Three stories in the news illustrate its ongoing damage
Willful ignorance: The practice or act of intentional and blatant avoidance, disregard or disagreement with facts, empirical evidence and well-founded arguments because they oppose or contradict your own existing personal beliefs. — The Urban Dictionary
“It's not enough to pay a political price or be shamed into silence. You have to come to believe sincerity is not the same as accuracy.” — Ta-Nehisi Coates,
The Atlantic, June 12, 2013
In considering recent hot-button issues, it’s impossible to avoid dealing with the concept of willful ignorance. As defined above, it means, “I’m going to believe what I want to believe, regardless of the facts.” Of course, “facts” can be slanted as well…selectively chosen to support our case, other “facts” being deliberately ignored. But let’s take three stories that preoccupy the media, two national and one local.
• In the Trayvon Martin case, it’s clear to a rational person that an armed George Zimmerman should not have been profiling and following an unarmed teenager after being told not to do so, provoking a confrontation that ended in death. But the case tried in court was not about Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. It was about whether, beyond a reasonable doubt, George Zimmerman committed second-degree murder or manslaughter. Those who followed the trial likely realize that the prosecution did not prove its case. So outrage over the verdict itself is misplaced. Outrage over laws that enable vigilantism, outrage over the continued racism that pervades our country, outrage that more people are not outraged, and instead practice willful ignorance to claim that we are in a “post-racial” society—this is justified and more. Ask yourself, you who make that claim—what have you heard your friends and family say when they believe they are among like-minded people? Honestly? For one moment, stop being a hypocrite and face up to it.
• Those who immediately began screaming about the “Rolling Stone” cover showing accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev should stop screaming and read the story, which is one of the best, most well-reported stories the magazine has done in years. The reporter exhaustively spoke to everyone she could find to examine why a young man would end up becoming who he was. And the answer, as you will find if you read the story is not, “He was born that way.” Using willful ignorance to claim that “Rolling Stone” is glamorizing a terrorist does not get us any closer to finding out how we can intercept potential Tzarnaev brothers. It makes us little different than the more than 75 percent of Egyptians who believe that there were no Arabs involved in the attacks on 9/11. The problem with willful ignorance is that there are no cracks in its wall, no way to rationally dispute, “Well, I just know what I know.” None of us knows everything, and being unwilling to listen and understand results in no progress—ever.
• Locally, that the Volkswagen plant is considering asking its workers whether they want a labor council, similar to the ones used in its plants elsewhere, has provoked a torrent of anti-union outcry. Let me disclose that I have close ties with one local union, and have personally been pro-union my entire adult life. This story will be covered in detail in an upcoming issue of The Pulse by a journalist with no conflict of interest. But nonetheless, I cannot refrain from noting that the anti-union remarks by Sen. Bob Corker, attempting to link unions to Detroit’s bankruptcy in the face of all evidence to the contrary, are at best disingenuous and at worst, willful ignorance. As a highly successful businessman, Sen. Corker is perfectly well aware that decisions made by the U.S. automotive industry at the corporate and management level, mismanagement that resulted in cars that were poorly designed and which no one wanted, were exponentially more to blame for the automotive industry’s decline. There are many factors in Detroit’s decline. Blaming the workers on the line for all of them is inexcusable.
The tragedy of willful ignorance is that it’s not necessary. All of us—me, the lifelong progressive, someone else, the lifelong dyed-in-the-wool conservative—can learn from each other if we stop flinging stereotypes and, in some cases, outright lies, in each other’s faces. You are not going to “take back our country” from me—I am as American as you. I am not going to persuade you that the ambiguous, fluid world of our future is better than the constrained world of the past. OK. Let’s tear down the walls of willful ignorance and move forward together.