Posted by: ericgrimsrud | February 13, 2018

Assumptions of the intentionally ignorant

Advanced human civilizations have been here for about 6,000 years. That’s a long time, right? And over that period, mankind has faced down some very “tough times”, and is likely to continue to do so, right? And, we now know so much about science and technology that we can fix just about anything that comes up, right? So, perhaps we should not be fooled into believing long-term doomsday forecasts concerning global warming when things are not yet so bad. It can be distinctly unpleasant to accept the messages coming from science and is much easier to go with the flow of the business-as-usual community, right? So maybe we should not yet pay so much attention to the climate scientists. If the powerful and time-honored industrial forces of the USA tell us that continued use of fossil fuels is absolutely necessary in order to maintain the lifestyles that people have come to expect, maybe we should just continue to put our future in their hands, right? And this, after all, is what many or most of us are already doing and there is a great deal of comfort in numbers, right?

Unfortunately, an appropriate term for the above simplistic line of thinking is “technical hubris” and this unjustified confidence in the face of real science is moving our planet towards the edge of the human-friendly stable state we have enjoyed over the last 6,000 years.  But who cares?  “Something” will come up, right?

One of the most disappointing aspects of all of this is that even our institutions of higher education suffer from this malady of unwarranted hubris, as demonstrated by the lifestyles they promote and their substantial financial investments in the fossil fuel industries. This includes our wealthiest universities, such as Harvard, and our smaller liberal arts colleges, such as my alma mater, St. Olaf College of Northfield, MN. These educational institutions have mature science departments that might be expected to know a lot about the science of climate change. Nevertheless, the Presidents and Boards of Regents of those institutions almost uniformly go with the flow of our out-of-control, fossil-fuel-driven businesses-as-usual. Most of our colleges and universities are essentially wedded to those controlling financial interests and, as I have personally found, some are now actually afraid to talk openly about some of the most important aspects of the problem. In the process, our colleges and universities have become businesses themselves more than centers of intellectual thought – especially on this most important issue of our era.

The unwarranted and potentially fatal assumptions described above can provide both individuals and institutions with a convenient means of avoiding responsibility for the mess we are making on our planet. If one were to acknowledge the prevailing messages of science, one would then be accepting responsibility for doing something about it, right? And, depending on one’s present lifestyle, that might constitute a tough row to hoe. What? Cut back on my flying habits! Or, divest my assets from our lucrative fossil fuel industries! Surely, you’re joking Dr. Grimsrud! It’s much easier and far more pleasant to go along with the soothing message of the Business as Usual community – and this relieves one of the responsibility of actually doing something about it.  So, better to simply “enjoy the party” while it lasts, right? Intentional ignorance definitely has its advantages.

As suggested in my previous post, perhaps use of the Judicial Branch is the only way we can get a majority, including the intentionally ignorant, to do what needs to be done. Most of us are not criminals and will tend to obey the court-supported laws of our country.


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