Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ignorance and lies

I’m going to propose a hypothetical situation to you. You’re in a burning building. You need to get out. You make it to the ground floor and end up in a room with two unmarked exits. One of them leads outside to safety. The other leads straight into a worse fire and you’ll be killed instantly if you open it. It fact in that room is worse than a fire. There are also lions in there. Hungry, fire-proof lions. And they have machine guns. Plus there are flying sharks with lasers on their heads. That room is bad news.

The trouble is, you don’t know which door leads to safety and which leads to certain death. Fortunately, there is someone in the room who does.

In one scenario, this person really doesn’t like you. In fact they’re a bit of a prick to people generally. They think it’s funny to send people to their death. So when you ask which door leads to safety he points you to the heavily armed lion and laser shark room. Because he’s an arsehole and he wants you to die.

In another scenario, the person is simply ignorant of how dangerous it is to go into a burning room full of machine gun wielding lions and sharks with lasers on their heads. He doesn’t really know much about wildlife but he does remember seeing a show on TV where someone petted a lion and swam with sharks. That person lived so he figures you’ll also live despite how different the situation is.

You approach the deadly door and ask is it safe to go through? He says yes so you open the door whereupon you are promptly chomped, shot, lasered and burnt to death.

Here’s an important question: in which scenario are you less dead?

That’s a trick question – you’re dead either way. Both the malicious person and the ignorant person kill you. This is why it shits me when people use ignorance as a justification for really negative and destructive behaviour. There are people who’ll make excuses for even truly evil behaviour but it’s far more common for people to want to let people off the hook because of ignorance.

“Oh, when they dressed up in blackface they had no idea it would be considered racist by some people so that means the act itself wasn’t racist.” Ignorance is no excuse. If you’re too fucking stupid to know that an act with a long history of racism is not acceptable then maybe you should just shut the fuck up when you’re being told rather than wearing your ignorance as a badge of honour!

“Why not let those people teach their religious beliefs in a science class?” Because it isn’t fucking science! The fact that someone is too stupid to know their beliefs are completely ridiculous in a scientific context doesn’t mean they should be humoured and given equal time – they should shut the fuck up!

“Don’t be so harsh on those global warming deniers, they genuinely believe that the science doesn’t support the idea that human activity is causing global warming.” FUCK THEM! Opinion is not the same thing as evidence. The fact that their ignorance has let them be led by ideology rather than evidence means they are fucking dangerous. The fact that they are really, really loud doesn’t make them less wrong! Their ignorance risks economic, ecological and human disaster on a global scale. Granting the braying ignorant masses an “equal voice” with established scientific evidence because of the weight of their opinion is not only illogical, it runs the risk of being suicidal.

So the next time someone wants me to indulge the ignorance of idiots I’m going to throw them into a burning room full of implausibly dangerous animals and see how they like it.

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