Log in

No account? Create an account
entries friends calendar profile Previous Previous Next Next
Fool if you think it over - shadows of echoes of memories of songs
Fool if you think it over
Why do people display apparent pleasure -- and even pride -- in their ignorance?

(Like so many of my posts, this one's powered by irritation; and like many irritations, they were all on Radio 2.)

The first of these was perpetrated by Sarah 'TBW' Kennedy. Following a news item which mentioned the Taliban, she moaned, in her (thankfully) inimitable gin-sodden gurgle, "Why won't somebody tell me what the Taliban really want?" ... Well, let's see. Could it be because you work for the UK's flagship news and media organisation, and thus have access to current affairs reference resources that most people can only dream of? Could it be because they think that, even without all the BBC's resources at your fingertips, you could probably manage to type 'taleban' (spell it how you like, Google will figure it out) into the idiotbox and read (maybe even comprehend) some of the results? Could it be because, in short, you're an adult living in an age of unprecedented access to information, and "nobody told me" is absolutely no excuse for your continued ignorance on issues which involve actual factual content and where you have a desire for more knowledge? (This is, of course, begging the question. We'll come back to that.)

The second incident was perpetrated by Terry Wogan (yes, I suppose I do bring this irritation upon myself). Following a news article about a predicted increase in flooding in Wales brought about by climate change, Wogan cheerily chuntered "Why would it flood in Wales? Is there a scientific reason for it?" Well, I suspect that even the most green-crayon-fingered of climate change deniers would probably agree that there's a "scientific reason" for flooding: lots of water comes out of the sky, and doesn't drain away fast enough. Oh, you want to know why that happens? Well, my extremely dim memory of GCSE Science (I'm doing this without research, you know) is that the sun heats the ground, which heats the gases in the air, and then at higher altitudes they cool down, turn back into water, and fall to the ground. Or something. ... Oh, you want to know why that happens? Er, dunno. Physics. Most things are Physics, when you come down to it. Go and look it up. Eventually I guess you get back to the primum movens, and (I'm really handwaving now) you either say "God done it" or you say that it's Physics all the way down. Now, I suppose it's possible that Wogan a) is such a fundamentalist Christian that he believes that the only relevant cause for any occurrence is God -- that not a single sparrow (or raindrop in Wales) falls but that God wills it to be so, and/or b) is a less fundamentalist Christian who believes in chemical/physical cause and effect but believes that it is set in motion by God, and that by calling the 'scientific reasons' into question he's subtly challenging the atheistic orthodoxy of the age. (We'll come back to that, too.) Frankly, I just don't think he's that clever. (Maybe part of the problem here is that I'd rather believe that stupid people don't believe in climate change than that clever people are using their cleverness -- not to mention their mass-media platform -- to undermine the general public's understanding of climate change. But that's a digression, and not one that I want to follow up in a comments flamewar, thanks.)

The third incident was, surprise surprise, Wogan again (the reader's sympathy with my irritation will by now have long since expired!). Following a news item (do you see a pattern here?) about the Lisbon Treaty, he burbled (and I paraphrase because I can't remember the exact wording) "Everybody is getting in a state about the Lisbon Treaty but nobody knows what it is -- you don't know, I don't know, the people who are talking about it don't know." Well, sorry, Terry, but you're wrong: lots of people know. Some of them are paid to know a great deal about the Lisbon Treaty. Others know because they're interested: in politics, in law, in current affairs, in things which affect the world and society in which they live. Even I, with my relative ignorance about (and lack of interest in) European politics, know that it's something to do with reforms to European politics... a bit like the Maastricht Treaty? ... and is a Good Thing for human rights. Bleh, I'm embarrassed at how little I can articulate about it. But, like I said, I'm doing this without research, and I don't work for the BBC; I'm not surrounded by newsmakers and broadcasters, political knowledge resources, expertise. (Okay, I'm surrounded by expertise; but I still don't work for the BBC, and I'm neither asked nor expected to comment on the news.) I don't think I've even read any news articles on the Lisbon Treaty. I fail at current affairs. But if I wanted to know (and we'll come back to that, too) I could look it up. I could read the Wikipedia article to get a kind of overview; I could read (or at least skim) a couple of news articles and figure out the basic outline of what had just happened; I could read a couple of more in-depth news articles (preferably from different viewpoints -- the Economist and the Guardian would do here, no need to check out whether the Daily Mail thinks Lisbon causes cancer) and learn a lot more. But either way, I wouldn't cheerily proclaim my ignorance to my colleagues, and certainly not on national radio. I would admit that I find it hard to feel really engaged with politics at any level other than the local (which is not to say I have no interest in national and international politics, just that I find it big and confusing and everything you read about it is either very dry and academic or very partisan in ways which are not always obvious). I would also sheepishly admit that, for an educated person with access to all the information in the world (or at least the world wide web) I know embarrassingly little about Lisbon, Maastricht, the EU... oh wait, I did admit all that, back there. The embarrassment doesn't make the ignorance any 'better'; I feel (though would struggle to defend it) that the pride makes the ignorance worse; but rather than exercising moral judgements, I want to look at why people wear their ignorance so proudly and shout about it so loudly...

... but I don't have time to do that tonight. (To be continued in a few days' time, probably, as I may not have time to finish writing/keying the rest tomorrow or Saturday.)

Tags: ,

Read 38 | Write
(Deleted comment)
j4 From: j4 Date: November 13th, 2009 02:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Sure, don't see why not, if we're around at the times when you're wanting to crash (let us know when you have actual dates!).
(Deleted comment)
tigerfort From: tigerfort Date: November 13th, 2009 12:09 am (UTC) (Link)
I would say that the pride makes the ignorance worse because it shows (ultimately) a determination and desire to remain ignorant, and to encourage others to do the same. Lacking knowledge on a subject is not, in itself, wrong (as you say) - I know very little about the chemistry of Osmium, for example, because it's never been important enough to me personally for me to go and look it up. But lacking knowledge of a subject suggests that you don't think it's important, and boastful/prideful ignorance suggests, to me at least, that not only do you think the subject is unimportant, but that anyone who does think it important is inferior to you as a result.

Ignorance, in and of itself, is fine. But pushing ignorance as the best way for everyone to be strikes me as very much not fine.

(That came out a bit longer and rantier than I'd intended. Sorry, for ranting on your LJ and also because you probably already knew all of that:)
keirf From: keirf Date: November 13th, 2009 07:53 am (UTC) (Link)
Osmium tetroxide is interesting - a yellow-brown crystalline solid that sublimes at room temperature, smells acrid like ozone, is toxic even at small levels of inhalation causing pulmonary edema and staining the cornea causing blindness.
olithered From: olithered Date: November 13th, 2009 09:03 am (UTC) (Link)
Osmium is the densest element.
j4 From: j4 Date: November 13th, 2009 03:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
But lacking knowledge of a subject suggests that you don't think it's important, and boastful/prideful ignorance suggests, to me at least, that not only do you think the subject is unimportant, but that anyone who does think it important is inferior to you as a result.

I agree.

I think this is one of the things I'll come back to in the sequel, if I can manage to do it without degenerating into a LONG AND ANGRY RANT about things that were said on usenet 10 years ago which still irritate me even now. :-}
j4 From: j4 Date: November 13th, 2009 03:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
Osmium is the densest element, smelling
Bitter-edged like ozone, subliming
From yellow-brown crystals, staining
The cornea, causing blindness:

My eyes failed, I was neither
Arts nor Sciences, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of the argument.

(With apologies to Eliot & thanks to keirf & olithered for injecting some facts.)
metame From: metame Date: November 13th, 2009 09:52 am (UTC) (Link)
This always gets my goat too. Though saying "gets my goat" has removed all irritation for now.

I recall a line being quoted to me as an undergrad:

"Arts students don't understand Science, and Science students don't understand Art. The difference is that the Arts students are proud of the

It clearly isn't totally true, it's clearly a broad generalisation, and the whole Arts/Science divide is a lot more like a navigable landscape (I did Maths and Philosophy for a start) but it resonated with me then and still does now.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 13th, 2009 10:32 am (UTC) (Link)
It's not even 'not totally true', it's a terrible generalisation: probably most of the scientists I've interacted with are proud of their philistinism, dismissing all non-representative art, most poetry (some make exceptions for complex poetical forms, as if difficulty in fitting words together like a jigsaw puzzle had some kind of artistic merit) and all fiction apart from sci-fi (you know you're onto a loser when someone makes up a term for 'non-sci-fi books and then proudly declares that they don't read 'mimetic fiction' because it's all boring and pointless).

metame From: metame Date: November 13th, 2009 10:56 am (UTC) (Link)
OK. As the old warning says - our mileages have varied.

"Non-sci-fi" reminds me of the complaint someone made about having to call their subject "non-linear", as though it were in some way the deviant/specific form.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 13th, 2009 10:58 am (UTC) (Link)
I always know to stop listening to someone when they invent a word that means 'normal'.

It's noticeable that the words they come up with usually sound derogatory, too.

From: (Anonymous) Date: November 13th, 2009 10:41 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, and you may have done maths and philosophy, but in my experience Maths is a two-sided subject, to the extent that it can be approached either as an Art or as a Science by different people. If you'd said you'd done Physics and English that would certainly have been straddling the divide, but Maths and Philosophy are -- provided you approach the Maths form the right side -- actually very close.

From: (Anonymous) Date: November 13th, 2009 10:51 am (UTC) (Link)
Ah, I've got it:

Arts students don't understand Science, and Science students don't understand Art. The difference is that the Arts students are proud of what they don't know, while Science students insist that anything they don't understand, can't exist.

metame From: metame Date: November 13th, 2009 11:00 am (UTC) (Link)
That's not how I heard it, but could be the original source.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 13th, 2009 11:01 am (UTC) (Link)
No, that's me rewriting it to be more accurate.

j4 From: j4 Date: November 13th, 2009 03:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
I object to every single aspect of that generalisation. I'm not going to descend to making retaliatory observations[1] about my extensive experience of Science students' philistinism and narrow-mindedness (for one thing, S. has done it for me), but if bumper-sticker quotations count as data then so do anecdotes, and I really can't think of any Arts/Humanities graduates I know who are proud of their ignorance. I admit that there's a selection bias[2] here: I don't want to associate with people who think ignorance is something to aspire to.

What do you think it means to "understand Science" or "understand Art"?

[1] I am hoping the scientists don't understand praeteritio.
[2] Of course, as an arts student, I actually have no idea what that means. Is it something to do with sewing? Or Quality Street?
j4 From: j4 Date: November 13th, 2009 03:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
When I described myself as an "arts student" in that footnote I meant "Arts/Humanities graduate", of course -- I think the general atmosphere of JCR debate caused me to regress momentarily to undergraduacy. :-}
metame From: metame Date: November 14th, 2009 11:38 am (UTC) (Link)
Sorry that I've raised some hackles here. This wasn't supposed to be data, it was anecdote pure and simple. As I said - "it resonated", and it still does sometimes. That doesn't say more about the world than me as a viewer of it, and I don't think it should.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 13th, 2009 10:22 am (UTC) (Link)
'The treaty comprises 270 pages of complex legal language - it’s not light reading even for those of us paid to study it. [...] Confusing. Unintelligible. Impenetrable. This is the general reaction of anyone who has read or attempted to read the Lisbon Treaty, from politicians to pundits to ordinary people trying to find the facts.'


So I dispute that 'lots of people' know about it. I dispute even that it's possible to know about it: it (from the perspective of someone else who's not read it) give every impression of being a deliberately vague fudge written in order that anything and everything can later be argued to come under its scope.

You think it is 'a Good Thing for human rights' -- why? Just because that's what its supporters have been telling you?

And finally, most importantly, you're not seriously thinking that Wikipedia is any kind of source of information?

addedentry From: addedentry Date: November 13th, 2009 11:57 am (UTC) (Link)
I dispute even that it's possible to know about it

"Whereof we cannot speak, we must remain silent" would be a somewhat nihilistic position for broadcast news.
htfb From: htfb Date: November 13th, 2009 12:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's more suited to a magazine programme.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 13th, 2009 12:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Fortunately logical positivism was eventually revealed to be a load of bollocks, so that isn't an issue.

j4 From: j4 Date: November 13th, 2009 03:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
You think it is 'a Good Thing for human rights' -- why?

I think you misunderstood me (probably because I was unclear -- I am focusing on Getting Posts Posted at the moment, I'm afraid that means they sometimes come out a bit flaily). I was trying to give an outline of "What I [think I] know about the Lisbon Treaty despite having made no effort to find anything out about it". Nobody has "been telling me" anything about it; what I "know" is what I've absorbed through the general cloud of media in which I live. The point I was trying to make is that if I've absorbed anything about it without even trying, it seems quite unlikely that the people whose entire lives revolve around it don't know anything about it. But I honestly don't think I know enough about it to have anything resembling a meaningful opinion on its efficacy!

However, I think I would dispute that it's impossible to know about it (I think at least one of us is going to have to define what we mean by "know about" here... but, ploughing on regardless:) claiming that it's impossible to "know about" something because it's vague is a bit like your scientists up there saying that anything they don't understand doesn't exist, ne?
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 13th, 2009 03:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well of course, you might say that knowing that it's too vague to know anything about is itself a thing to know. You might also say that the fact that it exists is a thing you can know about it, and that it's named after the capital of Portugal. So the Great Man of Eurovision clearly does know some things about it.

We could solve epistemology, right here, right now, but I say let's not and see if anybody can tell whether we did.

vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: November 13th, 2009 10:56 am (UTC) (Link)
I share your rage at broadcasting one's ignorance. However, having tried to work directly within EU guidelines, reporting in Eurospeak, on EU-funded research, and later having had to apply entry-level EU law to understanding its effect on UK case law, I share everyone's frustration with the Lisbon Treaty. The differences in nuance and in legal meaning of terms varies from language to language and translation to translation and legal system to legal system. It is less than straightforward, and as it comes from an organisation whose auditors have refused to sign off on the books for over 12 years, it's arguable as to its appropriateness at this point in time.

That doesn't mean Sir Terence is right to attribute his own ignorance to others.

Sarah Kennedy is, however, the quintessential Pushy Middlebrow Gran and a shame to her sex. You are 100% right about her stultifying ignorance and cheap-shot commentary in every way and I wish you'd cut-and-paste that paragraph and send it to the DG, with his 800K salary. (And his music, it's just noise.)
j4 From: j4 Date: November 13th, 2009 03:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
Okay, maybe the Lisbon Treaty was a bad example to pick. Though (trying to tie this in to S.'s assertion above that it's fundamentally unknowable) the fact that it isn't straightforward or clear doesn't mean that nobody knows anything about it, much less that nothing can be known about it, surely? The people who are aware of the legal fudges and linguistic nuances clearly know a lot more about it than "nothing".
vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: November 13th, 2009 03:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
I suspect that it's like all things messy: many people think they know at least something about it and even think that what they know is the most relevant bit. It's unknowable insofar as it is not-completely-knowable. Much of it has to be understood as a concatenation of likelihoods and aspirations fudged up with some legally enforceable terms.

But Sir Terry is just slanging something off out of sheer laziness and because it sells, regardless of the merits or otherwise of his case, and it isn't remotely impressive.

I switch off the Toady Prog after TFTD if I last that long (I'm v fond of Rabbi Blue since my Jewish grandparents died, but of course he's on less and less as his cancer kills him more and more) and nip over to the World Service, myself. Or over to R3.
celestialweasel From: celestialweasel Date: November 13th, 2009 11:45 am (UTC) (Link)
This may be a stupid / rude question, but what terrible circumstance forces you to listen to Radio 2? I have suffered both Wogan and Kennedy by dint of the dentist having Radio 2 on whilst working on my teeth - the radio was considerably more unpleasant than the dental work it has to be said.
j4 From: j4 Date: November 13th, 2009 03:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, I did admit several times that "I bring it on myself". I have Radio 2 on as a radio alarm in the morning because I like the music. I like Wogan a lot when he's doing the sort of gently cynical banter and silliness that he's good at. But he has been getting worse and worse over the last year and his "gentle humour" has got more and more racist, sexist, pro-ignorance and anti-science. Can't think of any other radio station I'd want in the morning though apart from possibly radio 3. I'm about 15 years too old for Radio 1; and as for Radio 4, the Toady programme generally makes me want to chew my own arm off in frustration at its pig-headed middlebrow stupidity. I hate talk radio anyway, I want to wake up to music. (I think Radio 5 is something to do with sport?)

I'd love to wake up to 6 Music but our DAB radio is extremely unreliable in terms of tuning (and when it fails it just makes a noise like an angry badger down a drain) and doesn't have a timer so I'd have to rig something with a timer-plug and ..... so, yes. Witness the amazing power of frog-boiling inertia.
celestialweasel From: celestialweasel Date: November 13th, 2009 04:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
Are you sure that isn't an angry badger down a drain you're listening to? Perhaps they could put that on the spare Digital 1 channel instead of bird song.
1. Birdsong
2. Angry Badger
3. Mumbling drunk tramps
4. Mildly racist bus passengers having conversations behind you

Oh, don't start me on 6 'was a good idea but never quite worked partly admittedly because of the state of British music at the time as well as usual BBC fuckwittery and has gone utterly down the tubes' Music.
Phill Jupitus and Gideon Coe were fine as the 2 morning DJs but it has become unacceptably blokey. What is the point of Shawn Keveney (probably misspelt but can't be bothered to look it up)?

Instead of a dodgy DAB radio we have a dodgy internet radio which is suffering from (a) our dodgy Internet connection at the moment (see rant I can't bring myself to post, suffice it to say that it has got bad enough for me to spend 45 minutes on the phone this morning) and (b) it gets upset if there are any 11G routers in the area. This is sometimes improved by, and I am not making this up, sticking a saucepan over it at a particular phase of the boot-up process!
k425 From: k425 Date: November 13th, 2009 12:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
The thing is, I reckon Wogan os pretty indicative of a lot of his audience. My parents listen. They are pretty intelligent. They read the paper. They watch the news. They have no idea about the Lisbon treaty. Neither do I, to be honest. Neither do my colleagues. A couple of my academics do. I suspect that if you actually surveyed the country at large, an awful lot of people really would have no idea what it's about.
j4 From: j4 Date: November 13th, 2009 03:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
And that's something to be proud of, is it?
k425 From: k425 Date: November 13th, 2009 04:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, put it this way, I'm not embarrassed about it. I'm neither proud nor embarrassed, actually. I don't see that saying "I don't know anything about X" is being proud of not knowing. There's stuff I know, and there's stuff I don't know. It's just a fact.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 13th, 2009 05:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
But you can't admit that there's something you don't know! If you do that, you lose!

celestialweasel From: celestialweasel Date: November 13th, 2009 02:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
The long reign of terror of Wogan will be over soon. Do we know Chris Evans's views on climate change on the Lisbon Treaty, I wonder?
j4 From: j4 Date: November 13th, 2009 03:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
I would rather spork my eyes out than have Chris Evans or even his voice in the same room as me, so I think that will finally overcome my inertia.

Maybe I should have birdsong or natural light as my alarm in the morning, then maybe I'd be less ANGRY all the time. :-}
celestialweasel From: celestialweasel Date: November 13th, 2009 04:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
There is a lot to be said for the Internet radio set to listen again to something non-noxious. Usually we make Stuart Maconie and Guy Garvey last a week.
Read 38 | Write