Ignorance is a kind of entropy. It can’t be moraled away.

by CarlD

Tossed this off just now in response to yet another righteous refusal of the Sisyphean work of education, re: racism, sexism, etc. There are lots of things that everyone ‘should’ know. But as long as they don’t, there’s a boulder to push up a hill.


4 Comments to “Ignorance is a kind of entropy. It can’t be moraled away.”

  1. If what you are saying is that ignorance can’t be cured by harping on how ignorance is bad, bad, bad, I’d agree. But, serious question, what is ignorance these days? Given the information explosion, none of us will ever know more than a tiny fraction of what there is to be known, and agreement on what constitutes a body of knowledge that everyone should share now seems a fading dream.

  2. Monkeys! Who doesn’t love monkeys? Happy monkeys, John.

    Also, I agree with your point about the corpus. As a statistical illiterate with no calculus, I understand at least that there are zones of essential competence I’m just going to have to gesture at respectfully. I have some rough heuristics for when folks out of my zone are worth paying attention to, but I have no great confidence in them. There’s a reason Dweck, Dunning and Kruger are making a lot of hay these days.

    My post was specifically prompted by some reactions I was reading to the Tamir Rice finding. Activists of the various social justice movements will sometimes say that they’re tired of explaining racism / sexism / ableism / etc. to other people, especially those who benefit from the privileges of the relevant center. It’s the responsibility of interested oppressors to inform themselves, they say. We can’t constantly be required to repeat ourselves on matters that ‘should’ be self-evident, they say.

    I agree, but it’s a silly, self-indulgent argument nonetheless. My job would be quite different or even unnecessary (and happily so) if people who stood to benefit materially, intellectually, and morally from learning embraced that fact of the matter and eagerly taught themselves. But instead teaching, like politics in Weber’s magnificent image, is the “slow boring of hard boards.” Or as Gramsci said, the beam of enlightenment must pass through many prisms. The idea that you could teach a lesson once and be done with it is helplessly utopian.The idea that there’s only one lesson to teach and one lesson to learn is troubling in many dimensions.

    All of which comes back to your point, because cognitive siloing does happen in these matters too, so reacting to that with indignant, righteous dismissal looks a lot like its own kind of tiresome ignorance to me, from people on my team who ‘should’ know better.


  3. Right you are. I first saw this point made in David Ogilvy’s Ogilvy on Advertising. Ogilvy was reminding advertising creatives, who always want to do something new, that we preach to a moving parade. To which I would add that every attempt to expand the reach of a message requires addressing people for whom it’s a new idea. What’s old to us may still be new to them.

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