Stupidity cannot be cured with money, or through education, or by legislation. Stupidity is not a sin; the victim can't help being stupid. But stupidity is the only universal capital crime; the sentence is death, there is no appeal, and execution is carried out automatically and without pity.
― Robert A. Heinlein
When I started thinking about the piece I wanted to write, I noted that there were some marked similarities between stupidity as described by Mr. Heinlein above and ignorance. In the 21st century, ignorance apparently cannot be cured using money, remedial education or political edict, either, but I think for a different reason. In the case of religion, there are multiple cases one may find of what I would call purposeful or intentional ignorance. These are instances where something is known to be wrong, in this case some facet of their belief system, but rather than correct themselves and abandon that facet, those who practice intentional ignorance cling to that facet, insisting that they are right and everyone else is wrong, that somehow their belief system transcends ordinary knowledge and therefore has more value than those answers provided to us by rational means.
As atheists, we have watched such ignorance promulgate freely in society, frequently to our amazement and frustration. Bible thumpers insist that their holy book holds the key to eternal life. Homeopaths hawk their modern-day version of snake oil. Anti-vaccine true believers would accuse Salk and Sabin and those who followed them of promoting poisons for our children and ourselves rather than immunity to disease. As for politicians … perhaps the less said about at least some of them, the better. In each case, someone with a loud voice and a product to sell pushes their pet project on a public who is too often disinterested in critical thinking or examination or verification of said product’s performance, mostly because they don’t want to be bothered, but just want an ANSWER to their problem or relief from their suffering. Worst of all, because at least some of these fields are rendered special status, either de facto or de jure or because they fall outside of the regulatory operations of our government, we allow them to persist.
And therein lies the problem: the permissiveness associated with Purposeful Public Ignorance. Ignorance as it is may be difficult or impossible to extinguish as a general phenomenon, but why should it continue to be tolerated in the public domain, particularly when it is demonstrably HARMFUL? That tolerance takes multiple forms, such as freedom of religion without commensurate accepted responsibility or indiscriminate multiculturalism which fails to acknowledge the corrosive aspects of a culture or caveat emptor in the marketplace. The harm comes in the restriction or reversal of progress, the results of teaching and promoting falsehoods to children and adults alike, the pain and struggle entailed when people recognize the lies told to them and the energy expended in their attempts to undo that brainwashing. Time and effort and energy are lost so that ignorance and its products can have its time in the sun.
I submit that we as a species can no longer afford the luxury of such ignorance or the tolerance of its presence, at least not in public.
There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
― Isaac Asimov