Thursday, January the 19th, 2006

This earlier post got me to thinking about being ignorant about other cultures (and just being ignorant in general). I don’t claim not to be part of an educated elite, where I do look down upon anyone who I deem is a “simpleton”. But in contrast to other people, I openly admit it, and consciously work toward not letting this get in my way during important decision making.

During much travel around this country, I couldn’t help but notice just how inward looking and uninformed people generally were. I naïvely assumed this was the cause of my big beef with the “farmlands of heartland America”. But after quite a bit of pondering, it dawned on me that it doesn’t really matter if you’re uninformed; I realised that it is everyone’s natural born right to be ignorant and apathetic (especially about things that don’t immediately concern them).

Earthquake in Kashmir, flooding in New Orleans, tsunami in Indonesia… honestly, I don’t care either. I mean I do… but I don’t, know what I mean? It’s not like I’m not compassionate or that I’m desensitised; it’s just, since none of these incidents affected me personally, I don’t see why they shouldn’t fall out of my mind’s list of things “I ought to care about”. Just like the rest of you, I will send a few relief cheques, feel better about doing my bit, and move along without another thought.

Now, I have a couple of friends who make it a point to inform me (on EVERY SINGLE INSTANCE) that they’re “Persian” and not “Arab”. But you know what? I don’t really care about the specifics. You’re from one of those generally-middle-eastern regions, and I will think of you as “Arab”. I don’t mean anything derogatory by that; I just don’t know any better, and don’t plan to educate myself either. Hell, I put up with such things too—like when people ask me if I speak “Indian”[1]—don’t I? It’s the same thing. If you don’t get to experience, don’t NEED to know, you don’t care. And you won’t know.

Neither do I.

And that’s perfectly OK. It’s OK to be ignorant about the world, and unfazed by all the badness that’s out there. What is NOT OK however is to then proceed to think you have some sort of “moral right” to go and mess around with cultures that you barely understand. Now that, my dearies, is an entirely different ball game; and is the crux of my beef “heartland America”. They know nothing, AND they vote on/in favour of things they have no idea about the implications of.

I, on the other hand, will continue confusing Persians with Arabs; and not feeling guilty in the least.

[1] Or when they ask me, “Do you have tutors flown in from England to teach you English?”

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10 Responses to “Is ignorance in the wrong?”

  1. bhavya says:

    Hehe….I was onced asked if we rode elephants to school in India. I think I’ll stop with that.

  2. J says:

    they ask u if u speak Indian? lol

    And earthquakes in Kashmir, flooding in New Orleans and tsunamis in Indonesia dont bother me either. Something or the other happens in some part of the world every minute… why sit and think about it? As a matter of fact even those losers who yap a lot about all this crap dont care. Hypocrites!

  3. pUl| says:

    I am as much in favor of people who are ignorant as I am to the more-informed elite. Usually, there is nothing seriously wrong about being ignorant of such things. Among several factors (including the time one has in his/her hands), personal interest in knowing what’s happening and the amount of information that is born every minute or second, play a significant role in determining the population of the ignorant in question[1].

    As pointed out by pundit, almost instinctively, to many, the more important question is – How deeply does said information affect your immediate day-to-day life. Because we need the bread (more than the information) to survive the immediate future.

    “…They know nothing, AND they vote on/in favour of things they have no idea about the implications of…”

    This is probably a bigger problem with developed/first-world (or whatever) countries more than developing ones. If whatever happens in some other country due to people governing yours (which ironically happens to be the crew you elected) does not interfere with what you do daily, why care? If they were not on top of the list of developing countries, and if say for argument’s sake, the leader on that list sent their forces in to bring back “order” (on moral grounds?), would that cause your ignorant attitude to change? Hell, yes!

    [1] Put simply, if there was just one earthquake in five years or so, it will attract more attention among the ignorant.

  4. anita says:

    i haven’t been asked if i speak indian, but i have been asked “Are you Hindi?” (by a midwesterner).

    i think, to some extent, people in the “heartland” are more likely to come across as being ignorant of certain cultures because they don’t meet and/or interact with as many people from those cultures. and usually schools in the US don’t spend much time teaching about other cultures unless they happen to have a large percentage of students of one of those cultures.

    anyway, i don’t think it’s so much that they don’t care – i mean, there isn’t much reason for them to seek out information on other cultures in the first place.

  5. pundit says:

    bhavya: That’s insane! Which brilliant soul brought that up? But the sad part is, that’s sort of the norm when it comes to stupid questions. “‘You people’ don’t seem to wear a ring when you get married, does it mean your relationship is open?” is one of my recent favourites. All I can do is try not to burst out laughing and politely slip away.

  6. pundit says:

    J: Yes, whether I speak ‘Indian’. Initially, I would get into the trouble of decribing diversity, and numerous states divided mostly by language and other cultural differences, and 1 billion people => there ought to be differences, …. . These days I just nod, ‘yes’.

    And regarding the badness in the world, that is exactly what I was trying to say. Though I am exceptionally impressed and inspired by the doctors-without-borders kinds (which sort of spawned another post in my head), I have come to the realisation that it is normal to not care too much about situations other than ones in your immediate surroundings.

    People who keep talking about things—like they’re passionate about the issue—but don’t really doing anything about them piss me off.

  7. pundit says:

    pUl|: Apart from disagreeing with the first line[2], I now understand (after much re-reading again; don’t know what my problem is[3]) and agree with what you’ve said. The moment you start seeing the consequences of your decisions, no matter how far away the potential effect seemed when you made the decision, you’ll start to notice. You’ll become more aware, and will do the intelligent thing from that point on.

    All of this, and everything else, keeps bringing us back to our central issue—if things don’t happen near home, they won’t really bother you.

    [2] I’ve made this point clear over the years of my existence[4] and the years this blog has been up as well: “I clearly believe there are some people who know better and need to take decisions for everyone. Dragging the stupid masses—kicking and screaming if need be—toward progress”. I am as much for equality as the next person, but sometimes I do feel very strongly that an uneducated, unaware person shouldn’t have the same level of influence as a scholar who’s studied a region when it comes to determining whether the country plans to wage war with that region.
    [3] But if I had to guess, I would say there were some ambiguously resolvable pronouns which hurt my head.
    [4] Which will be a serious problem should I choose to, say, run for office sometime later in my life.

  8. pundit says:

    anita: That was exactly what I was trying to say. I initially thought my problem with them was that they didn’t know, or they didn’t care. But then I realised, that that’s perfectly normal.

    Everything would be fine and dandy if they weren’t the vast majority voting for a guy—”because he’s a good Christian”—who has proceeded to do what he wanted in a region he obviously knows little about. In effect, they are responsible for what’s going on. Do you still feel “there isn’t much reason for them to seek out information on other cultures in the first place”?

    I feel they sure-as-hell ought to know, especially if they have an inkling that one you’re voting for is going to do something like this. If you feel it’s not warranted, it’s easy enough to vote for someone else. But you could only think along those lines if you were informed and chose to be aware.

  9. anita says:

    i wasn’t referring to the middle east specifically. i was referring to other cultures in general. and the reason they don’t feel the need to learn about them is because they don’t deal with them personally on a regular basis. and they assume that the us government has “experts” doing the necessary research when it comes to attacking foreign countries.

    and besides, people who voted for bush (and even a lot who didn’t) were in favor of the war at the time.

    what it comes down to is who runs a better campaign. people in general (not just in the US) don’t do their homework before deciding who to vote for.

  10. pundit says:

    I wasn’t specifically referring to the middle-east either. And this isn’t only about the war.

    I understand that most people don’t care, and just vote for whoever. All I am saying is that when your country is the “alpha super power”, and tends to police the world, the least you could do is to get to know about parts of the world and the policies of who you’re voting for toward those regions. Because now, suddenly your little piece of paper determines whether a region of the world is going to be wiped off the map, or not.

    In general, when people don’t do their homework and vote for whoever, this is not such a big deal. Because your little village head can, at worst, mess up your village. Still a tragedy, but on a far more tolerable scale.

8,759,223 people conned into wasting their bandwidth.