They do not want to understand

201008111456.jpg from Wikipedia

Managed ignorance

[Via Balloon Juice]

Dave Weigel passes on this interesting tidbit from Pew:

Only a third of Americans (34%) correctly say the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was enacted by the Bush administration. Nearly half (47%) incorrectly believe TARP was passed under President Obama. Another 19% admit they do not know which president signed the bank bailout into law. Notably, there is no partisan divide on the question.

Fortunately, according to Pew, most Americans know what Twitter is (85%). (You can take the Pew quiz yourself, here.)

This may be a symptom of what Jason Kuznicki has described as ‘managed ignorance’:

Ignorance has become a feature where it used to be a bug. Formerly it was the job of the media to correct ignorance, insofar as it was possible (and, truthfully, it wasn’t very possible). Now though it’s increasingly the job of the media to manage ignorance. To make a space for the ignorant, and to ensure that those kept in managed ignorance get just enough news, and never more than they need to remain exactly where they are.


There were two questions where fewer people got the right answer than the TARP question. But in both cases, the majority of people did not know the answer. That is true ignorance – simply not knowing.

But, with the TARP question, only 19% said they did not know. 47% said they did know the answer and they were wrong. This cut across the entire political spectrum, with the same number of Republicans, Democrats and Independents getting it wrong. This is more willful or managed ignorance.

The Prime Minister in Britain is not really used to support any narratives here in the States. Thus the true ignorance. But Obama’s politics are part of many narratives, including those that foster managed ignorance.

Ignorance allows people to support a world view that, while only a poor facsimile of reality, does give them comfort. Their Cargo Cult World is simple and explains so much. It may be wafer thin but it allows them to ignore any attempts at greater understanding. The Cargo Cult World they inhabit allows them to just ‘know‘ what is real without having any real idea of what is going on.

Cargo Cult Worlds actively stymie actual understanding.

Because understanding pierces the bubble surrounding these simulacrums of reality. Scientific approaches and other processes of the Enlightenment were developed to help us break through Cargo Cult Worlds, to overcome our own bias and work closer to a truer understanding of the principles underlying our world.

This has allowed us to build aluminum-skinned machines that can fly anywhere in the world, including the small islands of the South Pacific. The inhabitants there tried to recreate these machines using whatever material was at hand.

But their wooden planes will never really fly just as other Cargo Cult Worlds will not allow us to really solve the complex problems facing us. Cargo Cult Worlds survive because of an ignorance of the underlying principles involved, an ignorance that must be maintained in order to support the Cargo Cult World.

Many things in the world are changing very rapidly. Heuristics and rules of thumb that used to work – simplifications once true because they were in alignment with the real world – no longer provide a useful function. So people use confirmation bias and other rational fallacies to prop up something – anything – that can explain things in a way that gives them comfort.

A changing world is extremely uncomfortable. Toffler wrote about this in Future Shock, one of the great books of the 70s. This shock, like culture shock, leaves many people disconnected and stressed. So, it is natural for people to seek the comfort of just-so stories that can support their replica of the real world

What seems to be happening, though, is that the media, instead of promoting understanding and stifling ignorance, is actually facilitating it. The MSM just does not want to puncture any bubbles supporting Cargo Cult Worlds.

The MSM is actively working then to prevent us from finding solutions. It does not want to inform people of the underlying principles needed to solve many of our problems.

Thus, a lot of the people know that TARP happened after Obama took office. That Social Security cards tell you which bank owns you. That humans were created in their present form 10,000 years ago. That germs do not cause disease. That Cordoba is a purely a symbol of Islamic conquest. That Einstein’s theories of relativity are disproved by Jesus’ action-at-a-distance. That a bike share program is going to lead to increased abortions. That vaccines do more harm than good. That humans are apparently alive and at work on Mars. That climate scientists are wrong about the warming of the world. That Phoenix is the kidnapping capital of the world. These are just from the last 2 weeks.

There actually are people of all political persuasions that want to promote understanding, that value ideas over ideology, that are willing to admit that the world is often more complex than we would like.

But these people seem to have smaller and smaller soapboxes in the public arena. And the MSM does everything it can to make them disappear.

If we hope to overcome our problems we have to work for greater understanding and work to overturn Cargo Cult Worlds. Otherwise, we will see a continuing disconnect from reality with an increasing inability to understand the principles underlying our real world problems

[Take the test. I got 11 out of 11 correct, same as 5% of the public. You should already know one of the answers if you have been reading.]

3 thoughts on “They do not want to understand

  1. Your aged Mother, who is a Republican and, therefore, a conservative and watches FCN, also got 11 out of 11. I must add, however, that I know many of the younger generation (25 to 45 years old) who never read a paper or watch the news or have health insurance. They claim not to have the time or money. Some of them are in professions where it scares me to think they are so ignorant.

  2. Awesome take on information/ignorance managemetn and speaks volumes on mainstream education.

    Just out of curiosity, did that quiz although not a U.S. Citizen and almost weaned of reading mainstream news or watching TV. I rely on my personal learning / filtering network, sometimes derided as “echo chamber” which to me fits MSM.

    Got 10/11 right, missed on Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. My feel-good excuse: I am German, live in Japan.

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