some guy from the past, someone like Thomas Jefferson, a real genius type, is tele-time transported to the present and lands in my living room. It takes awhile for me to settle him down (face it, even Thomas Jefferson would freak a bit under the circumstances), but eventually he chills, and we pop a couple brewskies.So I’m showing him around the place and he’s appreciating all the marvelous technology that’s commonplace in 21st century life. A couple more pops and we end up slapping in a movie on DVD. A few hours and lots of brewskies later, having screened The Complete Marilyn Chambers Collection, Tom asks me to explain to him how the DVD player works. It occurs to me that Jefferson, being a genius and living in much simpler times, technologically speaking, probably did know how everything worked. It also occurs to me that I don’t have the slightest, tiniest idea of what makes my DVD player work.”Um, ah, laser beams?””What’s a laser beam?”I feel mortified and stupid. At the same time I realize that if push came to shove, I couldn’t actually explain how my toaster works. You plug it into the wall, put a piece of bread in, push the thing down and later on toast pops up.Listen, I plug my radio into the wall, too, but if I jam a piece of bread into it, not only will I not get toast, in all likelihood Rush Limbaugh won’t speak to me through it anymore. This is sad – my ignorance, that is.Then I had an epiphany; a sense of peace and calm came over me. I am completely ignorant in these matters; I simply have to accept it. At the same time I understood that if I really wanted to know how these things worked, all I’d have to do is go down to the library and spend as much time as needed to look it up. Eventually I’d acquire a reasonable, layman’s understanding. What I have to decide is how I want to spend my time.Do I want to be at the library looking stuff up, or would I rather be skiing, flirting with the barmaid, or lying on the couch with my mouth hanging open? Clearly I have always chosen the latter options. I choose to be ignorant, and I’m not the only one. A few months ago I was summoned to my friend’s house to help handle a film crew that was in town to interview him. This sort of thing actually does happen on occasion, although to this day I can’t tell the difference between a handled film crew and an unhandled film crew. I remember once passing out copies of my best-selling 2002 SEX and DEATH calendar as a crew fled from his house in terror, trailing really expensive equipment behind them. I felt it was something of a consolation prize.These particular filmmakers were earnest, professional guys in their 30s, doing a documentary on the word “fuck.” Before they started setting up their equipment they put in a video of some of the interviews they’d done so far. We were impressed; most of the people they’d spoken to could be considered household names. They included Ben Bradlee, legendary editor of the Washington Post, and Pat Boone, semi-legendary clean-cut person. As you might suspect, the two of them were on opposite ends of the opinion scale. It didn’t surprise me at all that Bradlee was intelligent and articulate in his defense of that word and freedom-of-speech issues. It did pleasantly surprise me how reasonable Pat Boone’s argument was disapproving of the word.The filmmakers finished setting up and the video ended. My friend excused himself to spruce up for the camera. The guys and I started discussing the nature of their material. They were taking a particularly academic approach to a particularly visceral subject. I suspect this is the best way to deal with such matters. At one point I speculated that there probably were plenty of folks (particularly in the Deep South) who consider themselves good, upright citizens, who would cheerfully bury their fist in your face for using the f-word in front of their womenfolk, yet who use the word “nigger” in front of the same women with impunity. The boys concurred and admitted that this was really the sort of thing that the film was about.To me this is an example of the sort of person who chooses to be ignorant, who chooses darkness. There are lots more examples. People who condemn books without first having read them, like some members of a local school board in Colorado who banned the book “Bless Me Ultima” because of pressure from parents (some of whom, I suspect, also hadn’t read the book). This book, by the way, is on First Lady Laura Bush’s list of the 12 best books for young adults. People who condemn films they’ve never seen. Military leaders who stand in front of audiences and make speeches that include statements that could have been pulled straight out of “Dr. Strangelove,” or “Catch-22.” Civic leaders who choose ignorance are the most egregious. Those who are outraged by an academic’s statements without reading them in context, while simultaneously turning a blind eye to a football coach’s use of hookers to recruit players.This is choosing ignorance, darkness. Most people don’t have occasion to push the envelope on their constitutional rights and I guess, when it comes to your constitutional rights, they aren’t any more important in one situation than another. But if freedom of speech is lost in academia then it is truly lost. If the people who command our armies actually think like some surreal, fictional character, then they shouldn’t choose to be so ignorant as to blab it in front of large groups of people. I think we’d all better be careful as to what kind of ignorance we choose. By the way, Thomas Jefferson wasn’t impressed with my self-imposed ignorance.
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