You see it all over social media: people using and spelling words wrong in their statuses. There are entire videos and series of videos (in the name of all that is holy, please watch the videos I just linked) on YouTube that make fun of these kinds of mistakes, but there is one word that I really feel needs to be directly addressed. There are far too many people that are ignorant of the proper usage of the word ignorant. It’s a widespread, ironic, and meta issue. It also has pretty major implications in the way people interact with each other. Calling someone ignorant has evolved over the years into a basic insult on par with calling someone stupid, but it is paramount to understand that ignorant and stupid are not the same thing.
"Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge." -- Isaac Asimov
Many people read this quote and think it to be unapologetically elitist (which, admittedly, it is), but it is my belief that the growing trend of anti-intellectualism is as much driven by a misunderstanding of the definition of ignorance as by the notion which Asimov mentioned. In the political arena, this issue has come to a head during the 2016 election.
The Oxford dictionary (my dictionary of choice) defines ignorance as a “lack of knowledge or information.” Keeping in mind that knowledge and intelligence are not the same thing this means that ignorance is not a static state, and should not be taken as an insult. In the same breath, stop using it as an insult. Everybody is ignorant to some degree, but only somebody who has spent their entire life living under a rock could possibly be completely ignorant. The use of ignorance as an insult has directly affected the way people respond to it, treating it as a personal affront. We as a population have become averse to saying we are ignorant, whether in general or to a specific subject. In reality, it is perfectly fine to be ignorant. It is not fine, however, to remain willfully ignorant when you have an opportunity to erase some of it.
This is where the 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge' part of the Asimov quote becomes relevant. The incessant misuse of the word ignorant/ignorance and the push-back that results from it leads people to believe that ignorance is something that just defines them (while continuing to reject the notion that they are ignorant). The notion is entirely misguided and has led people to press their beliefs, refute those they disagree with, all without making any effort to understand either one further than they do from the knowledge they've accumulated so far. So many in the common populace have been indoctrinated to believe that ignorance is an incurable problem of which to be embarrassed, so rather than take being told that they are ignorant as an opportunity to have their eyes opened and do their own learning and research, people stubbornly object that what they know is all that is necessary. This is never true, whether you are a diesel mechanic, a professional athlete, or a theoretical physicist. People who are frequently told of their ignorance then find themselves at odds with others who are more educated or experienced.
What people then seem to miss is that while the general population is ignorant of a number of concepts that elites have been well-rehearsed in, there are always going to be things that one group of people have experience in and of which, in comparison, another group of people are quite ignorant. In ignorance of this notion, the working class are pitted against elitists and the tendrils of anti-intellectualism creep through our daily social and political interactions, corrupting and perverting our democracy.
Real democracy is not about pitting the haves against the have-nots. It is not about rejecting the notion of our ignorance simply because we have the power to vote. It is not about rebelling against those who have a greater store of knowledge than us out of resentment. It is not about clinging to uninformed opinions that have been hollowly dictated to us because of a need to defend our current state of ignorance. It is not about looking down on people with disdain because of their ignorance.
Real democracy is about accepting our ignorance and putting our trust in others who are less ignorant than us. It is about working as a society to elevate everybody based on their respective specialties. It is about making the effort to understand our ignorance and move forward, while still understanding that we're guaranteed to be ignorant of something else further along the path we call life. It is about understanding that everybody is at least a little ignorant, and that's OK.