What is it about our culture that cannot seem to figure out how to handle idiocy?
The fact that claims of ignorance, from tobacco and Enron execs to scandalized officials and partisans, a claim of ignorance is a consistent out. Maybe not perfectly safe ground onto which to retreat, but claims of ignorance seem to be universally useful in a utilitarian way when trying to deflect blame and the brunt of punishment.
Idiocy does not change the events or actions taken, but somehow idiocy changes the nature of culpability and cupidity. I was repeatedly told, as a kid, that ignorance was not excuse under the law. However, it apparently is a great excuse after all. Claiming ignorance turns out to stymie the most dogged attack, as if continuing to attack someone that claims ignorance is wrong and cruel. Ignorance is the new eyeglasses.
It’s as if the little angel on the shoulder is whispering, “You wouldn’t beat up on someone claiming ignorance, would you? It’s just cruel to attack someone that’s ignorant.”
Well, the ignorant should have known, even if they did not. Big tobacco should have known, even if they claim they did not. Enron should have known, even if they claim they did not. Scandalized officials and partisans should have known, even if they claim they did not. They had the responsibility to know. If they claim they did not know they failed twice. First, they failed and, second, they failed to know.
Ignorance is no excuse, not just under the law, but ethically. So, why is it so hard to deal with idiocy?
I like to think I am a kind person. I do not want to hurt people, and so I want to treat people in the way that they deserve to be treated. But, ignorance is a kind of failure of interdependence. If someone was ignorant, then not only did they fail to know but I also failed to inform and teach. Ignorance is a collective failure. So, when someone claims ignorance they are, in effect, accusing everyone of their failure.
It is hard to take responsibility for someone else’s failure. But, we must.
Perhaps it is the devilish voice on the other shoulder that whispers, “I’m sorry I failed you, but that is no excuse for your failure. You claim to not have known. However, you should have known. Perhaps you actually do know and are but feigning ignorance. Either way, you have failed to live up to your responsibility to know. If you claim ignorance, you must be held accountable for both your original failure and your failure of responsibility to know. Therefore, you have now admitted to two failures, not just one, and will be judged on both.”
But, I cannot stop there. I still have to step up and take responsibility for my part, the interdependency between myself and the failure. And, that’s the hard part, I suppose, that makes people not want to peel off the band-aid of ignorance. But, one thing at a time. The way to avoid future pain is not through avoiding interdependent responsibility but rather in learning to avoid ignorance in the first place.
Because, if we keep allowing ignorance to create failure, then we’re just allowing ourselves to be ignorant about idiocy. And, guess what that makes us.