The word “ignorant” is an adjective describing a person in the state of being unaware, and is often used as an insult. Of course, ignorance is not always a pejorative. There are many things I am ignorant of simply because I have not yet received knowledge. But there is an aspect of ignorance that is known as “Willful Ignorance,” and it concerns how an individual chooses to interpret the world around them, and how that individual subsequently participates in society.
Willful ignorance has been around for millennia. It can be best summed up as the conscious choice to continue to accept as fact that which has been proved false.
There are varied reasons for why this occurs, but the most commonly accepted is an internal conflict between what is familiar against new information that that is contrary, which results in uncomfortableness, especially when it concerns highly emotional subjects, such as religion and politics. It is for this reason we generally choose to surround ourselves with like-minded people, and why consistent exposure to willfully ignorant people can have adverse mental and physical effects on those who have developed and embraced proper critical thinking skills.
When verified, indisputable information is presented which is contrary to strongly held beliefs, the level of internal discomfort becomes almost unbearable, and the only perceived course of action is denial and complete refusal of acknowledgment, in spite of the presence of empirical evidence. We are now in the realm of willful ignorance. A personal reality that feels safe, but is also delusional and lacking of factual information. This often has results that can be disastrous to the individual, their own relationships, and society at large.
There are often outlying factors that contribute to willful ignorance, such as greed, ego, etc. But at its core, willful ignorance is a defense mechanism against hard evidence that contradicts strongly held beliefs, creating a mental imbalance. This explains why many are more likely to seek information amongst sources that support their cognitive biases, instead of developing critical thinking skills, actively being open to opposing ideas, researching their validity and accuracy, and making an informed choice based on empiricism.
Willful ignorance is a powerful enemy of reason, logic, discernment, and the ability to change points of view based on facts, alone. As stated, evidence that is contrary to beliefs is ignored, or the information is reinterpreted (alternative facts) until it supports what is believed. This is when many conspiracy theories are birthed. Choices are made that are contrary to the paradigms of reality which results in the susceptibility to delusional thinking.
Often, willful ignorance is harmless and the best course of action is to let sleeping dogs lie, especially if there are no negative or adverse effects on the individual or society at large.
The advent and technological progress of social media has complicated the effects of willful ignorance in our society. The nefarious motives of some political and religious organizations, along with some governments, has exacerbated the problem of willful ignorance by producing top-level propaganda for a variety of reasons. This often results in the transcendence of negative comments that are readily posted on social media to the real-world, real-time violence that pervades our societies.
Make no mistake. Behaviors that elicit hate, bigotry, discrimination, racism, misogyny, bullying, white supremacy, etc., all stem from willful ignorance fueled by the unfettered availability of misinformation aimed at cognitive biases based and fear.
Willful ignorance is taught.