Our Weakness for Agnotology

We typically think of ignorance as the absence of knowledge or education. In fact, it can be the opposite: “knowledge” that is founded on untrue information. It is what you believe is knowledge, when in actuality it was false information designed to resist the scrutiny of provable or proven fact. The resistance comes as a function of how deeply it is believed to be true: the more strongly we believe it, the more we resist data that disproves it. Cognitive Dissonance.

Meet Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association: « If HIV caused AIDS, Magic Johnson would be dead. Doesn’t even look sick to me. How about you? »

Doubt anyone?

Agnotology is the manufacture of ignorance by cognitively structuring misinformation to represent reality to support a desired narrative. Agnotology is « culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data.»

For example, as Wikipedia has recorded, the tobacco industry’s constant barrage of misinformation to create what would henceforth be mistaken for actual knowledge within the culture: the doubt about cancer risk in smoking.

If you are a medical scientist, you know HIV causes AIDS because you have investigated all the invisible micro & macro factors that Joe the Plumber cannot see by simply staring at the surface of a person’s body.  You know how smoking harms the lungs and cancers develops.

It is similar to climate change under the name “Global Warming“: if the world is really warming up, why do we have record snow and cold? The earth is warming up as a whole at a remarkable rate. I read one article that gave the analogy of leaving the refrigerator door open: you get a wash of cold out of the door while the inside of the fridge warms up. In our little micro-spot on the planet we experience cold. In our limited perception of time, it seems like an eternity.

Meanwhile, the entire room (that is our planet) with the now warmed fridge (that are our poles) heats up — and the cold of the fridge is not there to balance it.

We conclude based on the surface (immediate) experience without having a clue about seeing the larger picture. Only when we experience devastating, unmitigated heat that causes wide-spread drought does it even occur to us to start connecting dots.

Catastrophe is the great course changer. The great mind changer.

The problem as I see it is three-fold:

  1. It is not feasible for the common, everyday person to validate and verify assertions or to investigate when a doubt is presented.
  2. Doubt is not knowledge, but we treat it with equal weight as fact, as though doubt is a fact. It is common in the fallacy of “proving a negative.”
  3. Humans being humans, we rely on the huge esteem we have for our own perceptive, fact-verifying prowess at logic. Sometimes we call it “intuition.” Tacit knowledge. Voice of the Spirit.

Arrogance. Attributing knowledge, value, power, ability, etc. unto ourselves that we do not actually possess. This blinds us to our weak spots. We cannot see what we do not acknowledge. Arrogance exposes us to the tactic of agnotology. But our biases and agendas give the “knowledge” fuel and staying power.

I think, for a species, we are intensely stupid. Our higher-order intelligence works against survival because it is guided by low-level myopia-generating selfishness.

For my friends who will now challenge me to propose a solution, no matter how pie-in-the-sky, I say this: we need to hit bottom before any proposed solution would be acceptable to enough humans for collective will to be able to actually change anything quickly.

I think that the machinery of our culture also limits the collecting of wills into an effective mass. We only have “rising up” in great numbers to get voices heard effectively. We have so many sources and outlets by virtue of the internet now that triangulating on the those with the most potential is hard through the cacophony and white noise.

And if government gets involved, then that triggers “government control” memes.   See for example what they’re doing in AZ with backlash against “Agenda 21”. The specter of One World Gov. The oppression against individual economic interests (without regard for the environment or health of the planet or sustainable resources).

We are our own worst enemy. And I, in my lack of esteem for the human race, do not see a viable solution before we hit bottom, whether that bottom is the erosion of our democracy via the acceptance of the idiocy of people like Fischer, Bachmann, Nugent, and other poisons to the intellect, or bottom as in we extinguish ourselves by having ruined the planet.

3 Responses

  1. Speaking of “cacophony and noise,” the Slacktivist has something interesting to say.

    The Royal Society referenced Barabási’s 19-click rule last week, which Smithsonian.com took as a report on new findings. They’ve since corrected that — Barabási first proposed this back in 1999. But it’s not out-of-date news, since what he found showed that this 19-click rule would continue to apply no matter how much the Web grows – See more at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2013/02/26/19-clicks-or-less/#sthash.5C14QCUC.dpuf

    Question really is: how many people are motivated to push through up to 19 clicks to find the “truth” out about something — all the while, having to critically read through mounds of crap?

  2. As I have said many times on this site: There is a qualitative and quantitative difference between ‘belief’ and ‘knowledge’. There is such an important distinction between ‘belief’ and ‘knowledge’.

    We can ‘believe’ a great deal of things that are nothing more than conjecture and speculation; we can ‘believe’ some things are ‘true’… and yet still be quite wrong! However, because I can have wrong beliefs it does not mean that I cannot pursue better categories for understanding; and gain real, actual, useful knowledge about the world around me and the universe I live in.

    ~ http://scotteriology.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/ignorance-wins-in-oklahoma/


  3. Here’s another doozy: Anti-vaccine mom changes mind


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