Ignorance is an infectious thing born from our own anxieties and fears. It’s almost a willingness to perpetuate states of harmful unknowing. A lot of the time, not even the conditioning or person can be blamed for their own ignorances as it seems to be a hardwired brain function. It’s our brain’s function to keep us safe from perceived danger based on judgement – remove the judgement remove the harm. Yet it’s not that easy is it? Especially when it comes to ingrained prejudices (applied ignorance), to things such as sexism, racism and so on.
It spreads so far, from one person to the next with one person’s ill-feeling latching on to me about another’s ignorance. It sits in my stomach like a heavy glutenous weight. Of course, it’s not surprising for people to be ignorant or harbour views that are morally denatured, it’s an expectation of life. Yet where there is ignorance there can also be knowledge and we teach or tolerate. Yet in failing teaching there is an expectation to tolerate, where lies the greater challenge when tolerance is a pseudo-passiveness to malicious action. How far does that expectation go before it becomes a matter of integrity and common good to intervene and neither teach nor tolerate but scold. Unless of course, we can argue that scolding the sexist or racist or homophobic is anything other than a poorly done teaching moment.
What do other people’s ignorances teach us about human beings but the frailty of our own images and our own ability to accept things as they are. It’s an egotistical mindset, and a belief that the world must fit into a framework that the ignorant is comfortable with or not exist at all. It’s something that I would critique of my favourite superhero, Batman.
“You sold us out, Clark. You gave them the power that should have been ours. Just like your parents taught you. My parents taught me a different lesson… lying on this street… shaking in deep shock… dying for no reason at all. They showed me that the world only makes sense when you force it to.” – Batman, The Dark Knight Returns
It’s a kind of fascism of the mind that demands an action in the external not just to be satisfied with the misery of the internal. Ironically, for all the destruction it brings, ignorance is a unifying collective trait of human beings despite the disconnectedness it brings. Misery loves company, after all.
So how do we face those ignorances? How do we tell the sexist, the harasser, the homophobe, the cheater, the greedy, and so on, to change. Not just for the selfish sake of the self but for the collective harmony? Well you can’t. Simply put. It can’t be done. Ignorances have the defense mechanism of pride and in men is often much more pervasive, hence the continuation the patriarchy, something no longer fit for purpose – if it ever was. It’s a reckless pride and stubbornness and attempts to correct someone’s path will cause more issues than if you had let them stumble down it. It’s what the amazing phrase ‘own the lib’ comes from, winning minor disputes through loudness of voice alone out of a desire to perpetuate a dream of the right way of doing things (the definition of which differs greatly depending on culture).
The only way I have seen these ignorances be brought to light and wither away under that sun, is to hold up a mirror. As someone, who has had my own fair share of ignorances born of both fear and the adoption of thoughts and values that were not my own, the only way to let go of them is to see them. Because often, the homophobe, the racist or the sexist will defend to the last that they are these things.
“Z, I want to apologise.” – X
“Why?” – Z
“Last year you were saying a lot of things that I said were racist and I argued back and didn’t listen. They were racist.” – X
“Yes, I know. But, how did you come to this conclusion?” – Z
“I watched the news over the summer with BLM. The things they were saying that hurt them and what people said, I said those things and I’m sorry.” – X
The truth is then, in the end, we can act for the sake of the common good and integrity of our own philosophy and morality to curb or redirect the ignorances of another but the only person who can cure themselves of ignorance is the ignorant.
We can spend lifetimes teaching, but the student has to learn themselves.