About artificial ignorance

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By EUGENIO BUCCI*

Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a thick goo that occupies every space.

When someone tries to imagine what ignorance is, the first image that comes to mind is emptiness. In fact, while knowledge has the appearance of a full and happy house for us, not-knowing is its opposite: a dreary, unoccupied and sad place. Knowledge resembles a constellation of inspiring sparks, like a hall with large, sunny windows, full of beautiful people going from one side to the other; Stupidity is shadow and muteness, a deserted, dark warehouse, with no one and no use.

The spirit of the sages sparkles in vibrant signs, abstract representations, and sensibility of many keys; the gray matter of those who know nothing is just a piece of amorphous flesh, incapable of any contemplation. Therefore, it is right that we have the habit of saying that educated people have a rich and active inner life, while idiots are empty-headed. Nothing more just. Nothing more needed. Nothing more obvious.

It turns out that this has changed drastically. New technologies have definitively altered the texture of ignorance. She is no longer what she always was, she is no longer an empty head, and she no longer results from a lack of information and knowledge. In the digital age, it results from the opposite: the excess of misinformation, entertainment trinkets, imaginary trinkets and virtual fanaticism.

Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a thick goo that occupies every space. And it's blinking: covered in millions of fairy lights, a bit like a casino in Las Vegas, and full of robotic people wandering around randomly, like Praça dos Três Poderes being vandalized on January 8, 2023.

What we have now is no longer the ignorance of emptiness, but another, that of overdose, the ignorance manufactured by cold algorithms and silicon tentacles. We are talking about artificial ignorance, a dense and totalizing form that occupies and addicts the host. Unlike thought, which liberates and makes us see, artificial ignorance imprisons and blinds. It is the most valuable input in autocrats' strategies: delivered free of charge to each individual, it costs dearly, very dearly, to society.

Therefore, the ignorant people of today are no longer like those of the past. They are not like the raw earth or the uncultivated flower, which never received the gardener's touch – they were trained by savagery and are loaded to the brim with prejudices and stereotypes, devoid of their own imagination. They are not an open field waiting for light and words – they are closed bodies, shielded against any drop of culture. Artificial ignorance is the biggest epidemic of our time.

And now? Is there a cure for such an illness? Maybe not. To better understand this answer, let’s go back in time. More precisely, let's go back to classical Greece. At the Lacquers, by Plato, General Nicias, when dealing with the theme of courage, comments on the hypothesis of the child who, because he is unaware of the danger, acts with apparent fearlessness. Nicias argues: in this case, the action apparently free from all fear brings nothing about audacity, it is just a lack of knowledge.

With this reasoning, he suggests that true bravery requires awareness of risk: to be truly brave, the subject needs to have education and judgment, they need to know what they are doing. As for idiots, patriotic or not, like little children, they will never measure up to the virtue of courage.

Nicias, like his contemporaries, sees similarities between the adult's lack of enlightenment and childhood innocence: both result from a lack of knowledge, and therefore have a cure. Defined by absence, both can be overcome by presence – the presence of the Logos, education and experience. In short, for these two natural forms of ignorance, there is a remedy.

For artificial ignorance, however, the treatment is not at all effective. With its massive and, at the same time, malleable substance, artificial ignorance closes all exits and bars all entrances, in such a way that for fanatics there is no education or experience that comes in handy: no quality information reaches them; no knowledge affects them.

The new ignorant have been abducted by a mortar of luminescent obscurantism that prevents them from knowing themselves, from asking others, from doubting what they see, from rethinking the world. They have no sense of humor. The ignorance of the digital age occupies them with a form of work that does not allow them to work. It's a form of torpor that doesn't let them enjoy – and a hypnotic catchphrase that doesn't let them know themselves.

At least on the immediate horizon, there is no hope. In these days of so many technological feats and so many miraculous machines, it is not just intelligence that has become artificial, it is not just intimacy that can be created by chips, it is not just the spirit that can be replicated in the laboratory. Ignorance too. Ignorance, who would have thought, even that, is now also manufactured by technology.

* Eugene Bucci He is a professor at the School of Communications and Arts at USP. Author, among other books, of Uncertainty, an essay: how we think about the idea that disorients us (and orients the digital world) (authentic). [https://amzn.to/3SytDKl]

Originally published in the newspaper The State of S. Paul.


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