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In the discussion thread: We are in an "Age of Ignorance" [View all]

Response to cleanhippie (Original post)

Sun Mar 25, 2012, 01:55 PM

1. Do you consider yourself part of the problem?

I think history makes clear that we are all products of the time and place that we live in. If our time and place is racist, the odds are overwhelming that we'll be racist. If we live in a colonial power, the odds are that we'll believe colonialism is a benfit to the natives. If we live in a consumer society, the odds are that we'll be, largely unthinking, consumers.

So, if we live in an ignorant age, the chances are pretty good that we're ignorant.

Look at a couple of Simic's examples:

... Teaching American literature, as I have been doing, has become harder and harder in recent years, since the students read little literature before coming to college and often lack the most basic historical information about the period in which the novel or the poem was written, including what important ideas and issues occupied thinking people at the time.


Not that long ago in a literature class, we read House of Mirth written in 1905. Without googling, do you know what ideas and issues occupied thinking people at the time? Think Simic might consider you as part of the problem?

How are you at the history of your region:

Even regional history has gotten a short shrift. Students who come from old New England mill towns, as I have discovered, have never been told about the famous strikes in their communities in which workers were shot in cold blood and the perpetrators got away scot-free. I wasn’t surprised that their high schools were wary of bringing up the subject, but it astonished me that their parents and grandparents, and whoever else they came in contact with while they were growing up, never mentioned these examples of gross injustice. Either their families never talked about the past, or their children were not paying attention when they did. Whatever it was, one is confronted with the problem of how to remedy their vast ignorance about things they should have already been familiar with as the generations of students before them were.


Famous strikes? Charles Simic was born in 1938. Strikes were probably a much bigger concern when he was young than they are today. Maybe Simic knows all about the strikes of his day. But I wonder if, when he was a college student, he knew the regional history of his local region from 50 to 100 years earlier.

It's very common for older people to think young people are extremely ignorant. I think at least some of that is because young people grew up in a different world with different concerns. Their elders may be ignorant of the issues that concern the young people.

Is this an ignorant age? I don't know. If it is, chances are that we're all pretty ignorant. My guess is that if people look back at us 100 or 200 years from now, they'll see plenty of faults. I doubt that we can see the glaring faults that they'll see. We're just too consumed with living and largely unable to question certain implicit assumptions that are just part of our age. Unable to question them because we don't even realize we have them.

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cleanhippie Mar 2012 OP
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