So wishful, for the top
Within the battlefield of “Ignorance is Bliss”
another chain, fist full of green
Nothing gonna change, cause this is bliss
—REKS, “Ignorance is Bliss”
I’m sure most people are familiar with the old saying, “Ignorance is Bliss.” It’s one of those cliches that everyone pays lip service to without ever really thinking about what it means. Like many such cliches (“Hope for the best, prepare for the worst,” “Life is what you make it,” “It’s the thought that counts,” etc.), it is a cliche for a reason. It contains many truths. However, people bandy it about and appreciate its surface meaning without taking the time or effort to really appreciate the core lesson to be learned.
This is one of the interesting things about language and how it interacts with the human central nervous system. As I’ve written before, language has no meaning beyond what we choose to give it. And in that sense, language itself, beyond a certain point, is quite useless. However, I’ve also written about the “usefulness of the useless” and now we have an opportunity to explore how something as useless as language can give us profound messages on how to live life.
The trick, however—and the thing that throws most people off—is that we have to make a genuine effort to lift the hood of language and examine the engine that is energizing it. And then, in turn, we must learn how to use that exact same engine to drive our own attitudes and behaviors.
When we invoke the phrase “Ignorance is Bliss,” most of us are using it to slightly thumb our noses at something or someone without being too haughty. Generally speaking, we invoke the phrase when we’re frustrated because another human being doesn’t agree with us.
When I speak with people who are very ardently either “Liberal” or “Conservative,” I always encourage them to explore the “comments section” of a website that represents their opposing viewpoint. If the person is “Liberal,” I encourage him or her to peruse the comments section of Fox News. If the person is “Conservative,” I encourage him or her to hang around the Huffington Post. On the rare occasion when a person takes this advice (usually the person tells me they have already done so, and therefore have no need to try to understand the other side) the results are generally not what I expect. My goal is to show this “Liberal” or “Conservative” that both parties use almost the exact same language to describe each other.
Jesus, what a clusterfuck of a paragraph. The idea here is that “Liberals” tend to describe “Conservatives” as “selfish,” “uninformed,” “idiotic,” “fascist” mouth-breathers who are too lazy to think and too ignorant to care. But if we pay attention, we also see that “Conservatives” very often use strikingly similar language to describe the “Liberals.”
And a common phrase that is tossed about by both sides is the ol’ faithful, “Ignorance is Bliss.”
And this is the crux of the problem when we use this phrase: we’re usually pointing the finger at somebody else.
Nevertheless, there’s another old cliche we need to consider: “Whenever you point a finger, there’s usually three pointing back at you.”
And it is this fact precisely why ignorance is so blissful. I’m ignoring the three fingers pointing back at me. If I look at all of the problems in the world and I can blame someone else for being “ignorant,” I am not considering that maybe—just maybe—I’m also ignorant.
Although it’s frustrating, there’s also something pleasurable about blaming other people. The problems of the world have nothing to do with me. It’s not my fault. It’s because of these idiots.
And there might be some truth to it. There are a lot of idiots out there who do a lot of stupid things. And maybe you’re not an idiot. But are you actually doing anything to help the idiots not be so idiotic? Or are you stoking the fires of idiocy because it makes you feel better about yourself?
Let me give a more concrete example. In my regular life, my secret identity is that of a Mental Health/Substance Abuse (“Co-occurring” disorder) counselor. Recently I attended a meeting that attempted to address the extreme rise in heroin use and deaths in our community. For almost four hours all I heard was everybody blaming other people for the problem. The least idiotic amongst the attendees sort of flirted with the real problem and would say things like, “We have to understand their culture. The culture of those using.”
Again, on the surface, this sounds harmless, maybe even a good idea. Understanding culture is important. However, we were still pointing the finger. We have to understand their culture. It is their ignorance that is blissful, not mine.
I try to avoid attention—both in general, and at these sort of things. I usually don’t speak up and then I bitch about things later in private, like a true master of passive-aggressive manipulation. However, this time the frustration was too much. Too many hours of finger-pointing. It was close to lunch and I was hungry and frustrated…desperate even. I rose my hand and shared the profound truth that I held for too long.
“I think we’re all missing the point. We’re all pointing the finger. It isn’t so much about understanding their culture. It’s about understanding our culture. It’s about understanding why we allow certain things to take place in our communities that create a desire or need for things like heroin in the first place. What are we allowing to take place the makes people feel like they need this escape? Why do our own neighbors feel so hopeless and helpless and why aren’t we doing anything about it? But it’s also about understanding our own squeamishness about trying new things to deal with the issue. We’ve been doing the same shit for 20 years and we’ve been getting the same results. We have to examine what it is about our own culture that makes it so difficult to try something new.”
There was a stern silence for several moments. The old, blonde former school teacher from Plano, TX who was leading the “training” stared at me dumbly for a beat too long. She then turned to the crowd and said, “Ok. Any other thoughts about this subject.” And the conversation continued without anyone acknowledging anything I said, not even to argue with it.
“Never trust your fucking instincts,” I chided myself.
But I stand by what I said then, and I stand by what I’ve written now.
The story of Adam and Eve is quite useless when taken literally, but it’s instructional when, like cliches, we take a deeper look. The story of Adam and Eve is all about the idea that “Ignorance is Bliss.” Adam and Eve live quite happily until they learn shit. Most specifically, they’re blissful until they learn about themselves. When they become self-aware, Adam and Eve are fucked.
This is the meaning of the phrase. That until we become self-aware of our own roles in things, we are more than happy to blame everyone else. And, as the rapper Reks pointed out, until this happens, nothing is going to change.
There is an even deeper meaning to the phrase, however. It’s one we won’t get into too much here. Self-awareness is ultimately not blissful. And eventually, to be happy we have to once again become ignorant of ourselves and become “one” with our environment. Spontaneous action then follows, springing forth from our deepest and most profound freedom. But it’s a process. One must go from ignorant to self-aware to ignorant-of-one’s-self. But as far as I’ve seen, we can’t skip that middle step. We must become self-aware and we must spend some time not being too blissful. It’s all part of another idiom that contains a fair amount of truth. These steps are part of something we often refer to as:
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