How not to be ignorant
Asna Ali
April 18, 2015

Donald Rumsfeld was right about one thing. There are known unknowns and there are unknown unknowns. The things we donít know that we donít know. Ignorance is a rampant problem throughout the world. You are ignorant. So am I. Itís okay. Everyone else in the world is ignorant too.

There is just too much to know. The world is full of vast amounts of knowledge Ė and that is a wonderful thing. But that means that none of us can know everything about everything. Or even something about most things. It wouldnít do us much good anyway.

Everyday life does not require most of us to have working knowledge of quantum physics or complex economics models. We get by well enough just by knowing a little bit about some things and assuming the rest based on what other people tell us, our own past experiences or by recognising patterns.

It is with these assumptions that the real problem lies. Human beings are good at recognising patterns and using a little bit of information for forming a whole picture. While often helpful, this is the trait that leads us to overestimate our knowledge of a subject and consequently make wrong decisions based on that imperfect, or sometimes completely wrong, set of facts that we know or think we know.

This was driven home during recent conversations about the situation in Yemen, Pakistanís response to it and the way this conflict could spill over into the rest of the region. There is very little information about the historical background of this conflict. Hardly anyone realiaes that the sectarian differences that are being played out as the basis of this fight are only part of a much larger problem.

The lack of this kind of knowledge matters because as members of a democratic society our opinions matter. The better informed we are about the world, the easier it is for us to make logical assumptions and choose what would be best for us and best for our country.

However, it takes effort and also courage to throw off the preconceived notions and half truths that form our world view. It is impossible to completely escape the environmental filters installed in our thought processes but through greater awareness their effects can be somewhat reduced.

We demand democracy and the power to make decisions but if we remain ignorant of our place in the world, are we really capable of handling such freedom and responsibility? In order to influence positive change we owe it ourselves and those around us to not believe everything our favourite TV pundits or opinion columnists tell us. They could be misinformed or they might have formed their opinion based on yet another personís opinion without much actual research. It is always better to fact check and dig a little deeper into what is being said before coming to a conclusion.

International conflicts, scientific developments and the machinations of the rich and powerful seem far removed from our personal lives but the trickledown effect of big decisions and big idea reaches us all for better or for worse. Why go through life buffeted by the winds of change without ever knowing what is happening and how we can use it to our advantage or escape its ill effects? The world has so much to offer and we allow it to pass us by while staying safely ensconced in our bubbles of ignorance.

The fewer unknown unknowns there are the better. Donít just take my word for it. Research for yourself and find out. Happy Googling.

The writer is a businessstudies graduate from southern Punjab.

Email: asna.ali90@

Published in The News