Ignorance loves company: Four examples

Ignorance loves company. The truly stupid resent those who are not and won’t be satisfied until they’ve burned all the books, torn down the libraries, closed the universities, and made it impossible for anyone else not to share their own proud ignorance.

Example No. 1.

It’s hard to overstate the loss of knowledge that this bill would bring about. We wouldn’t know the unemployment rate or how many people are working. We wouldn’t know how many people are in the workforce, or enrolled in school, or retired. We wouldn’t know how much people are earning, or how many are in poverty. We wouldn’t know how many people are robbed or assaulted each year.

Example No. 2.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who is a global warming denier, by the way, is the head of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. He has recently decided that the National Science Foundation — a globally respected agency of scientific research and investigation — should no longer use peer review to fund grants. Instead it should essentially get political permission for which research to fund.

This is not a joke. Smith wants politics to trump science at the National Science Foundation.

Example No. 3.

North Carolina? You remember: the state against science regarding sea level rise? The state with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources head who doubts climate change science and believes oil is a renewable resource? The state that tried to appoint a head of early childhood education who believed the Fukushima earthquake might have been caused by ultrasonic waves from North Korea? That North Carolina?

Folks, that’s nothing. We have a new record.

Example No. 4 (somewhat less recent).

In March of 415 C.E., on a sunny day in the holy season of Lent, Cyril of Alexandria, the most powerful Christian theologian in the world, murdered Hypatia, the most famous Greco-Roman philosopher of the time. Hypatia was slaughtered like an animal in the church of Caesarion, formerly a sanctuary of emperor worship. Cyril may not have been among the gang that pulled Hypatia from her chariot, tearing off her clothes and slashing her with shards of broken tiles, but her murder was surely done under his authority and with his approval.

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  • Notasaltine

    Once again, proof that North Carolina exists so that Arizona doesn’t look as bad.

    Also: Woo! First!

  • Fusina

    Meanwhile, Gov. O’Malley is apparently going to sign a bill so that people can go fracking in Maryland. Some planet we are going to leave our children.

    How did that song go?… “Stop the world I want to get off.”

  • Ben English

    The article about Hypatia was really fascinating, and also so disheartening. The more things change…

  • Wednesday

    It gets worse. The Church co-opted Hypatia’s story when they invented St. Catherine of Alexandria — also a woman and a learned philosopher of Alexandria, but this time she was a Christian murdered by pagans.

    The present-day Catholic Church knows St. Catherine of Alexandria was completely fictional, because they discontinued her feast day in 1969 for that reason. However, in 2002 they reinstated it, because I guess they have no problem celebrating proven-to-be-imaginary Christian martyrs even when the stories function to erase real historical people brutally murdered by Christians.

  • arcseconds

    I have a vague recollection they even found an old inscription in the foundations of a church somewhere in the near east saying ‘St Catherine Hypatia’ or something like that.

  • atalex

    “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of
    their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see
    that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”

  • Daniel

    Isn’t that from that Limey rip off of “An American Carol”?

  • FearlessSon

    This is not a joke. Smith wants politics to trump science at the National Science Foundation.

    You know who else forced science to bow to politics? Stalin!

  • fredgiblet

    At least it’s not Hitler!

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    You know who compared people to Stalin? HITLER.

  • flat

    poor Hypatia it is cruel and shameful that she died that way.

  • Cathy W

    Gosh darn it, Disqus ate my comment….trying again (which will be its cue to come up twice…)
    The thing about the government funding science based on obvious economic benefits is, if the science has obvious economic benefits, so obvious that we can see from here what the economic benefits of this science are, then the people who stand to make money from the science should be paying for it. Basic research, on the other hand, is a long-term game involving a bit of serendipity; we don’t and can’t know what might come 100 years from now out of research we fund today, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. I’d prefer to see the government restricted to funding scientific research that was peer-reviewed for high scientific merit and without obvious economic implications – because in Cathytopia, one function of the government is to pay for things that are useful but not profitable.
    Alternatively – if the government (including public universities) contributes to your research funding, the government gets a cut of any patents you obtain, or your work goes into the public domain immediately if the government funding is more than a certain percentage of the total.

  • FearlessSon

    I have always seen the basic science as being something that a government uses to expand its economy as a whole. Like you said though, it is a long-term thing which involves serendipity, but when it pays off it can create entire new industries. The Space Race was a well known example of the kind of research push that the government can create, and though the effort itself had no direct return, so many of the technologies created to enable it had economic benefit. The integrated circuit alone had an enormous economic impact that grew over the next few decades afterward and continues to grow.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    The story of the Eastern Roman Empire, and how it managed to lose so much knowledge, is an important one. The government lost that knowledge on purpose. Most of the teachers were defunded, rather than murdered like Hypatia, but the effect was the same: the entire society got more ignorant. The government thought they would profit by this, and in the short term, they did. In the long term, they created a society that fell to a band of Italian pirates.

    I don’t think a similar loss of knowledge could occur today, but the governments in the U.S. are doing their very best to drive the Hypatias of our country to move to other countries. And they will. And the next nuclear bomb will then be developed in Germany or India or China or Sweden — not here. The only superpower in the world is killing itself out of fear.

  • P J Evans

    And also doing what they can to keep the Hypatias of other countries from wanting to come here, even for visits.

    The other thought I keep having is about eating seeds intended for next year’s crops.

  • LL

    Yeah, this. It’s one of the reasons why I have a mostly negative opinion of humanity. Stupid people don’t care about the future. They mostly only care about their own stupid, short-term concerns and prejudices. And so they’re willing to do all kinds of things that decent people won’t do to ensure the success of their stupid ideas. Like killing people (as one extreme) or not counting actual votes.

    And most people seem to be stupid. I could be wrong. Maybe it’s mostly just the “leaders” who are stupid. (shrug) Which makes you wonder how people who are so stupid become leaders. What does it say about the nature of “leading” that so many stupid people are in charge of stuff?

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    The problem, imo, is not that most people are stupid. Nor are most leaders incompetent. The problem is that one incompetent leader can do so much damage, it takes tons of work and time to undo. And they leave little time bombs around, too.

    In the case of the Eastern Roman Empire, it only took Justinian to virtually destroy the Greek and Roman system of education. This is one reason democracy and checks and balances are so important — to minimize the damage one person can do. Unfortunately, in the U.S., the system hasn’t been changed since the 18th century, and is also busted.

  • AK

    Eh, the whole thingy about the ERE “losing so much knowledge” is not really accurate. The invasions of 7th century are to blame for whatever loss of knowledge occured in it far more then Justinian, and the outcome of the 4th crusade (if you’re referring to this as “Italian pirates”) had nothing to do with defunding education.

    Hypatia, as the article points out, wasn’t really killed for her knowledge, but because Cyril thought that only he, as the Christian bishop, had the right to influence Orestes, the magistrate of Alexandria. Pagan philosophers from now on, as Peter Brown pointed out, needed to abstain from politics.

    If the middle-to-late ERE is to blame for something, it’s the academism that prevented innovations, but kept previous Greek knowledge intact.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Previous Greek knowledge was not kept in tact. People couldn’t even use Greek or Latin grammar properly after Justinian.

    One thing follows from another in history. Time is not a discrete entity in which things happen uninfluenced by other things. Nor are things happening within one time period uninfluenced by the other things that are happening at that time. As for that article — whatever. I’ll go with what I was taught in history class, rather than something on the internet. I don’t think 2007 is too outdated when it comes to the study of the Eastern Roman Empire.

  • LouisDoench

    Dale McGowan wrote about his experiences with the fictional St. Catherine at The Memeing of Life a few years ago. (http://parentingbeyondbelief.com/blog/?p=178).

  • JustoneK


  • reynard61

    From my Facebook page:

    I’ve been accused of being “cynical”. Guilty as charged. Then again, I think I have good reason to be…

  • Andrea

    Seriously, why all the wind hate?

  • JustoneK

    Because it reduces political pull for petroleum?

  • Ben English

    Wind isn’t even a competitor for petroleum! You can’t run your car on wind!

  • Lori

    If you have an all-electric car you mostly could.

    Petroleum interests are basically operating in the medium term. In the long term their product and the global system it supports are a disaster and can’t be sustained. They don’t give a crap about that. They figure they’ll be dead and it’ll be someone else’s problem, so no skin off their nose.

    In the short term they have few worries because most of the globe is totally hooked on their product and they can yank everyone’s chain almost at will. Not only do they never have pay for the disasters they cause, they get tax breaks and subsidies from the very people they’re screwing via a combination of judicious purchase of politicians and crying poor any time anything fails in the smallest aspect to go their way.

    The middle term is where they have some uncertainty. If more municipalities commit to renewable energy and electric cars can be made desirable and affordable then demand for their product could actually drop. They can’t tolerate that. If that were to happen profits could go down and they might have to delay the purchase of the larger private jet or 4th home. They might even have to hang onto the current trophy wife for an extra year or two before trading for the younger model. They are willing to work very hard and tell many, many lies in order to eliminate any chance of that happening.

  • FearlessSon

    The middle term is where they have some uncertainty. If more municipalities commit to renewable energy and electric cars can be made desirable and affordable then demand for their product could actually drop. They can’t tolerate that. If that were to happen profits could go down and they might have to delay the purchase of the larger private jet or 4th home. They might even have to hang onto the current trophy wife for an extra year or two before trading for the younger model. They are willing to work very hard and tell many, many lies in order to eliminate any chance of that happening.

    I would think that the smart thing to do would be to redirect all the lobbying money into research and development of alternative energy sources and applications so they can diversify their business model and ensure their profitability as energy needs change. It is a growing market, and they are well suited to cornering it early and staying on top of it. There might be less demand for oil, but there will always be some demand for it (it is still one of the most efficient chemical energy sources we have) and that side of their business will stay profitable for the foreseeable future. They might as well augment that while they have the opportunity.

  • Lori

    This is what the theory says that the almighty market would cause to happen. However, in the real world when oil companies have invested in alternative energy technologies they did so in order to kill them. They’re paying lip service to diversification these days, but I file that under “I’ll believe it when I see it” and so far I’m not seeing it.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Economic theorists enamored of the Almighty Market like to pretend they believe that people always make rational economic decisions. (Except for poor people, of course.) I say “pretend to believe” because I can’t see how anyone who looks at how people behave can possible truly believe that 1) they’re always rational and 2) that economics drives them as individuals more than anything else does. “Hm, my wife is costing me money because she’s disabled — I should therefore divorce her” is not a thing that occurs to the vast majority of spouses of disabled wives, for instance.

  • dpolicar

    (Goddammit I hate disqus’ new sign-in behavior)

    I agree with all of this, but I’ll also point out that “Hm, my wife is costing me money because she’s disabled — I should therefore divorce her”is not necessarily what a rational economic agent concludes, even if there were such things as rational economic agents.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    I once read a line to the effect of “Economists work under the assumption that the people participating in the economy are all the sort of people who would walk into a fast food place, ask if the tap water is complimentary, and when told that it is, would immediately run out and get a hose long enough to reach their house.

  • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

    Subsidies for me, not for thee.

  • AK

    I remember that Onion video about propellers making things move, and wind turbines blowing the Earth away from her orbit.

  • Eric the Red

    Example No. 5.

    She starts banging men who aren’t going on dates with her, typically men she meets out at bars and clubs. But “this is okay, because I don’t want to date… those guys.” “Girls who have sex on the first date are sluts, and I don’t want to be a slut.” The fact that sleeping with strangers is even sluttier than sleeping with men she briefly dated never even enters her mind. She deigns to never have sex on first dates, yet sees nothing wrong with one-night stands.

  • JustoneK

    totally related and not at all non sequitur.

  • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

    That “Example” doesn’t fit the theme of Fred’s post, which was about worrisome state-supported policies and practices resulting from ignorance.

  • P J Evans

    it’s a troll. you know that by now.

  • Baby_Raptor

    We get it; the women you want won’t even look at you, so every woman who dares have a sex life is a slut in your eyes.

    In reality, there’s nothing wrong with sleeping with whomever one wishes, relationship or no. As long as you’re doing it safely,and everyone consents, there’s nothing immoral about it.

    What *is* immoral is policing other peoples’ sex lives. Sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong. Insisting that only you have the right ethics and judging everyone else who doesn’t.

    Also, I not the complete lack of condemnation for the men who are sleeping with her. Only women can be sexually lacking, eh?

  • The_L1985

    You’re right. The person who wrote that paragraph is pretty damned ignorant.

  • hf

    Still annoyed that a woman told Agent 00005 how to stop your BUGGER-ing?

    (Eric “the Red” Blowhard commands Blowhard’s Unreformed Goons, Gangsters and Espionage Renegades in Illuminatus!)

  • SisterCoyote

    Ohhh, there once was a thread-troll named Eric the Red
    Who came writing to Slacktivist from MRA threads
    And the braggart did prattle and rattle his cage,
    as he whined about women all over the page
    But then he went quiet, did Eric the Red,
    When he met the commenter Matilda who said…
    Oh, you talk and you lie and you stink up our space!
    Now I think it’s high time you get out of this place!
    And so then came the typing and clicking of mice,
    as the brave lass Matilda charged in with her dice!
    And the braggart named Ragnar was boastful no more…
    when his ugly red head rolled around on the floor!

    (Credit, of course, to the Excellent Writers of Skyrim.)

  • JRoth95

    Actually the Hypatia story is almost certainly… stretched. Lots of background here, coming from an atheist scholar whose priors suggest he’d be sympathetic to the story as told.

  • AK

    Well, the article Fred referrenced didn’t really contradict what Tim O’Neill wrote (with the exception of its claim that the Library was destroyed by the Arabs), though some commenters indeed went too far.

  • hagsrus

    And one more Disqust gripe: somehow it overrides the browser option automatically to open a link in a new tab, instead using the same tab, which means having to start again if I unwarily close the link rather than back-tabbing…. I don’t think it used to do this.

  • P J Evans

    Disqust seems to be having a bad week, having made some more changes (and not improving anything).

  • banancat

    Disqus is having a bad forever. It’s hard to say that one week is worse than any of the others when it sucks this much.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Disqus has been “forgetting” to load Fred’s latest posts on the Slacktivist main page, necessitating a manual refresh.

  • Aaron

    There is an absolutely phenomenal movie of Hypatia’s story called Agora and I’d thoroughly recommend it to absolutely everyone!

    I actually really love one moment early in the movie when one character converts to Christianity after being asked whether he would like to see a miracle. He is a servant who had been sent to buy bread for his master. The churchman brings him inside, takes his bread and starts giving it to hungry homeless old men. When asked where the miracle is, the churchman gestures at the experessions on the men’s faces and says ‘That’s the miracle.’

    Then it all goes horribly horribly wrong, but I liked the way it showed why people were flocking to the ‘new’ religion as well as how the leaders were turning on Hypatia.


  • Hexep

    It must be better on film, because from summary, that sounds like the most twee thing ever.

  • Aaron

    Okay, yes, it does sound very sappy, and I suppose it kinda is, but the context matters. This movie is not Twee at all. As the next poster says, there is a lot of very horrifying stuff in here.

  • guest

    That is a great, though horrifying, movie–though I realise looking at the link on Hypatia that she was actually about 60 when she was murdered.

  • AK

    Tim O’Neill’s article two posts above is a useful correction here.

  • Carstonio

    Not quite sure how the Cyril and Hypatia account fits with the others. It seems to be merely about a powerful ruler seeking to quash dissent.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Quashing dissent was (forgive the Godwin) what the Nazis did too.

    The knock-on effect of that was the immediate worsening of the quality of education, even without political interference in the cirriculum, because the of teachers who were the best, some had been highly critical of the Nazis. Guess who got locked up or thrown in a labor camp and then replaced with some dimbulb who knew how to say Heil Hitler.

    So I think there is an object lesson in there. Societies that try to operate on suppression of unfavored minorities or groups often end up finding they have lost out in the long term.

  • Carstonio

    Very true. My point is that the other examples seem to be caused by ignorance generally and hostility to intellectualism specifically, where both Cyril and Hypatia apparently both supported the principle of philosophical inquiry. And I understand that Neoplatonism, which included Hypatia, was an influence on Christianity. I would compare the example to, say, Darwin having his goons silence Lamark, or Newton doing the same to Huygens.

  • AK

    The execution of Lavoisier is a good comparison here.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    People have known for thousands of years that to have power over people, you must keep them ignorant. To keep them ignorant, you must kill — or defund — the teachers. It wasn’t a new idea even when Justinian did it. I don’t know how much Hitler was just going after dissenters, and how much he was making something of a pre-emptive strike (he was shrewd, but not very educated).

  • Carstonio

    Again, true but not quite my point. In Fred’s first three examples, the people involved treat knowledge not just as a threat to their power, but also as an object of contempt. Like they’re out of their depth and feel ashamed of their lack of understanding. I don’t perceive that in the fourth example, but I do perceive it in the fate of Lavoisier that AK mentioned.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Regimes that center around a leadership figure often end up, as a byproduct, enforcing an anti-intellectualism that has, as part of its effects, a tendency to weed out people who are too intelligent, because they also tend to be too critical of the regime.

    Lysenkoism in the USSR is a classic modern example of the aftereffects of something like that.

  • Nirrti

    Re: the “no reporting” bill..I have never seen such outright ignorance as I’ve witness from the GOP this past decade. It’s like they’re in some sort of contest to see who can out-dumb the other person. And they have the nerve to talk about black people not wanting to learn in school. I wish they’d quit projecting their stupidity unto minorities and other people they don’t like.

  • arcseconds

    I told you folk about Synesius of Cyrene didn’t I? One of Hypatia’s pupils who was headhunted for the position of Bishop of Ptolemais, despite being rather heterodox and heavily influenced by pagan neoplatonism.

    (I actually heard he was a pagan, but Wikipedia suggests otherwise)

    The other story about Hypatia that springs to mind is her flinging a menstrual cloth at a male admirer in order to dissuade him.

  • arcseconds

    Should note that I can’t find my previous post, and some kind soul the identity of whom I’ve forgotten filled in that it was Synesius.

  • The_L1985

    The menstrual-cloth thing (which does appear in Agora) is probably fictional.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Yeah, it’s one of those things that screams “made up by men who can’t imagine a woman being both smart and sexual”.

  • Justme

    The thing about the Hypatia story is that her murder didn’t have anything to do with her religious beliefs, or her mathematics. It was a strictly political thing. She was murdered because she was an influential supporter of Orestes, the governor, who was in a fight with Cyril over the control of the city. And it was just one incident of political violence going on (rioting by Alexandrine Jews over a ban on public festivals, monks loyal to Cyril trying to kill Orestes, Orestes torturing Cyril’s supporters who he suspected of sedition, etc)

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who is a global warming denier, by the
    way, is the head of the House Committee on Science, Space, and
    Technology. He has recently decided that the National Science Foundation
    — a globally respected agency of scientific research and investigation —
    should no longer use peer review to fund grants. Instead it should
    essentially get political permission for which research to fund.

    This is not a joke. Smith wants politics to trump science at the National Science Foundation.

    Welcome, people, to the world of Asimov’s short story, “Trends”.

    The nadir of science came in the spring of 1978, a bare month before the completion of the New Prometheus, with the passing of the “Easter Edict” – it was issued the day before Easter. By it, all independent research or experimentation was absolutely forbidden. The FSRIB thereafter reserved the right to allow only such research as it specifically requested.

  • stardreamer42

    Re example #1, this is a perfect example of head-in-the-sand thinking. What we can’t measure isn’t happening, right?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    You know how Fred keeps banging on about infrastructure issues and bridges? And how if the bridges don’t get upgraded stat, there’s going to be serious problems?

    It’s starting to happen, folks.

    A major highway, I-5, just got severed because a bridge collapsed.

    Republicans? Your penny-wise-ness is turning into pound-foolishness.

  • Turcano