Motivated Ignorance: We are not born ignorant, we learn to be ignorant

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Joe Dispenza

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We always thought that ignoring was a passive verb. Whether ignorance is a lack of knowledge, a state of misinformation or a lack of understanding. Therefore, we consider an "ignorant" person when he does not know or understand something.

The passive character of the term implies that, in some way, the person is not responsible for his ignorance, he simply carries with him a "deficiency". It is curious, however, that we do not apply the term ignorant to children, even if they do not usually master the same knowledge as adults.

This means that ignorance starts from a presupposition: something that we should know but don't know, a path that we should have walked but that we have not done. Thus, ignoring loses its passive meaning and acquires an active one, which implies not recognizing something or acting as if one does not know oneself. We fall into what is called "motivated ignorance".

What is motivated ignorance?

Motivated ignorance is when we choose, more or less consciously, not to want to know more, not to deepen, not to want to understand. That ignorance is terribly dangerous because it leads to extreme positions and limits our ability to continue to grow and mature. When we decide to be ignorant, someone else will decide for us. We become easily manipulated people.

Goethe had already said: “there is nothing more terrible than active ignorance”. The philosopher Karl Popper thought the same: “true ignorance is not the absence of knowledge, but the refusal to acquire it”.

Motivated ignorance can present itself in all areas of our life. Some people start to feel sick, but instead of going to the doctor to get a diagnosis, they prefer to take refuge in ignorance assuming that everything is fine. Others suspect that their partner is unfaithful to them but, instead of clearing up their doubts, they choose to ignore the situation. The same happens on a political, social or religious level: when we have already formed an idea, we choose not to listen to or evaluate all contrary arguments.

Why do we choose motivated ignorance?

An experiment conducted by the universities of Winnipeg and Illinois has shown how strong and irrational our tendency to motivated ignorance is. These psychologists recruited 200 people and gave them two options: read and answer questions about one opinion (gay marriage) they agreed with, or read an opposite point of view.

If they had decided to read the opinion they agreed with, they would have made $ 7; if they had chosen the opposite opinion, they would have earned 10. Surprisingly, 63% of people preferred to read the opinion they agreed with, rejecting the possibility of earning more.

In cases like this, we choose to ignore to avoid cognitive dissonance. We have developed our world view by manipulating our ideas and beliefs, and we fear that contrary opinions will bring down that house of cards. This is why we prefer to ignore anything that does not correspond to our view of reality. This means that, at heart, motivated ignorance expresses fear.

How is that fear inculcated in us?

“The fear of our ignorance is a sensation systematically instilled in us during the school period. It's that feeling of not knowing something that many know, so it's better to keep quiet and conform ”, says philologist Igor Sibaldi.

At school, ignorance takes on a negative halo. One points the finger at the ignorant. And this creates a paradox because to overcome ignorance we must first recognize it, but we cannot recognize it for fear of being labeled as ignorant. Writer Baltasar Gracian said that "the first step of ignorance is to presume to know".

Getting rid of ignorance is not very difficult, just get informed, "but this is impossible for the vast majority of people, because the habit of feeling ignorant is stronger than their desire to learn", according to Sibaldi.

Ignorance becomes a comfort zone in which we feel too comfortable to abandon it. Or maybe we don't feel comfortable, but the fear of what's outside, of anything that challenges our beliefs, is so strong that it keeps us paralyzed in that comfort zone. So we choose to ignore.

Choose to know

Ignorant is not the one who does not know, but the one who does not want to know. Therefore, the first step to evicting ignorance is to develop a growth mindset, an open mind that allows us to explore as many possibilities as possible.

We can't get rid of our stereotypes and beliefs overnight, but we can question them and look beyond what we've always taken for granted. We should be more afraid of dying slowly each day in our comfort zone, which shrinks more and more, rather than going out and discovering the world, however different or uncertain it may be.


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