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Common: When a lack of information and/or inaccurate information perpetuates fear, doubt, and stupid behavior.

Uncommon: After spending one decade researching the topic of human behavior I’ve noticed some important trends that have led to a surprisingly simple theory of mine:

The sources of our greatest problems are two fold: One, a lack of information and two, perhaps most importantly, a plethora of wrong information.

Accordingly, we can divide the majority of the population into two camps:

  1. The uninformed
  2. The misinformed

Yet, here we are, supposedly the wittiest species on Earth making fundamental erroneous assumptions that undermine our ability to triumph over our more inherent human flaws. But ignorance need not be one of those flaws. Even in our super-connected, fast-paced, informational and technological age, we paradoxically still suffer from many harsh consequences of this needless ignorance.

People in these two groups often fall short of their goals and quickly revert back to their skewed perspectives and beliefs as evidence that they were “right.” A dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy.

Let’s take a closer look at these two groups:

The uninformed:

Put simply, this group doesn’t know what it doesn’t know.  The uninformed merely lack the information necessary to make educated decisions.  The cause is often a lack of access or a lack of interest.  Either way, their level of contribution is stifled as a result. In some cases they cost society time, money, and resources with inane lawsuits, mindless safeguards, and the opportunity cost of pursuing other more industrious activities.  This group is often submissive, easily persuaded, and sometimes even self-destructive, but rarely passionate.

The Misinformed:

This group is the most dangerous of the two.  I say “dangerous” because unlike the uninformed, the misinformed have a tendency to become enamored with their own beliefs and opinions. Sadly, it seems that the uninformed lack conviction while the misinformed are full of passionate intensity – and unfortunately, passionate ignorance breeds contempt.

This group blindly supports the well-known notion that knowledge equals freedom.  Sadly, they are “misinformed” once again. As Einstein said, “Information is not knowledge.”  Only correct and accurate knowledge properly applied leads to freedom. But incorrect knowledge is more dangerous than ignorance because it creates new problems while perpetuating old ones — hence the frightening rate of which we repeat our less than admirable history.

Nature & Nurture:

Regrettably, nature’s only real measure of what constitutes “accurate knowledge” is time — whereby stupidity ultimately disappoints urging us to reexamine our assumptions and information. Unfortunately, this also means that a lot of unnecessary suffering may take place before the truth finally surfaces.  Although accurate, the idea that, “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment,” is also painfully inefficient.

But we can help the truth surface by choosing not to participate in these two groups.  Strictly speaking, don’t suffer fools or you’ll become one.

Fortunately, there is a third smaller, but salient group: The informed. These individuals are not pompous intellectuals, academics, journalists, or scientists you may expect. Instead, a marked distinction of a genuinely informed individual is their depth of perception and humility.

Ironically, the informed are wise enough to realize how little they know – a rather unique concept in the age of self-proclaimed “experts.” As Will Durant said, “Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.” But this awareness is not disheartening to an informed individual. In fact, here again is another distinction.  This awareness of ignorance actually inspires an unquenchable curiosity to learn more with an open mind.

While the informed will kindly offer their perspectives, they refrain from jumping to conclusions; they reexamine their sources; and they consistently challenge their beliefs and assumptions about themselves, others, and the world they live in. These are the people this world longs for.

Now the big question:

What group do you belong to?

Of course, it’s ignorant to think that we won’t temporarily find ourselves entering the uninformed or the misinformed groups, but if you’re reading this, permanent occupancy is a choice.  The sobering reality is that only we can refute our own ignorance. No law, mandate, or educational system can instill the sense of self-perception and humility that is necessary to save us from ourselves (both on a personal level and a global scale).

An educated person is one who has learned that information almost always turns out to be at best incomplete and very often false, misleading, fictitious, mendacious – just dead wrong. – Russell Baker

While impartial information may not exist, we can still choose to seek a balanced education through an inquisitive disposition. In the end, perhaps the brightest sign of hope is our ability to recognize our own ignorance. As they say, “awareness is the first step.”

The second is making amends.

Your thoughts?

I try not to drink my own Kool-Aid or force others to drink it either.  Based on the message of this post, I encourage you to share your thoughts about what you just read.  Please post your ideas and comments below.

Be uncommon,

- Kent

Image: Courtesy of Davidson & Company (1996)