The Guilty Party

Wednesday, July 2, 2008



This morning as I was driving to Trader Joe's to do some grocery shopping, I tuned to Public Radio in order to hear what Diane Rehm was up to. I nearly always find something informative, interesting or inspirational on this most intelligent of radio talk shows (yes, it can be done!) hosted by this most gracious and well informed woman and it irks me that my work schedule doesn't allow me to listen more frequently.

When I tuned in this morning her guest was NYU Professor Emeritus James Carse (that's a link to his Wikipedia page, evidently this learned gentleman has, for some inexplicable reason, chosen not to hawk his wares on his own website. Heck, he doesn't even have a MySpace page, if you can believe it!). Mr. Carse has a new book out called The Religious Case Against Belief. According to the synopsis of the book (nope, I haven't read the book) and the part of the discussion I listened to this morning, the good professor spends a goodly amount of time examining the Three Types of Ignorance. First we have Ordinary Ignorance: stuff a person doesn't know but can find out. Example used on the DR Show, "the weather today in China", although it does seem he could have used a more precise example like "the weather in Beijing", but we'll put that niggle aside.

Then we have Willful Ignorance which means you can get the information but choose not to. An everyday example given by Mr. Carse was "Do you know what is your teenager getting up to when he/she is out with his/her friends this summer? " "No and I'd rather not know." Willful Ignorance, from what I can determine, can run the gamut from the benign and even beneficial "Why waste my time?" (celebrity nonsense), which is just a way of editing and refraining from wasting time and energy, to "I've already got the Big Picture figured out, so I really don't need to hear your take on the subject. I am right, you are wrong, shut the hell up." That is the dangerous one. Willful Ignorance is what people trot out to make mischief on others. It is the attitude that says "I've got the Answer so there is no need for any more discussion. And oh, by the way, I highly recommend you come around to my way of thinking before somebody gets hurt."

Willful Ignorance is a most useful tool for persecuting people, creating unjust laws and starting wars.

So what is the third variety of ignorance? Well, it is called Higher Ignorance and it is actually a good thing, at least in the view of Professor Carse, not to mention Yours Sincerely. Higher Ignorance is what causes us to seek, to question, and most of all, to realize We Just Don't Know, and It's Okay. Higher Ignorance is what the Great Religions actually teach. Not a code of conduct, not an Us against Them, but a celebration of The Mystery and the neverending quest for bits and pieces of the whole that should be Man's real business. It isn't exactly comforting, but then who said we are supposed to be comfortable? When you deny the questions, you deny your own humanity and claim a spot in the universe you don't deserve and aren't prepared for.

If Professor Carse was on MySpace I would send him a nice message telling him how much I enjoyed listening to him. And most especially how nice it was to have a scholar such as himself confirm that what I have thought for so many years about certainty is Absolutely Right!

End of discussion.

Go Ye Forth and See One Thing From Somebody Else's Perspective.


Lexi said...

Illuminating post, as ever, Alan.

If I could think of anything to add, I would.

Timber Beast said...

Well, I'm ignoring the whole thing. ;-]

I was bummed because I wanted Diane Rehm's Friday News Roundup, which is always illuminating.

plumboz said...

And then just yesterday while I was driving to another Saturn dealership to swap one of our cars for one of theirs (that my customer did NOT end up purchasing) I took that opportunity to tune into Ms. Rehm's show again. This time the subject was Eudora Welty. I blush to disclose that I have never read any of Ms. Welty's novels. But after listening to Ms. Rehm and her panel I believe the first book by Eudora Welty I will seek out is the one taken from a series of lectures she gave on her life as a writer. The excerpts I heard were compelling.

So even though from a commercial standpoint the 60 mile roundtrip to fetch a car that ended up unsold was a waste of time, if I hadn't done so I wouldn't have heard the radio program.

"Always look on the bright side of life!"

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I am a writer with a longtime interest in photography. I'm a dad, husband, photographer, and not very good guitarist. My first novel, Boomerang, is available in both paperback and ebook form at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and As a matter of fact, my second novel, The Baer Boys, can be found at exactly the same places.