MILITANT IGNORANCE: the desire on the part of individuals to wallow in false beliefs despite their knowledge of the truth

It frustrates the heck out of me when I hear people say something they know is false, but which they have embraced for the purpose of winning points.   You hear it all the time in political rallies.

  • the Presidents is not a natural-born American
  • the soaring  gas prices are the fault of the President
  • Mitt Romney loves firing people

These and other blatantly false comments become “truths” when repeated often enough and with sufficient energy.   Especially when voiced by leading political figures.   No matter how weak they are, they have credibility by being who they are.

People in the crowds, hungry for fuel to stoke the fires of defeat, embrace the false statements and make them part of the continuing saga of the never-ending political season.

John McIntyre, a fellow blogger and an editor at the Baltimore Sun, made reference to this feature in a recent blog posting about Saint Patrick.   He said it, over and over again:  The correct affectionate term for the ancient Irish saint is not “Saint Patty.”   That, he says, is a reference to a hamburger or a particularly obnoxious little girl in the Peanuts cartoons.    The real diminutive term, should you need to use one, is “Saint Paddy,” as the Celtic/Irish name for the Saint was actually Padraic.    However, no matter how many times he says it, people go right on blathering in their fake Irish accents about “dear old Saint Patty.”   There is a militancy about continuing the myth, leading McIntyre to label the practice Militant Ignorance.  It’s bad enough that the people know the difference and continue to ignore it.   But the strength of their use is even more disturbing, as if they are thinking that if you shout it loud enough or shed enough nostalgic tears while uttering it, the term will morph into the one wanting to be spoken.

I can have fun with the militant ignorance of “Saint Patty.”   I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in my system, so it doesn’t really matter to me what the legendary Saint is called.

But I do get irritated and sometimes furious when I hear supposedly intelligent candidates for the highest office in the United States telling false tales about an opponent and feeding the already-sodden ignorance of the people in order to get a few votes.   And I get weary of listening to well-meaning people who repeat those stories as if they were true.  After all, they heard it directly from the mouth of “candidate X, Y or Z.”   

There’s a real difference between ignorance and militant ignorance.  The former is accidental and can be resolved.  The latter is planted, nurture, and celebrated by people who know the difference.   That’s more than unfortunate.  That’s irresponsible.


Photo Credit:  dav.d photography

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  1. Sounds like a good read, Dave. It clearly speaks to the issue I’ve raised. And, yes, I agree. There is no discernible way to overcome this pattern other than to refuse to accept it and say so out loud. It’s going to take a lot of us to respond to the junk we’re hearing in this year’s political game-playing.

  2. Dave Palen says:

    I am currently reading a very interesting book, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain written by David Eagleman. In it he refers to something called the “illusion-of-truth effect” as a “real-world manifestation of implicit memory”. What it means is that you are more likely to believe that a statement is true if you have heard it before, whether or not it is actually true and that mere exposure to an idea is enough to boost its believability upon later contact. So, at a subconscious level, our exposure to any particular idea, right or wrong, political or not, increases the likelihood that we will accept that idea as being correct. I’m sure political brain trusts understand this implicitly and work very hard to expose us to their ideas. The Romney campaign continues to make up things that Obama has done or not done and state them as facts. It would also explain the perception by a wide swath of America that Obama is a Moslem and foreign born. I’m not sure how you overcome the effect other than to push back with the truth.

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