Harlan Ellison on Ignorance and Bliss in 1983.

Continuing to take a look at media from 1983, and this round of posts is inspired by the Harlan Ellison collection, An Edge in My Voice.

Today’s post was inspired by the January 10, 1983 column in The L.A. Weekly. While Ellison goes off on a tangent about magazine subscriptions – his point being that once you’re willing to fight a tiny intrusion like that you’ll eventually work your way up to more important ones that matter – he begins with some excellent points about the ignorance of society. Sadly, his opinions have only become truer and societal apathy that much stronger.

Ignorance ain’t no way bliss. It is a condition of extended infancy; it is a balm for inactivity.

Further on…

When the weight of knowledge grows oppressive, when the world is too much with us, we drop head into hands and think how much happier we would be if we were like those mythical drones we picture working on assembly lines, who know not… who know not that they know not.”

Put more bluntly, they don’t know that they don’t know. Not because of purposeful ignorance, but a complete unawareness that this knowledge is even out there and available. My son knows there are lights in the night sky called stars, but at five he does not yet have the ability nor the desire to learn about burning spheres of gas millions of miles away with planets, galaxies, and the infinite probabilities and possibilities in the universe. At twenty, thirty, forty and onward though I expect some sort of knowledge and informed opinions that can be supported in a discussion. If I wanted blank stares, a self centered reality of the person’s own creation, and unsupportable opinions I’ll stay at home with that same five year old.

From Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics

The only difference between those with wisdom and those without is that the former have an inkling of who is responsible for all that angst. The ignorant hurt just as much; they just don’t know who’s holding the hammer that keeps knocking them in the head.

There is a pain to wisdom, it’s true. The pain has many forms. Sometimes it is a desire to be punched in the face instead of hearing certain people utter another word. Other times, it’s dedicating time out of every day to write in hopes at least one person in the world discovers new media or is inspired by a thought. So those with knowledge seek out others like them to spend time with, to date, and hopefully to create a new generation of thinkers and questioners.

Frequently though we are confronted with the ignorant and most of us have the same reaction – a desire to go home and hide from the world. Why do we bother educating ourselves when the other side blindly repeats motions at work, gets drive thru on the way home then sits in front of the TV for the rest of the night before bed. Maybe if there’s time they create some drama on Facebook too.

Pre cable, pre internet, pre social media and here is a writer talking about the pride of ignorance. Sure, in some ways that makes it appear that nothing has gotten better. All respect to the author though, I think one connection was overlooked that gives hope. Ignorance does not breed creativity. Ellison’s words affect me enough to write this decades later. The movies, music, and more that I’m discovering is already out there to inspire me. Maybe something I write has an effect on another person in the future. Those that remain ignorant though will not affect anyone but themselves. Don’t read, don’t think. Be an aforementioned drone and zone out with the idiot box. None of that will matter tomorrow, much less years later. But anyone willing to create any work also creates the possibility of discovery. Of influence. Of a sense of immortality. There lies bliss.

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1 Comment

  1. People so often point out that their opinions are just as valid as anyone else’s. I maintain that if one of two opposing opinions contradicts established, concrete facts, it is less valid. I’m glad to see Harlan Ellison thought so, too.

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