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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.)

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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!).
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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.
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).

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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.
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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".
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.
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?
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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. :-}
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