The content on this blog is my personal opinion and does not reflect the views of the Department of Defense or the US Navy in any way.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Political Awareness

I usually consider myself fairly well-informed about current events. It's one of the things I take a certain amount of pride in; while I try to avoid criticizing people too much for ignorance (this xkcd comic is a good explanation of why), I also prefer to avoid ignorance. (Or, if all else fails, to avoid admitting it until someone tells me what I'm missing or I get the chance to look it up, which is a less praiseworthy character trait.)

Which makes it all the more amusing that I had to look up information on the domestic political disputes in Thailand at the end of last week, barely a day's sail away from the coast of that same country. Somehow I never quite noticed it until then.

The problem with ignorance regarding political issues (and regarding some other types of knowledge, though not all) is that there's no way to know some details until you look for them, but no reason to look for details until you know that something unusual has happened. One has to have a sense of curiosity driving that search (which is probably one of the reasons why I consider less ignorance praiseworthy, since it can indicate that the person in question does have good curiosity), but even then, there can be problems.

Each news source I can use to feed my curiosity has its own sense of what is and is not newsworthy; each blog I read has its own ideas regarding which parts of the issue are important and which are not. I can skim as wide a variety of sources as possible, but then I have to start spending more time sorting out good information from biased or incomplete information. And no matter how much time I spend on this, there will always be some part of the world, or some level of detail, that simply wasn't important enough to spend time on... and so I'm still ignorant, in the end.

Part of the response is the same xkcd comic I linked above - sometimes it's best to just tell people what they don't know. Ignorance is hard to understand when you already know something, but that doesn't mean it has to be willful ignorance.

Part of it is being willing to listen when someone says you don't know something and suggests you learn about it. Insisting that you already know everything you need to is a good way to stay ignorant - and it quickly turns into willful ignorance, which is worthy of condemnation.

Yet another part of it is being capable of distinguishing good information from bad. Relying on incorrect information is another good way to not even realize that you don't know something you need to, although the degree to which it deserves criticism depends on the magnitude of the mistake involved.

And the last part is being confident enough in your own knowledge to spread it around when confronted with someone else who is ignorant. Even if that does require you to, however temporarily, ignore the possibility that you might need to learn more first.

Good luck sorting all that out, of course.

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