Higher Ignorance – At least the name’s accurate

Lately, I’ve been reading two books: The Religious Case Against Belief by James P. Carse and I Don’t Believe in Atheists by Chris Hedges. I think both books are a waste of print, though they say largely the same thing. They both promote a fuzzy, pseudo-existentialist post-modernism, but try to give it a gloss of intellectual respectability. I really don’t know how they expect anyone to take them seriously.

Carse explains that there are three forms of ignorance [ignoring the fact that they’re all ignorance]: normal ignorance [I just didn’t know], willful ignorance [I don’t wanna know] and “higher ignorance” [it’s just arrogant to say we know for sure, guys]. Carse’s argument is no more than re-hashed post-modernism with a dash of formal skepticism. He says that we ought to not only be able to see the error in the other guy’s truth but also to see the error in our own truth. He says we ought not be arrogant enough to presume that we have a lock on truth, because no one has all of the truth [not Christianity, not atheism, not Islam, not anyone — except higher ignoramuses, of course] and all of the things we believe are partly false even if we cannot recognize that or figure out how that’s the case.

This is a bit like saying there is no absolute truth except that there is no absolute truth. It’s a self-defeating proposition. It’s an intellectual retreat into a tautology that insists that we can’t know truth for sure, so “why can’t we all just get along?”

Hedges picks up a similar anti-intellectual club to beat this dead horse. While he does a good job of pointing out the similarities between religious and atheist fundamentalists, he does so in such a way that no one need bother take him seriously. While condemning a fundamentalist’s monochromatic view of the world [black and white, us versus them, right versus wrong, truth versus error], he falls into the same trap he condemns! Aside from his hypocrisy of rhetoric, his premise is also flawed: he believes that all fundamentalism is inherently evil and that only fuzzy moderatism should be practiced by the public. He castigates all supernatural belief but claims that religion is good, mostly because nobody has all the truth [he says]. Though he doesn’t use the term “higher ignorance,” like Carse, he believes that we’d all get along better if no one took the extreme position of thinking that truth could be known with any amount of certainty.

I should hope that atheists stand with me against this pseudointellectual challenge. Higher ignorance is a contradiction. It stands against scientific progress as much as it stands against reason and knowledge itself. In the end, there’s is just more willful ignorance with the insistence that no one can get past their own general ignorance, evn if they think they have. [They, of course, are not included in this assessment.] As such, higher ignoramuses are rationally bankrupt. 

But at least the name’s accurate. The only way we could make it more accurate would be to call it highest ignorance.

–Sirius Knott


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