Not Wanting to Know

Recently here in Cedar City, there have been several letters decrying the direction of the university as a “liberal arts” institution and complaining about the high cost of tuition.  My initial – and continuing – reaction has been along the lines of what planet are these idiots from? 

The university has always had a liberal arts/teaching focus, from the days of its founding over a century ago, and its tuition is so low that its out-of-state tuition and fees are lower than the in-state fees of many universities in other states.  Now, admittedly, tuition has increased more than the administration would like, entirely because the state legislature has decided to cut per-student funding while mandating enrollment increases, not only for the local university but for most of the state institutions.  Even so, considering the quality of many programs, state tuition here and elsewhere in Utah is a comparative bargain. Here, the music, art, and theatre areas have won national awards against much larger schools; the nursing program is rated as one of the best in the state and region; pre-law and pre-med students have an enviable rate of acceptance at graduate schools; and the physical education program has been so successful that it’s known as the “coaching factory.”

Unfortunately, this disregard for the facts isn’t just about college education here in Cedar City, but is symptomatic of a larger problem.  More and more, I see people ignoring the facts that conflict with what they feel and want.  It’s as if they actively avoid facts and circumstances contrary to their beliefs, as if they simply don’t want to know.  Whether it’s global warming or deficit spending, immigration, income inequality, decreased social mobility, education…or a dozen other subjects… they don’t want to know… and trying to get them to consider “contrary” facts just makes them angrier.

Part of this is an effect of civilization. If, earlier in history, you didn’t want to believe that the perils of the time – predators, floods, fire, famine, and raiders from other tribes, for example – you ended up dead.  Now that civilization has eliminated or limited the effects of those perils, and the dangers we face are more indirect and take more time to affect one, people ignore the facts about dangers.  In this regard, global warming is a good example.  I can recall predictions dating back almost twenty years suggesting that weather would get more violent with even modest rises in overall global temperatures.  Temperatures have risen; weather has become more violent; and still people debate whether global warming and its effects are real. 

On a personal level, there’s and even more stark and direct example — obesity.  Excessive weight is one of the primary causes of early death and other health hazards.  There’s absolutely no question of that… and yet Americans are the most obese nation on the face of the planet… and they scream bloody murder when a politician suggests banning serving soft drinks in 32 ounce sizes.  For heaven’s sake, does anyone really need a quart of carbonated beverage at one sitting?

But then, I suppose, why anyone would want that much at once is one of those facts I don’t want to know.


8 thoughts on “Not Wanting to Know”

  1. Kathryn says:

    Again, Mr Modesitt, sir, I think you’re very much on the money.

    I think this ‘not wanting to know’ – or, perhaps a better term would be ‘wilful ignorance’ – is pervasive in MANY situations. As someone who very much believes in equality for minority groups, racial or otherwise, I’m against a certain well-known, best-selling sci-fi author who has a major movie adaptation of his most famous novel coming out later this year starring people like Harrison Ford, and if a discussion comes my way involving him, I will pipe up and state why you shouldn’t support him, his work or this film.

    I have had my arguments minimised and ignored, but I have had *so* many people say “I don’t care” or “that isn’t important”. They don’t care about how this ‘man’ (only technically) wants to overthrow the government over an equality issue, how he doesn’t threaten minority groups with violence but he wants to lock them up as ‘examples’ and so on. He’s also a member of a certain religious organisation, sits on the board of directors of a prominent group that has financially supported anti-equality propositions (including Prop 8, I believe), etc.

    Yet people didn’t want to know. They didn’t care about these people living in fear because of people like this, they didn’t care that this was a very real threat to people’s ways of life, that their family and friends would be affected by this. All they cared about was this film or this book.

    You can see this with global warming (as you said). It’s not about what happens to the planet, it’s how it affects that person. If the US government banned inefficient vehicles like Humvees, it wouldn’t be “Oh, I suppose it’s good for the planet” it would be “Why can’t I have this thing I want?”. It’s not about other people, it’s about them.

    I suppose what I’m trying to say is that the progress to a fairer, cleaner, more equal and positive world is beset on all sides by a torrent of ignorance and selfishness.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      Short of dumping truly massive amounts of particularly poisonous substances or detonating something large enough to blow off most of the atmosphere or shatter the globe, some sort of life, probably including humans, will survive.

      Even presuming a prominent man-caused component to global warming does not contradict that – warmer is usually better, depending of course on the location.

      Change always happens, even without people mucking things up. So why not let selfishness take precedence over the pursuit of power thinly disguised as advancing the common good? There IS NO common good except the sum of the good of each individual.

      Moreover, if one thought it desirable to minimize the impact of humans on the planet, there would be MUCH more cost-effective ways than reducing CO2 emissions. Incentivize the preservation of rain forests. Cut those emissions and runoffs of substances that accumulate in tissue and are not biodegradable. Control overfishing – again, by incentivizing the development of alternatives (but NOT providing long-term subsidies once established). Those could be done for a fraction of the cost of a rush to control CO2 before the technology to provide alternatives has really matured.

      Freedom is all that matters – right up to but not including the point where one is taking others down with one; certainly no increased cost of public subsidies that should never have been started in the first place (i.e. all of them) should be used as an excuse to restrict freedom.

  2. Jenna says:

    I agree with you in many ways, especially about how people are often willfully ignorant. Yet in another way I disagree with you. I think people have always been this way, something you point out in many of your books on different cultures taken from times past.
    You ask why people oppose what should be self-evident. I think that you answer that question very handily in your book Imager’s Battalion. I’ve been reading it over the last few days and one of the things I love is how Quaeryt constantly meditates on why people do what they do, and what are the limitation of power.
    Should America be able to shut down the pollution coming from China and India now that we’ve dealt with much of our own? Should fat people live on an enforced diet, regardless of the reasons behind wight gain? Should a university never be questioned because they are providing a good education at a decent price?
    It would be so much less tiring if the informed did not have to fight against the uninformed, but the results would be a tyranny even worse then the inaction you are trying to prevent.
    I’m young and know little about people. I do know that there are usually reasons people feel the way they do, even if they seem irrational. My husband strongly opposed the 32oz drink ban because he’s an attorney and feared the precedent that the mayor set. Other people simply fear change because they’ve seen their lives get worse from things that were supposed to make them better.
    I’ve gone a little far afield. I apologize if I took your remarks out of the context. Thanks for making me think.

  3. R. Hamilton says:

    To encourage people to consider facts they would rather ignore, simply stop protecting them from themselves and find out how quickly those who wish to survive would alter their behavior.

    Liberty is paramount – all else is simply an attempt to steal it.

  4. Linda says:

    A really nice set of animations that more people should see can be found here:

    It teaches the basics of logic and argument. And if more people knew about those, we wouldn’t get this ignoring the facts so much.

  5. Alan says:

    There is, I believe, a balance in all things. A balance between personal freedoms and what is good for the whole. The difficulty is in where to establish that balance.

    Why should you, or I, or anyone, have the right to tell the person living next door to you that they cannot have, say or do anything? Virtually any activity can be considered offensive, rude or dangerous. Lawyers have long since proven that the most ridiculous things can be turned against a person or organization in a court of law. So how do you draw a line where the good of the many out weigh the rights of the individual?

    If it’s all about the absolute best choices for the planet, for humanity, you would have to consider a totalitarian society. It would control most facets of your life. Handicapped people would be euthanized. Those without a positive contribution to society, as defined by the betterment of society, would be denied the right to procreate. Society would be forced to stratify by absolute contribution. You would have very little personal freedom.

    But on the other side of the scale…

    Absolute personal freedoms lead to chaos. Destruction and mayhem. The use of force, in whatever method you can apply it, would ultimately rule.

    Smoking is bad for you, it causes adverse health effects to you. This is blatantly obvious, even tobacco manufacturers admit to this. Second hand smoke is also bad for you. Again, commonly known today. Both cause adverse effects to health, which costs the average person a great deal of money. In terms of taxes, health care costs, etc. But do you have the right to tell me I cannot smoke? Or your neighbor? Where do you draw the line at his personal freedom to destroy his own health in the privacy of his own home? I am sure he would be quite upset if you walked in his front door and destroyed all his cigarettes.

    The same arguments can be phrased around most every subject. Pitting the good of the many against the rights of the few. Guns, healthcare, marriage, taxes, government services… On and on it goes.

    Sometimes people prefer to be willfully blind to the dangers. Every day a new person starts smoking, despite a great deal of very expensive public advertising which informs them of the dangers. Every day people speed, drink and drive, etc. They ‘know’ these are dangerous activities. Ones they may or may not cause harm to themselves or others.

    In short, most people find facts inconvenient and annoying. Especially when those facts run contrary to their desires or expectations.

  6. Kanonfodder says:

    The tone and overall nature of the discussion and replies, shows part of the underlying issues. That people engage in destructive behavior, but mitigate or eliminate the consequences of their actions, is the textbook answer for a massive entropic ending. Once cause and effect have no correlation, things always become dysfunctional.

    You can complain symptom A, B, and C, or point to cause X, Y and Z, but until individuals realize the direct causation of the pair, in all of Nature’s brutal glory, nothing will be done. Long term, you can’t nudge or prohibit societies to change. You shame and shun, and let them experience the negative consequences of their actions and behaviors.

    It is a rough option, and hence we won’t do it.

  7. Wine Guy says:

    Never underestimate the human capacity for rationalization.

    …and FWIW, Media outlets report that Mexico is now the most obese country on Earth.

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