Ignorance Embraced with Neither Shame nor Gloating
There is a certain type of interrogative conversation that I despise. It goes something like this:
Other: “you know <some aspect of American cultural knowledge?>
Other: “You really don’t know <some aspect of American cultural knowledge?> Really? Really?”
The other then proceeds to continue asking if I really don’t know about what or whomever is being referred to in tones of increasing incredulity. I have worked as a teacher, so I’m supposed to say there are no stupid questions, and sure, but there definitely questions that do not exist because the questioner genuinely wants to learn something. There is a type of question that is meant to demonstrate one’s own knowledge while demonstrating another’s ignorance and this is one of those situations. It’s particularly infuriating when it relates to “do you know X” type questions as these tend to happen only in relation to popular culture, e.g. aspects of Beyonce’s oeuvre, rather than say, knowing basic things that could be argued are necessary to be a basically literate person.
Not that there is anything wrong with extensive knowledge of popular culture, a dear friend of mine recently earned a PhD in modern YA adaptations of Shakespeare. That’s cool. However, the breadth of human knowledge being as vast as it is, and the popularity of popular cultural being as ephemeral as it is, it is at best difficult to keep abreast of current cultural phenomena. Since I usually lack the interest to make the effort, this does mean that I often lack the relevant cultural knowledge to make conversation with some social groups. Consequently I am not often overwhelmingly the life of many parties. I also tend not to go to many parties so this doesn’t particularly trouble me, but it is an indication that certain knowledge is required for membership in certain social groups, and lack of such knowledge is usually treated more as an opportunity for questions intended to shame than for education or even a different topic of conversation.
As a side effect of shaming questions, there is a rather defensive reaction of being proud of certain types of ignorance, which isn’t that much better. Sure, as a nerd it’s easy for me to sneer at non-nerds and their sport that they call football (though for the majority of the world that isn’t the U.S. football is a different sport) but that’s honestly not a better reaction. Randall Munroe, my light and inspiration, explains why. Besides which, there are a surprising number of people who talk proudly of their ignorance of and inability for basic maths, and that’s probably (not being friends with anyone who does this, I am speculating wildly) in itself an attempt to either assimilate into some social group or differentiate themselves from snobby nerds. Or perceived snobby nerds at least. The Christian types I grew up with were fond of discussing the arrogance of scientists but they also seemed to do so isolated from contact with actual people doing actual science. Nonetheless, there was much bragging about diplomas from schools of hard knocks as opposed to ivory towers. If I want people to not gloat about their lack of knowledge of math, at the very least I should not also be gloating about my lack of knowledge of Beyonce, or football, or whatever. I may completely not care, but if I’m friends with a person I can at least listen or try to find a more mutually pleasing conversation. Be the change I wish to see and all that.
I will also make an effort to never ever ask people over and over again if they really aren’t familiar with something. The answer is unlikely to change due to repeated questioning anyway.
Featured Image is Hercules Protecting Painting from Ignorance and Envy, via Wikimedia commons.