Ignorant versus Stupid

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Ignorant versus Stupid

What’s the difference?

More than a decade ago, John Scalzi had a couple of observations that I found incredibly interesting:

1. People who don’t know what they’re talking about don’t like to have that fact pointed about, especially if you use the word “ignorant” in context to the fact.

2. People like to confuse “pointing out the fact you don’t know what you’re talking about” with “being hostile,” because it makes them feel better about themselves. It’s generally not worth arguing to them that it’s not necessarily hostile to point out when someone doesn’t know what they’re talking about, but inasmuch as many people who don’t know what they’re talking about are invested in appearing like they do know what they’re talking about, and in the process of trying to make it seem like they do know what they’re talking about will make more statements that show their lack of knowledge, thus necessitating further pointing out that they don’t know what they’re talking about, it’s certainly understandable that they would regard it as hostile. And of course, eventually one may indeed become hostile toward people determined to continue to not know what they are talking about.

Besides the fact that point number two has an unwieldy sentence, Scalzi says people don’t know the difference between ignorant and stupid. I wholeheartedly agree. Nearly everyone I know uses the terms interchangeably when, in fact, they do not mean the same thing.

Opinion is another aspect that one cannot overlook. For years I would argue with my father that not everyone was entitled to their opinion; they were entitled to their informed opinion. Another way of looking at it is everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not everyone is entitled to their own facts. I didn’t use that argument with my father, but I think he would agree facts are facts and cannot be changed.

What changes are the interpretations of the facts.

For example, I believe there’s a force called gravity that keeps me firmly on the planet. I don’t think the hand of God keeps me clinging to the planet. I don’t believe the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s noodly appendage keeps me grounded. It’s gravity. It’s gravity because science has explained gravity to me. It is observed, described, and understood. Gravity is a scientific fact.

How I deal with stupid people is to ignore or avoid them. I do the same with willfully ignorant people as well. These are people who choose to be misinformed about a subject because that’s the way they “want it to be” and will present their incorrect “knowledge” to the masses. They have some sort of “reality distortion field” surrounding them. People who are offended by my wearing a mask inside a restaurant or a grocery store are stupid. People who think evolution or a global pandemic doesn’t exist are willfully ignorant. Both of these groups deserve to be shunned.

Ignorant people don’t understand everything about a subject. Ignorance, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. Many people are ignorant about a great many things. It’s what school and teachers and books are for — to change ignorance into knowledge.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

What I know about NASCAR could fill an ice cream sample cup. I am ignorant about a great many things regarding this sport. However, I don’t care to fill my mind up with facts and figures about NASCAR. I acknowledge I am ignorant and would never walk into a room of devoted NASCAR fans and presume to know what I’m talking about or even to pass judgment on their choice of entertainment. It has never appealed to me, but that’s not to say I don’t understand the appeal.

My problem with ignorance and stupidity is when they push an agenda of ignorance and stupidity in places they don’t belong.

For example, the very concept, presumption, and promotion of Intelligent Design is like me walking into a NASCAR executive boardroom and telling everyone, “I know better how this here race car sport should be run.” I may even have a tiny bit of knowledge about racing or running a massive national sports organization, but for the most part, I’d be making it all up as I go. How do you think this would make NASCAR fans feel? How about the drivers and sponsors?

I would imagine the NASCAR fans would punch this person in the face and escort them out of the building, probably by the seat of their pants interacting with a boot. They might try and be nice first. They might try and ignore or maybe even teach them the errors of their thinking, but ultimately, they’d get fed up and kick their ass.

That’s how I feel about proponents of Intelligent Design or anti-vaxxers or any number of conspiracy theory nuts. They need their asses kicked out of schools and school boards, out of science classrooms and teacher’s institutes. They need to be removed from public office. They need to be removed from positions of power and responsibility. I’m tired of being nice to the willfully ignorant.

Religion belongs in our science rooms about as much as me in my suit and tie belongs in a crowd of NASCAR fans watching the Daytona 500. That is to say, not at all.

The problem is when science ignorant people (willfully or not) have a religious agenda and they are trying to sell it as a viable alternative to science. Spiritual teachings are acceptable in the context of a Sunday school or church. You can certainly study the Bible or the religions of the world in a classroom setting. My problem is when you start trying to shoehorn religious beliefs and ideas in a science classroom.

Intelligent Design or, more accurately, creationism is the antithesis of science. Scientists theorize and experiment to learn about the world and the universe around them. A scientist can’t simply say, “I can no longer comprehend this concept. A miracle must have occurred.” With creationism, any questioning about the belief system is categorized as sinful. In science, exploration, testing, and peer review is what you are supposed to do.

Science is how we get vaccines to stop worldwide pandemics.

Science doesn’t care one iota about religious, philosophical thought, or personal choices. All three subscribe to the idea of truth. Still, only one uses empirical evidence and peer-reviewed testing and experimentation to discover the nature of the universe. Others use an ancient book of dubious origin by unknown authors and Facebook memes.

When I go to a medical doctor, I want someone who has studied medical science, not someone who has studied philosophy or the nature of faith. Sure, knowing philosophy is great when faced with moral choices, but it won’t help me get a heart transplant or survive a deadly disease.

When someone needs help, the first thing you do isn’t to get down on your knees and pray but call 9-1-1. You, dear reader, are much more practical than you give yourself credit for, and the world is much better off because of it. Science is practical and real. That iPhone you are using to call 9-1-1 was also created by science.

America is lagging in science education because religious fundamentalists, anti-science morons, and the willfully ignorant push through their agenda of fear to tired and scared school boards and principals, to social media users unaccustomed to doing even a thimble’s worth of research, and to people who need someone or something to blame for their lot in life.

In April of 2021, my family is safe from COVID-19. My immediate family is vaccinated or about to be. My brother’s family has been vaccinated. Most of my wife’s family have also been vaccinated with only a few who have not quite yet scheduled a time or are in-between shots.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

My parents took COVID seriously. They understood the danger of the virus and stayed in extreme quarantine not letting anyone into their house, barely seeing anyone in their family and even then it was masked and in the garage. They were cautious and avoided any situation where they might be in danger of contracting the virus.

Throughout most of 2020 and some of 2021, COVID-19 was at the forefront of everything. My parents avoided seeing friends and family. They did not travel as usual and consequently did not get to watch their grandchildren play sports or dance in recitals. They did not leave their house.

Finally, last month they were able to be vaccinated and I was able to visit them inside the house. It was glorious. I hugged my Mom.

2020 was a horrible year for so many people. I was lucky that I got through it mostly unscathed. The vaccines are a miracle of science. I was able to hug my mother and I had no idea how important that was to me until it was taken away from me for over a year. My parents can travel to their beloved Door County, Wisconsin. They can visit their kids and grandkids. They understood the science and stayed safe. They understood the science and received their vaccinations. They made it through.

I want to get back to watching sporting events in person and complaining about the St. Louis Cardinals rotation. I’d like to go to the movies or a concert this summer. I have tentative vacation plans with my family. If everyone would get the vaccine — it doesn’t even matter which one — we could all be enjoying our lives closer to what we were doing during pre-pandemic times.

Ignorance can be fixed by the desire to learn. Change ignorance to knowledge, don’t be stupid, and recognize willful ignorance when confronted. Or, you know, the Flying Spaghetti Monster will touch you with his noodly appendage.

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