On the Culture of Ignorance

“Monday Musings” for Monday March 9, 2015

Volume V, No. 10/218




By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

We are 20 months away from the BIG election when the 45th US President will be chosen. Already the marketers of the business of politics are busy showcasing their wares. Last week at the meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference (C-PAC), we were given a glimpse of the 11 Republican contenders. They were Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio; colleagues, Drs. Ben Carson and Rand Paul; former Governors Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, and Jeb Bush; and current Governors Scott Walker, Chris Christie, and Bobby Jindal; along with former Senator/Ambassador Rick Santorum.

Our observation of the politician is often entertaining and fun. It is not a sin to be ignorant. Indeed most of us are ignorant about many things. What is sinful is to be told that one is wrong and the person refuses to right the wrong and learn from the experience. As of late, I have grown impatient with so many of our politicians and so called leaders whose knowledge of history is as short as the telomere at the end of their chromosomes. Yet, when they are corrected they refuse to acknowledge their error and continue defending their ignorance. Take the case of a nationally prominent politician, awhile back, in an interview with a TV reporter, she botched up Paul Revere history by saying “Paul Revere did warn the British” and bragged “I know my American history.” And in an earlier interview this politician had opined “Paul Revere who warned, uh, the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms, uh, by ringing those bells, and um, makin’ sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be sure and we were going to be free, and we were going to be armed.”

Another politician, a candidate for US Presidency, makes errors mixing up content, context, places, and people. In an interview, this candidate stated that “the Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery.” We know that this is not true. Historians, without exception, write that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, among others, owned slaves. But this candidate defended it, saying that one of the Founding Fathers, John Quincy Adams, worked throughout his life to end the evil practice. We know that John Quincy Adams was not a member of the Founding Fathers and he really did not work that hard to end slavery. And very high ranking office holder who glibly stated “using television, FDR did wonders communicating with people in his fireside chats.” There was no television in FDR days!

I am no fan of John Wayne or Elvis Presley. But I am a fan of historical accuracy. One presidential candidate said that the iconic movie star John Wayne is from Waterloo, Iowa (he is in fact from Winterset, Iowa), and wished the King, Elvis Presley “a Happy Birthday” in the middle of August. The fact is that Elvis was born on January 8 and died on August 16. It was not Elvis’ birthday.  When corrected she said “Let’s wish the King a happy birthday anyhow..” No apologies were offered.

These parapraxes, or slips of the tongue, though minor and of little apparent consequence, reveal deeper psychological conflict and characterological flaws. The attitude of “not knowing” and “not wanting to learn and correct one’s lack of knowledge” is very disturbing. It reveals a character that is flawed and a personality that is inflexible, arrogant, and unappreciative of the truth. It strongly suggests that the person has very little desire to grow.

What is Growth?

There are literally billions of words, millions of treatises, books, essays and elaborate explanation and disputation about the topic of psychological growth. Here is a summary of a workable definition: A growing person should or shall 1) To know more today than we did yesterday. That is intellectual and cognitive knowledge. Something we did not know yesterday but learned today. It is not experience we are considering. It is raw knowledge. Knowledge of words, languages, music, humanities, basic sciences etc.  When one goes to bed at night, one must take an inventory of one’s raw knowledge, and what one has learned that day. And if one does not come with a specific answer, one should get up and hit the encyclopedia and learn something new before he goes back to sleep  2) To be more loving and accepting of others today than yesterday.   3) To do fewer bad things today than one did yesterday. We all do bad things every day. A growing person is aware of all the bad things one does and tries not to repeat them, or do fewer of them. This is the powerful Pauline theology of hope, grace, faith, and redemption. To do fewer bad things every day…

What is  Love?

We spoke that a growing person ought to be more loving today than yesterday. Let us define love. By love it is not meant the erotic or filial love. The object of the discussion is Agape type of love. Agape type of love has three components, like a tripod:  1)  Not to be abusive to ones’ self, such as indulgence, gluttony, getting fat, risking cardiovascular disease, diabetes and back problems, use of tobacco, excessive alcohol and use and abuse of drugs, prescription or street drugs.  2) Not to be abusive to one’s fellow humans, such as family members, colleagues, patients and others. I have a hard time accepting the behavior of some of my colleagues who are not punctual and who make patients wait in their reception room and. 3) The third part of love is, not allow others to abuse you. “No” is an effective word to gently but firmly refuse the abuse aimed at you.

I want to have a President who is growing and loving. I do not want a President who is arrogant, narcissistic, and self-serving. I can find abundant tolerance for ignorance, but I cannot tolerate denying one’s ignorance.


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.


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