The Tyranny of the Ignorant: Another lesson learned in my youth…

      In high school I had three BFF’s (Best Friends Forever!) all of them had higher grades than I did and being somewhat insecure about that I thought that meant they actually knew more than I did. I am still friends with one of them but this tale involves the other two, I’ll call them Jen and Jane. During a conversation I only vaguely remember I used the word “cobbler” as in “He lives across the street from a cobbler.” Be aware that I grew up in Calgary, AB Canada, but my parents immigrated from Britain years before I came along, so I knew a number of ‘funny’ words. So I use this word “cobbler” and Jen and Jane both look at me like I am insane and proceed to laugh and instruct me on the *fact* that “cobbler” is not a real word because neither of them had ever heard of it. I told them the definition as I understood it – someone who makes shoes or repairs them – Nope, the correct name for that person was a “Shoe-maker” they said, laughing some more.

       Try as I might I could not convince them through argument alone; and they were quite smug in their surety and after all it was two against one so clearly I was wrong. In other words their own ignorance of the word meant that its very existence was impossible and in thinking that it was possible I was insane or at the very least deluded. They KNEW there was no such word with no such definition. They KNEW – they didn’t need proof. Proof was irrelevant. In fact a few days later when I pointed out this non-existent word in a dictionary, Jen’s response (in a withering superior tone) was, “whatever it’s not like it’s important!” Just because you’ve never heard of something does not mean it is impossible, was my response, or something similar. Yes, this was high school, yes teenagers are tyrants, but to me this exposed my two friends as being more concerned with being “right” than being “factual.” I started to see that academic success did not equate critical thinking skills or save a mind from the herd mentality.
       Basically they did not want to admit that I knew something they didn’t, so to salvage their ego’s or their belief in their own superiority they completely dismissed the possibility that they could be wrong, and once faced with the facts dismissed them as unimportant. This is precisely the same problem I have with religion and “spirituality.”
       Just because you want the fairy tale to be true doesn’t mean that it is, just because generations of people have been brainwashed by rich and powerful peddlers of fairy tales doesn’t make it good, true or useful! Just because you think you are right and everyone you know agrees with you doesn’t mean that you are actually, factually, correct. Opinion is not fact. Belief is not evidence.

        The most trying part of this experience was being made to feel stupid, irrational and deluded because I disagreed with, what was for them, an *Obvious truth* I was quite stupified by how arrogant they were in their ignorance and I have never quite figured out how to deal with people who are so willfully blind.
Thanks for reading.

cob•bler 1
1. One who mends or makes boots and shoes.
2. Archaic One who is clumsy at work; a bungler.
[Middle English cobeler.]

P.S.… any advice on how to deal with my “spiritual” sibling would be much appreciated – particularly how to respond to “I know you’re an Atheist, but I KNOW this really happened to me”  - followed by some story of a ghost or evil presence in the room etc ...UGH!

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Comment by Nils R. Bull Young on March 20, 2011 at 6:55pm
Once again you're at the same point: internalized reality versus external factuality. No amount of explanation of the background radiation of the subconscious mind (that 90% of your brain that keeps the other supposedly active 10% you "only" use out of trouble) or how much of what we "feel" as "true" is just chemistry between neurons is going to change folks unable to even consider for one moment the possibility of doubt. Lucky I am that such folks run screaming from the room when I come in. (I don't think they're aware of how much info the brain picks up subconsciously. If they were, they might stay and talk. And that might get painful.)
Comment by Jedi Wanderer on March 19, 2011 at 1:57pm

This reminds me of what happened to me at camp one summer. I had been reading about bats and learned that alot of them actually have pretty good eyesight, and that none or nearly none of them were actually blind. Upon hearing someone use the phrase "blind as a bat", I took the opportunity to correct them. "Of course bats are blind!" they responded. "Where else does the saying come from?" And then the laughter and the sinking feeling that being right didn't make a difference, people just believe what they want to believe. I totally empathize with you.


As for your sister, imho you are totally screwed. My suggestion is to make her feel inferior about her beliefs. I know it sounds a little off, but a little peer pressure might be just the thing to make her reconsider her beliefs. Or even better, try using this to your advantage by screwing with her at every possible chance. Plant things in her room, then make her think only a ghost could have done it. Only when she is at her wits end would I shout at her, "you dumb cobbler! Its been me this whole time! THERE'S NO SUCH FUCKING THING AS GHOSTS!

Comment by Richard Healy on March 19, 2011 at 4:41am
At a guess they are probably getting their cultural reference from The Grimm Fairty Tales.  Makes you wonder if they believed in Elves to?
Comment by Cameron Brown on March 18, 2011 at 10:33pm
Strange but true unfortunately. There is a mindset in academics, especially at the public level, that there is one answer, and that's it. No discussion needed, required, or allowed. i also had a similar problem with the word maddening. I had some people tell me that wasn't a word, and I later on I showed them a dictionary. Problem solved.



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