Happy and Ignorant or Miserable and Knowledgeable

In my last post I said I would choose happiness and ignorance over misery and knowledge, if somehow those were my options, almost without hesitation. But it wasn’t without hesitation. I took many years to overcome my sense of pride that I associate with knowledge and to recognise the true bliss of just being happy. I choose, unquestioningly, happiness over sadness. And knowledge can take a back seat on the discussion.

What I realised is I cannot feel ashamed of my ignorance if something is guaranteeing my happiness. None of the negativity I associate with ignorance can register with me, if happiness is the promise that comes in this deal. But it is a hypothetical question, and there is no reason to believe that anything short of magic, genies or facetious gods could actually face us with this decision. Surely knowledge can easily come beside happiness. Surely there is frustration and misery associated with ignorance. Reality will never face us with this choice, will it?

Well, the philosopher and Anglican priest Marilyn McCord Adams think reality may be offering us exactly this. She argues that there are evils in the world so deep that they can nullify the positivity of life, and you’d have to ignorant to think such an evil does not exist. She also argues that these evils are not going to be abated, and if you are knowledgeable about human history you know some of these evils (like torture and war and the death of your children) show no signs of being abated. Therefore, she concludes, the rational state to be in about the state of the world and its betterment is pessimistic. Oh me! Oh my! That’s destroyed my buzz.

If I had no escapes; if something forced me to keep the state of the world at the forefront of my mind; if I had to know every detail; if I could not distract myself from these things, I would be a very miserable person indeed. But I can distract myself from these things; I can focus on a world that is much smaller; I do deal, largely, with me and mine.

I still believe that most individuals are mostly good and will do the right thing, but I do not believe this about people. So it seems that reality is offering us this exact choice. And I deal with it by distraction. Does that makes me a bad person?

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5 thoughts on “Happy and Ignorant or Miserable and Knowledgeable”

  1. It doesn’t make you a bad person, it makes you normal. Literally, our brains do not have enough room individually to hold all that is happening in the world. Now, I think this is the next evolution of humans, but for now we have not the ability to consider so many things all at once. We only have so many ‘give-a-damns’ and they only have a certain reach. There are quite literally millions of things well outside our give-a-damns. We tend to treat our give-a-damns as precious so don’t throw them out there for just any old thing. They are expensive to us in both time and energy. I have a lot more short range give-a-damns than long range. I have an unlimited supply of 2 minute give-a-damns. They are cheap. It’s the give-a-damns that last longer and go further that I ration out.

    1. That’s a very clear way of looking at it: short range give-a-damns are deployed more readily than long range give-a-damns.

      I do wonder if evolution will favour easy deployment of long range give a damns. It’s cost is clear in energy and time and, if it is to make an effect evolution can pick for, resources. But the people who are helped by long-range give-a-damns don’t actually have to have the long-range give-a-damn themselves.
      The selfish acceptors of other people’s give-a-damn inspired efforts will propagate, but I can’t see the advantage to the givers of the damns; it’s not like mutual altruism.
      Or I’m being too constrained in the way I’m looking at it.

      1. Think of the globe as a village. We’re not trying to get any particular tribe to survive, but humanity itself. They say that a rising tide floats all boats. Long range give-a-damns are a rising tide. Equality requires a sacrifice among those that would otherwise be in the ‘have’ category. Like children sharing cookies.

        There are many who would be the next great thinker or engineer or pianist. Mutual altruism can be satisfied if we are able to accept that the cure for our cancer comes from a researcher funded by our long range give-a-damns. If our long range give-a-damns help a group become self sufficient and to actually stockpile resources which they then use to help others in a disaster, we can take solace that it was long range give-a-damns which provided the disaster relief. There are many ways to look at altruism.

        To me, the final scene with Rutger Hauer in ‘Blade Runner’ is a definition of being alive that I agree with.

        1. That is actually a sensibly mechanism: give-a-damns that are translated into aid and relief and disease-combat and health sciences; give-a-damns that dissolve tribalisms and “us and them” mentalities.
          Evolution can actually select for these sorts of things because they directly effect survival.

        2. The only thing between ‘now’ and that time as you have just described is a method to monetize the expenditure of give-a-damns into social currency. That is to say some way to make it socially valuable to give-a-damn.

          I personally believe that if we were able to instill in all of humanity the idea that this planet is a space ship with limited resources and that actual survival is dependent on cooperation at a global scale, not just regional or local level.

          This necessarily means the ‘haves’ understanding how the suffering of ‘have not’s’ is hurting everyone including them is a prerequisite.

          So, how to turn altruism into social currency without causing chaos?

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