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Infinite Ignorance

by Andrey Zubko

Albert Einstein stated “two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.” Ignorance and knowledge are inversely related. When applied on a massive scale ignorance becomes a vital tool of a power hungry regime. Whether it is “the Iraqi people being forced to consume a daily diet of triumphalist slogans, fattened by fawning praise of the president” (Butt) or Adolph Hitler’s “tell the ‘big lie’” propaganda technique, ignorance is the tool of past, present, and future leaders. It is the base of futurist utopias or anti-utopias, the modus operandi of the modern mass media, and a crucial piece of one of the most popular Sci-fi Television events of all time.

It was Adolph Hitler who said "A violently active, intrepid, brutal youth - that is what I am after...I will have no intellectual training. Knowledge is ruin for my young men.” No book captures such a phenomenal quest to impose ignorance as George Orwell's bleak 1984 version of a totalitarian state. The role of ignorance plays is openly stated in the party’s slogan “IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH” (Orwell 7). The goal of the party is stay in power. Nevertheless, all power is conventionally threatened by external influence, the loss of desire for power, an internal uprising, and inefficiency. In the reality of 1984 “each of the three superpowers which now divide the world is in fact unconquerable, and could only become conquerable through slow demographic changes which a government with wide powers can easily avert” (Orwell 171). As power is not inherited and the party is prepared to replace the entire, inner party the second threat is none-existent. Political efficiency has already been achieved by the party. Thus, inefficiency ceases to pose a threat. This leaves one classical problem. “The problem, that that is to say, is educational…The masses never revolt of their own accord, and they never revolt merely because they are oppressed” (Orwell 171). All things are relative. Without a comparison, the proletarians cannot know whether they are being oppressed or liberated. Considering that according to Emile Capouya “Governments will always misuse the machinery of the law as far as the state of public opinion permits”, ultimate power is merely a mater of controlling public opinion through their knowledge. “When the same man, or set of men, holds the sword and the purse, there is an end of liberty” (Breaking). But if “FREEDOM IS SLAVERY”, (Orwell 7) then slavery is freedom. Thus, such a predicament becomes desirable.

“We must not believe the many, who say that only free people ought to be educated, but we should rather believe the philosophers who say that only the educated are free” (Ignorance). The mind is a dangerous entity of Ingsoc; it is not enough to control information, the mind itself must be conquered if Ingsoc is to be eternal. Step one is doublethink.

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. The Party intellectual knows in which direction his memories must be altered; he therefore knows that he is playing tricks with reality; but by the exercise of doublethink he also satisfies himself that reality is not violated. The process has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence of guilt." (Orwell 176)

This type of reality control eliminates a contradiction once it occurs. But it is necessary to go further. Crimestop: stopping short of a criminal thought as if by instinct. Thought leads to action; without thought there can be no action. This is why in the words of O’Brien the party is not concerned with actions, only thought. Once an individual is ignorant of the actual reality one can be superimposed upon him granting the party total control. “Who controls the past… controls the future: who controls the present controls the past” (Orwell 32). Jules Verne affirmed that “anything one man can imagine, other men can make real.” Once the party imagines reality, they impose it on the individual and the group thus shaping the present to control the past and future.

The modern media is nothing more that another propaganda machine to instill ignorance. It is the primary source of information for a large segment of the population; consequently, any errors or bias it presents becomes widely accepted as a fact. “Most people have low or no interest in politics and show a striking ignorance of basic facts about the worlds of politics and public life… Then is it possible to speak of democracy and citizen participation in a context marked by political ignorance?” (Porto) Daniel Boorstin expressed that “the greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance -- it is the illusion of knowledge.” However, the illusion of knowledge exhibits a direct correlation with ignorance. But how deep does this ignorant knowledge penetrate the core of society.

“Pessimistic assessments of public knowledge and citizen competence have been replaced more recently by a "new look in public opinion research" (Sniderman, 1993, p. 219). These new approaches, which draw on cognitive psychology, suggest that citizens can make reasonable and consistent choices even in a context of low levels of information. Scholars have developed concepts such as low-information rationality to suggest that citizens use shortcuts or cues to compensate for the lack of information. According to this view, citizens use a variety of shortcuts, including party identification, media content and frames, or simply friendly advice, to obtain, evaluate, and store information. In this way, even if individuals don't know much about politics, they are able to make reasonable or rational choices and participate effectively in the political process.” (Porto)

Incidentally, this is exact format and type of information the media provides. According to J. Krishnamoorthi “ignorance is not lack of information about facts; ignorance is unawareness of the total process itself.” Thus even if the population is aware of the basic facts, these so-called smart clues, they are still ignorant because they have not personally grasped the main concept. Why would anyone want to ignore the big picture? “It's a lot easier to form an opinion when you have only a few of the facts” (Intelligence). The fewer the facts the fewer unique conclusions can be drawn from them. Considering the abundance of facts at the media’s disposal, it becomes simple to manipulate all recipients towards one conventional view. “The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking” (Pain), and is thus desirable.

Populous ignorance generated by the media is further increased when spin is added to the equation. The media has a habit of misrepresent facts by using them out of context or paraphrasing them to change their meaning. “This exercise in deception and self-delusion assumed grotesque proportions… when Bush held a nationally televised, prime-time press conference. Bush’s meandering performance reflected what he is: a severely limited man, ill-equipped intellectually and politically to grasp the complexities of the situation that has unfolded since the terror attacks on New York and Washington. The following day the New York Times published a rapturous editorial headlined “Mr. Bush’s New Gravitas.” Marveling at the supposed transformation of the man “who was barely elected president last year,” the Times declared: “He seemed confident, determined, sure of his purpose and in full command of the complex array of political and military challenges that he faces in the wake of the terrible terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. It was a reassuring performance that should give comfort to an uneasy nation.” This was an astonishing appraisal. The George W. Bush it described bore virtually no resemblance to the man who gave a White House press conference on October 11. That man tried to string together bits and pieces of ideas that he obviously did not comprehend, resulting in a jumble of non-sequiturs, banalities and evasions. Were the Times editorialists watching the same press conference?” (Grey)

"This demonstrates the media’s propensity for the manipulation of public opinion. At that time, another unfortunate media technique showed its ugly head. “The members of the White House press corps did their best to give the president a free ride, refraining from asking any questions that challenged the dishonest claims that are being used to justify a war in Afghanistan and an assault on civil liberties within the US. No one asked Bush to explain how a group of terrorists could implement a plan to murder thousands, destroy the World Trade Center and bomb the Pentagon, without being detected or deterred. No reporter noted the White House’s failure to this day to provide concrete evidence of Osama bin Laden’s guilt. In its collective cowardice, the press corps refused even to question Bush’s efforts to muzzle the press. (Grey)”

The press will do everything including ignoring something right in front of their faces just to provide the view they want. They have, are, and will continue to omit, rephrase, create, and misuse facts to the extent of their abilities. The ultimate miss information potential of the media was demonstrated in Wag the Dog. Oddly enough, the false war of that movie bore surprising similarities to the NATO campaign in Yugoslavia. The ignorance generate by the media increase at an ever-growing rate. Even if their facts are true, their presentation can completely reverse the meaning. This last skill is best summarized in an anecdote, which would work for the American media as well. In their latest profound act of treachery, the Chinese purposely shot down a Soviet civilian tractor with vertical takeoff capability that was peacefully plowing the countryside. While it looses something in the translation, it still properly characterizes the media.

“In his book, The More You Watch, The Less You Know, Mediachannel's Danny Schechter reports a study by the University of Massachusetts, which found that people who relied most on television news coverage knew least about the Gulf War and its origins. Study author, Professor Michael Morgan, reports: "Many of them also had the strongest opinions, which not coincidentally echoed precisely what they had been hearing. Like the media they depended on, they were virtually of one mind in uncritically embracing the US government position." (Quoted, Schechter, The More You Watch, The Less You Know, Seven Stories Press, 1997, p.42. http://www.mediachannel.org)”(Edwards)

Ultimately, this demonstrates the extent of media generated ignorance.

When ignorance is not a tool of actual, power hungry regimes or the manipulative media its entertainment. It is a recurring them in V; one of the most popular Sci-fi Television events of all time.

“This epic began with monumental Alien Mother ships seen over 50 cities of the world...The supreme commander of this alien fleet which has encircled the city's of the earth agrees to come and speak in person to the citizens of earth directly…He promises peace and states that his planet is in dire environmental difficulty and is in need of the help of the people of Earth. In return for such help he promises to share "all the fruits of our knowledge; helping to solve your own environmental problems and health dilemmas, then we will leave you as we came, in peace." From this point the Visitors of V were here to stay. Some began to question the true motive of these visitors. They began to quickly disappear. Anthropologists and scientists were being discredited worldwide. Then it slowly became apparent than these visitors did not come in peace but rather came to conquer and control. They masterminded a conspiracy against scientists and doctors to turn people against these people who could do them harm. The visitors were not human as they appeared but rather reptilian creatures wearing human skins. Their environmental needs were a distraction to turn attention away from why they were really there. Through brainwashing and selective kidnappings the visitors began to have an ever greater hold on the cities of the world...By enlisting the aid those easily swayed and naive, the visitors used humanity as its own helpful oppressive agent. The visitors set up youth training programs aimed at turning out loyal young men and woman.” (Movieprop.com's)

The Visitors utilized human ignorance repeatedly throughout the series to accomplish their goals. No one question that the off limits areas on their ships were a “radiation hazard”. Neither did the general public note the connection between their pumping station and the drought. Few if anyone took the supreme commander’s unmasking on international television seriously. The masses bought into the alien propaganda. They allowed themselves to be turned against the scientist and the resistance. After Nathan Battes was shot they also fell for his simulation. While the sequence of ignorance goes on, it is best defined on an individual level.

“Christine Walsh was a close friend of Mike Donavan's before the Visitor's arrive and an up and coming journalist. When the Visitors arrive she becomes their official spokeswoman and a stooge of sorts to spread their message. Mike Donavan arrives at her house and tells her of the Visitor's true nature, she just kind of shrugs it off. But with time she starts to wonder...After the Visitor Supreme commander is unmasked on national television, Christine is asked to go on the air and tell everyone a terrorist hoax had just been shown. She goes up to speak but characterizes the terrorists as resistance, "resistance to the monsters that are trying to take over our plant." She goes on with "They must be stopped, they must be defeated." Diana then borrows a laser pistol and kills Christine.” (Movieprop.com's)

She demonstrates the arrogant tendency to ignore the exact opposite of common opinion. While she eventually admits the truth, the damage was already done. Her final act did less good than her work for the Visitors did harm. In the end, she paid for her ignorance with her life. The ignorance she inflicted on the public on behalf of the visitors as their spokeswoman is best portrayed in one particular character. At one point Harmony clearly demonstrates the ideals of the alien propaganda.

“After stepping in gum one day she discovers a bomb and rushes to alert William before it goes off. Harmony and Willie pair off even more in V the Final Battle...She is captured while sneaking around with Willie looking for a place to make out at a hospital. Harmony is shown the Visitors are reptilian when Willie's skin is peeled away. But she cares for Willie anyway and during the final assault on the Los Angels Mother ship she is there in Visitor garb helping to attack the Visitors. She dies when she jumps in front of a laser blast meant for Willie.” (Movieprop.com's)

After she was captured, she refused to believe that the Visitors were reptilian. She refuted Donavan’s evidence of the Visitors true intentions. Only after Willie’s skin is peeled off and he confirms the roomers does she believe the truth. The most effective psychological weapon in the alien arsenal was human ignorance. Through an aggressive propaganda campaign, they used that ignorance to turn people against one another but fell short of the 1984 level of inflicted ignorance.

According to James Michener, “an age is called Dark, not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it.” Ignorance makes all the difference. “If what you don't know can't hurt you, you're practically invulnerable” (Intelligence). The use of ignorance to omit knowledge is the definitive scheme for human manipulation. It has been the basic principal of Orwell’s futuristic dystopia and the motif of spectacular movies. Used by oppressive authorities and free media alike. Ignorance is the key to human thought. When properly implemented it can sway or create public opinion, give or take power, or enslave a society. Lord Chesterfield articulated “be wiser than other people if you can; but do not tell them so.” Taken to the extreme it means that those with knowledge will always control the ignorant without them realizing it. Its susceptibility to ignorance is humanity greatest fatal flaw. Bibliography

Breaking All the Rules. http://pages.zdnet.com/sartre/RULES/id8.html (2002, September 21).

Butt, G. (2001). Saddam Hussein profile. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1100529.stm (2002, September 19).

Grey, B. (2001). The media and Mr. Bush. World Socialist Web Site. http://www.wsws.org/articles/2001/oct2001/bush-o16.shtml (2002, September 21).

Gunther, J. The Nation. ADOLF HITLER:Perverse Political Genius. http://www.rjgeib.com/thoughts/hitler/hitler.html (2002, September 21).

Ignorance. Quotes About Ignorance . http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Olympus/7531/cignora.html (2002, September 21).

Intelligence Insults - Ignorance. Insultmonger.com.

http://www.insultmonger.com/insults/witty_insults/insults_about_ignorance_2.htm (2002, September 21).

Knowledge Quotes. http://www.tcnj.org/support/quotes/knowledge.htm (2002, September 21).

MOVIEPROP.COM'S V TV SERIES PAGES. Movieprop. http://www.movieprop.com/ (2002, September 21).

Orwell, George. 1984. Ed. Erich Fromm. New York: Harcourt, 1949.

Pain. Quotefolio. http://www.musicfolio.com/quotes/pain.htm (2002, September 22).

Porto, M. P. (2000). Citizen Ignorance and its Remedies:. Comentary. http://www.uic.edu/orgs/policom/Archive/Autumn2000/comment.htm (2002, September 21).

Porto, M. P. (2002). Ignorance Is Strength. ZNet. http://www.zmag.org/content/MainstreamMedia/edwards_palestine.cfm.htm (2002, September 21).

Wisdom Quotes. Quotes About Ignorance. http://www.wisdomquotes.com/cat_ignorance.html (2002, September 21).

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