By SooBean Kim, July 2 2020—
At some point in your life I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Ignorance is bliss.”
The 18th century quote by Thomas Gray generally means that what you don’t know can’t hurt you. Today, people use this quote as a hopeful escape to days before the teargas-filled protests and pandemic death tolls filled their timelines. They reminisce about the times they went to the movies and didn’t have to think twice about posting a picture to Instagram. However, what seems to be an innocent notion could be extremely harmful to others. Ignorance is a privilege that not everyone has the luxury to enjoy. By definition, ignorance is the lack of information or knowledge. Your blissful ignorance as a child may have shielded you from the horrible injustices of the world but returning to that now is counterproductive. If you choose to be willfully ignorant, you are part of the problem that halts the world from developing significant change.
A large portion of hate and prejudice are born from willful ignorance. The difference between willful ignorance and ignorance itself is a choice. I would like to argue that ignorance at its root is neither moral nor immoral. Ignorance is not stupidity. No one blames a child for not understanding systemic racism. I believe that the issue stems from when you see the issue and choose to ignore it. Willful ignorance has an extremely negative socio-political impact on our world. For example, someone stating that racism does not exist in Canada is participating in willful ignorance. What they mean is that they have never experienced racism in Canada. Their original statement is harmful because it pushes to invalidate the experiences and traumas of many people who have experienced it. It becomes that much more difficult to fight the issue when there are people claiming that it does not exist.
The nature of ignorance and the happiness it could result in is a deeply complicated philosophical debate and it is not the purpose of this article. This is not a conversation on whether or not ignorance is good or bad. It is an attempt to highlight an excuse that people are currently using to turn their backs on injustices. It’s easy to turn away and sometimes it can even feel needed. I get it. No one wants to stare at a burning house that is filled with victims. However, you are not going to be the only person thinking that this is not your problem. The world is filled with people who do not think it is their problem. As a collective, you are spreading your willful ignorance and normalizing it. I believe that a day will come when something occurs and it will become “your” problem. When it does happen, I hope that the people around you don’t decide to turn away.
When I fight with the people I love it never scares me. As completely different human beings we are bound to have differentiating opinions and bump heads. The raised voices and pointing fingers have never truly fazed me. I begin to truly panic when I feel someone being indifferent. Indifference terrifies me. It scares me because I have never been able to convince someone that they should care. Unlike indifference, willful ignorance is not a point of no return. You should realize that the times you would like to go back to were nowhere near perfect. What year would you like to return to? My classmate told me that she wished she could go back to 2014 because it was more “positive.” There was no shortage of injustices in the world while we were dancing to Taylor Swift and acting carefree. Tanisha Anderson, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Gabriella Nevarez, Akai Gurley and Eric Garner all died in 2014. Let’s not pretend that our willful ignorance is not harmful to the world.
So is ignorance bliss? Maybe, but at what cost?
This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.