Thursday, February 10, 2011

Willful Ignorance

A very good friend of mine, James Slater, was de-friended on Facebook today.

In this case, as the story goes, his friend works for some publicly-funded "community organization" - undoubtedly failing to win the "War on Poverty". She's apparently recently heard that Republicans want to cut all of her program's funding, and was expressing that concern. James, in response, noted that we spend $800 Billion a year on social welfare programs, part of which money goes to pay her salary, and with a $14 Trillion national debt she may need to accept some cut backs - like all the private sector workers in the United States.

This caused some form of freak-out, and after the "Broken Window Fallacy" was explained to her, she reportedly replied that she didn't care about "some heavy economic theory" from "some guy from the 18th Century".

Lovely, right? 

I've encountered more people like this than I'd care to count, but it's always incredibly frustrating. She holds an opinion, but can't be bothered to explain why or defend it against anyone who disagrees - and by god, she doesn't care! Murray Rothbard aptly expressed the point:
"It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a 'dismal science.' But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance."
And yet, so many people behave exactly this way... Then when you call them on it, the weakest of the bunch winds up hating you for it.

So next thing you know, my buddy has been "de-friended"... Consequently, he sent the girl this fabulous note, which I think everyone should read:
"Very well. If you can't handle someone refuting or otherwise contradicting your beliefs, you did the right thing. Bear in mind, that makes you no different than any republican, fundamentalist or any other group you oppose. If you can't defend your beliefs through anything but fallacy, as your friend has, then that will be the limit of your intellectual capacity. It's called willful ignorance. Should you choose to continue as such, your understanding of how the world actually works will continue to be as myopic, shallow, stalled and stunted as it is now. Both of you should do yourself a favor - actually educate yourself in economics; that is, if you don't want to be another sophomoric neophyte that relies on little more than bare assertions and fallacious appeals to emotion to get your point across.

Whether you like or dislike this message, nothing in it is untrue, and it's your prerogative to improve yourself or not."
This kind of thing has certainly happened to me before, and I'm betting it's happened to a lot of other people. From time to time, people espouse viewpoints which they simply cannot back up with reason or facts, and they resort to throwing a tantrum and leaving instead.

In one sense, I say... Good riddance.

These are not people who are really worth much emotional or intellectual effort, but it does suck. Friends are lost and ideas are never properly shared, and no one really benefits from these kinds of exchanges. For me, in some cases, jobs are lost too... I once had a discussion with a girl who I'd composed a couple of film scores for in graduate school who will probably never talk to me again, as a result of me arguing against forcing insurers to cover "pre-existing conditions".

What can you do though?

If people are going to be willfully ignorant, myopic, shallow and stunted in their understanding of the world, then unfortunately, that's usually just what they will always be. It's really kinda sad.

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