What You Don’t Know


It is a commonplace expression that what you don’t know can’t hurt you. This is patently false and a little bit foolish. If you don’t know that Lyme disease is spread by the bite of ticks, you can easily turn a walk in the woods into a very long and painful illness. If you don’t know that malaria and dengue fever are spread by mosquitoes, you risk death when all you wanted to do is photograph lions.

Ignorance is often fatal yet many embrace it like their long-lost brother. People take comfort in not knowing things. There are those who publicly take pride in being ignorant of the facts, in not being experts in anything, in not being scientifically literate. Sadly many of these people are political candidates.

Things get worse. There are those who are happy to tell big lies in service of what they see as a bigger truth. Someone might think that a certain behavior is evil and offensive or just too damn titillating (so many of the liars get caught on film in tawdry bathrooms), so they make up things to make it look even worse. They make up lies to make innocent people look like villains and evil people look like heroes.

No one can stop people from lying. As soon as we learn language we learn how to use it to get what we want. Everybody does it a little. Makes things up to make themselves look better. Sometimes the only way they have to make themselves look better is to make others look worse. So maybe it is in our natures to lie.

But why are so many people willing to believe those lies? Usually it is because it is too hard not to believe them. If we don’t believe that climate change is a conspiracy of scientists to pry money out of the taxpayer, then we have to believe that maybe it is a real thing. A real thing we are contributing to.

And that, one presumes, would mean that we would have to change. And most people are averse to change. The joke on them is that by refusing to change a little today, they will have massive change forced on them later on. Ha, ha, very funny.

When that happens – and you can pick your own set of lies to believe or truths to be ignorant, about race, or economic inequality, or women or refugees or vaccines – they will be angry. And they will do everything they can to cling to the lies that political or religious or corporate leaders blithely tell for their own self-interested purposes. Like shoot people at women’s health clinics. Or beat up protesters at political rallies. Or set off bombs at mosques. Or any number of evil acts.

Of course they didn’t do it because of the lies they were told or because they were ignorant. They will have done it because they were deluded. But who fed their delusions?

Don’t ask me. I prefer not to know.

But that’s ten minutes.


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