Voluntary Ignorance


Americans Choose to Keep Their Heads in the Sand


By Michael Chester


An old cliché states that ignorance is bliss. If this were really true, the US would be a very happy country. There is no shame in being ignorant. We all have things that we are ignorant about. What separates the intelligent from the fool is that the intelligent person can be educated to overcome his ignorance and when presented with overwhelming evidence he is willing to admit that a belief he held was wrong and change it. The fool will blindly continue his erroneous beliefs even after they have been proven false. Unfortunately the US has more fools than intelligent people.

If a politician learns something new and changes a previously held view, he is not lauded for his new found knowledge; he is pilloried as a “flip-flopper.” Apparently the public would rather their politicians be consistently wrong than learn new things.

What I find particularly appalling is when people would rather stay ignorant, even when presented with overwhelming proof that their belief is wrong. I call this “voluntary ignorance.” I hate to keep picking on them (not really) but the people who call themselves the “Tea Party come to mind. Their original ideals were actually very similar to the current “Occupy movement,” that is they felt that government had grown too powerful and they had been forgotten. Unfortunately, their leadership was quickly pushed out and replaced by puppets for the Koch Brothers and other right wingers. They have been convinced to support people and positions that hurt them the most. Why would poor people support paying more in taxes so that the wealthy could pay less? Why would people living on Social Security and with Medicare want to cut or eliminate those programs? Somehow, through the power of propaganda, they have been convinced to believe that way. Maybe they are completely delusional and believe that they will be rich someday. I could cite how voluntary ignorance is very much in play in dealing with the events of 9-11, but I will save that for another day.

There has been a concerted effort made to dumb down our citizenry. True, we still produce some geniuses, particularly in the area of science and technology, but overall, I believe that the average person is much less able to make rational decisions. I don’t want to sound like a grumpy old man here. “In my day…” As far back as Aristotle, and probably even farther, wise men have been saying that the next generation is going to ruin the world. I guess this is just a natural part of aging, but I think more is in play here. People have been taught to increasingly depend on machines to “think” for them. Most cashiers are now incapable of the simple act of making change correctly without their register telling them what to give back. Spelling, once considered a vital skill is now handled by a spell checker in your computer. I am guilty of dependening on my spell checker too much. This sometimes results in a humorous sentence when it autocorrects to a different word than intended.

Part of the way my memory works has changed from knowing something to knowing where to find the information. The Internet has spoiled many of us. Unfortunately it has also become a great source of misinformation. Even sites such as Wikipedia which is often accepted as factual have been used as propaganda outlets for select groups.

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We are now almost entirely dependent on computers to exist. Virtually all of our financial dealings are done via computer. Medical records, legal records, communication and many other daily necessities are run by computers. What would happen if they all suddenly shut down? With virtually all of our computer hardware now being manufactured in China, it would be very easy for them to include “self-destruct” code into all of our computers. It might already be there. If they want to devastate our country, they would simply need to send the activation command over the Internet. Does this sound like wild conspiracy theory? As someone with more than a passing knowledge in technology, I can tell you it is not only possible, but highly likely. VT columnist, Mike Harris, a man with extensive background in this area, recently wrote a column about how this “backdoor technology” may have been used to land our top secret drone in Iran. I don’t have any inside information, but based on my knowledge of these things, I would rate this somewhere between feasible and probable.

What those who want to control the world fear most is an educated populace. The famous WW-II Nazi, Hermann Goering, had this to say about dealing with educated people: “Education is dangerous – Every educated person is a future enemy” and on the cultured: “Whenever I hear the word culture, I reach for my Browning!”

In most of the slave holding states it was illegal to teach slaves to read or write. If a slave were to learn of life beyond the plantation, he would be harder to control and would be more likely to run away. Slaves were given a limited exposure to selected parts of religion and the Bible. They were told that God’s plan included their obedience and their reward would be in heaven. They were certainly not told of the parts about the slave uprising and escape. This use of a supposed divine reward for earthly obedience has been used elsewhere to keep the poor in their place. This behavior is what Marx was referring to when he said that “religion is the opiate of the people.” By this he meant that religion could be used for mind control much like a drug could be. I am certainly not a Marxist, but on that issue he was correct.

People often take an out of context passage from the Bible, Quran, or another religious book, inject their own interpretation and justify attitudes or behaviors that are quite different from what the religion teaches.  How else could people who claim to be devout Christians support such acts as rendition, torture, rape and murder of those whose belief system is different that their own. History, even the watered down, semi true version we are allowed to hear, is full of wars being fought over religious differences. Lately we have been bombarded with negative images of “Muslim terrorists.” These are not just in the news. Very popular entertainment TV shows almost always portray Muslims as terrorists. Almost every week the popular NCIS LA features a Muslim villain. This is a subtle form of mind control. The people who put out these shows want us to associate Islam and terror. The truth is that historically many times more Muslims have been killed by Christians wielding the “wrath of God” than the other way around.

There are three types of information you may be given.

The first is the truth, though even the truth is subject to one’s point of view. This is why the police and prosecutors view eye witness testimony as the least reliable form of evidence. Two totally honest people may witness the same crime and see two completely different events. Both believe what they are saying, but their experiences and points of view are different.

Second is the lie where information is simply made up. Lately we have seen a lot of this.

Third is what has come to be called the weasel where things that are technically true are presented in a way to create a false impression or certain vital facts are left out. Politicians particularly love to use these.

I will give an example of each.

One of the most famous weasels of the first type was the statement made by President Clinton in the Lewinsky case. He said “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” If one accepts the dictionary definition of “sexual relations” to mean intercourse, the statement is technically true. However, what he hoped people would hear is “a sexual relationship” which, he did actually have. He carefully selected the word “relations” to convey a false impression.

An example of the second form of weaseling was when President G. W. Bush gave the State of the Union address to Congress in 2003. He made the statement that British intelligence had reported that Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase “yellow cake uranium” in Niger. This was technically true as there had been a British intelligence report to that effect. What he intentionally left out was that British intelligence quickly sent a subsequent report which said that the previous report was not true. The CIA also confirmed that the report was false. This is the selective use of facts. Now to be fair, this little weasel only resulted in spending over a trillion dollars and the killing of many thousand people in a totally unnecessary war; it’s not like it was about something really important like a blow job.

It is not too late to make substantive changes, but it will be very difficult. Start locally. Most people know more about national politics than what is happening in their own neighborhood. Learn the local issues and candidates. One vote is worth much more in a local election than in a national one.

I am going to end with another quote from Hermann Goering. Does any of this sound familiar?

“Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”



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Michael Chester is retired from his career in industrial technology. After graduating from college, he taught this subject until deciding that he preferred doing the job himself more than teaching it. At various times during his career, he has designed, built, installed, and repaired industrial manufacturing machinery. His specialty was in electrical and electronics controls. After retiring, he concentrated more on his hobby of cooking and attended one of the top culinary schools in the US. Mike competed in bass fishing tournaments for several years, but had to leave the sport due to an injury. As a certified barbecue judge he gets to taste some of the best BBQ in the country and help select the winner. It is a tough job, but someone has to do it. He lives with his wife of over 30 years, has 3 adult children and 2 grandchildren.