|Not just a river in Egypt|
|♫ We're not listening ♫|
“”The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.
“”Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.
|—Aldous Huxley, who later went on to fool himself|
Willful ignorance differs from ordinary “ignorance“ — when someone is simply unaware of something — in that willfully ignorant people are fully aware of facts, resources and sources, but refuse to acknowledge them. Indeed, calling someone "ignorant" shouldn’t really be a pejorative, but intentional and willful ignorance is an entirely different matter. In practice though, the word "ignorance" has often come to mean "willful ignorance", and indeed, in many non-English languages, the word based on the same stem ("ignore") actually carries that meaning.
Willful ignorance is sometimes referred to as tactical stupidity.
Depending on the nature and strength of an individual's pre-existing beliefs, willful ignorance can manifest itself in different ways. The practice can entail completely disregarding established facts, evidence and/or reasonable opinions if they fail to meet one's expectations. Often the willfully ignorant will make excuses, claiming that a source is unreliable, suggesting that an experiment was flawed or asserting that an opinion is too biased. More often than not this is simple circular reasoning: “I cannot agree with that source because it is untrustworthy because it disagrees with me”.
In other slightly more extreme cases, willful ignorance can involve outright refusal to read, hear or study, in any way, anything that does not conform to the willfully ignorant person's worldview.
With regard to oneself, this can even extend to fake locked-in syndrome with complete unresponsiveness. Or with regard to others, to outright censorship of the material from others. As an example of the latter, conservative sites often delete without explanation any statement that contradicts their preferred narrative and links to any evidence supporting such a statement or calling into question such a narrative.
Examples of willful ignorance
“”’Tis but a scratch.
|—The Black Knight after losing an arm in battle, Monty Python and the Holy Grail|
This is some suggested reading for willful ignorance.
- Creationism - Often absolute denial of transitional fossils. Statements like “there are no transitional fossils” come as if they’re facts from the mouths of creation scientists. Actual scientists, however, would beg to differ.
- Conservapædia - Well known for it, in fact.
- A Storehouse of Knowledge - As creationists, above.
- Expelled: Leader's Guide - Intentional misrepresentations of evolution throughout. They still insist on outright falsehoods such as “Darwinism caused the holocaust”, refusing to consider the blatant facts that this is not only wrong, but would be irrelevant even if it were true.
- Criminalization of sex work - Traces its roots to puritanical religious doctrines.
- Pick a more famous Conspiracy theory. Any one of them.
- Noam Chomsky and the Willful Ignorance of 9/11 - a truther upset that Chomsky doesn't back their ideas.
Creationists and other supporters of pseudoscience may use this as a snarl word against people who don't conform to their views.
- Cognitive dissonance
- Confirmation bias
- Deceit (for instance, plausible deniability, is a sort of close cousin to willful ignorance, of which deceit in general is often a feature)
- Intellectual honesty
- Upton Sinclair's Law
- Cargo Cult Science: Some remarks on science pseudoscience, and learning how to not fool yourself. Caltech's 1974 commencement address. by Richard P. Feynman (June 1974) Engineering and Science 10-13.
- Proper Studies by Aldous Huxley (1927) Chatto & Windus.