instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Apathetic ignorance

For years, I've used the term "idiot" to mean "someone who doesn't know that he doesn't know what he's talking about." In that sense, calling someone an idiot isn't [necessarily] an insult, it's an assertion of an empirical fact. Like the word "liar", "idiot" used this way categorizes behavior, not persons. (Though, like "liar," the habit of idiocy can weaken that distinction.)

It now occurs to me that one reason there's so much idiocy -- I say "90% of everybody is an idiot" -- is that people so often talk about things they don't care about. If you don't care about golf, or campaign finance reform, or the French, not only will you not care to know what there is to know about that topic, you won't care that you don't know.

(I'm using "care about" vaguely. I mean something more like "value" or "rate as important." You might not care about something because you're indifferent to it, or because you're opposed to it. It's often useful to distinguish between indifference and opposition, but here it doesn't much matter, since neither indifference nor opposition necessarily encourages people to learn about things.)

The problem is that topics you don't care about are often related to topics you do care about, such that you can't help but mention the former when you talk about the latter.

So: Just because someone says something idiotic doesn't mean that they care that it's idiotic.

I bring this up because people say idiotic things about the Catholic Church, and Christianity in general, all the time. They misrepresent Church teaching or misinterpret some action, and often there's no getting them to come back and reconsider their mistake, because they just don't care. For a lot of people who talk about Catholicism (including some Catholics), it's simply not worth correcting a thought they have. Not only would it be a waste of time (might as well memorize Klingon verb conjugation), but it would knock them out of step with everyone else who just doesn't care what the truth of the Catholic Church is.

Hence the ubiquity of the errors (most simply repeat the errors of the handful of people who bother to invent them), as well as their persistence.

And hence also, if our response to these errors doesn't go beyond factual correction, those making the errors aren't likely to be corrected. If we don't give people a reason to care about the truth of the Catholic Church, they will remain susceptible to falsehoods.