Is Ignorance Bliss?

In today’s post, I want to explore the question of whether ignorance is bliss.  In short, I believe that yes, ignorance can be blissful, but that doesn’t mean that we should allow ourselves to remain ignorant.  Why not, you may ask?  Well, before I get into that, let me first explain why I’ve been pondering this question lately.

You see, I love ice cream, cookies, cakes, puddings, etc.  It gives me great pleasure to eat dessert.  Unfortunately though, I have recently become aware of how terribly unhealthy sugar is.  This presents a moral conundrum about whether I should try to cut down on my intake of sweets.  Several recent studies have shown that sugar is truly toxic, awful stuff.  (Yes, I am aware that scientists have warned in the past about the dangers of foods that turned out to be fine.)  Based on this information, I know that the “right” thing to do would be to eliminate sweets from my diet altogether, but I don’t want to.  (Although humans need fats, proteins, and carbohydrates to survive, we do not need any simple sugars at all, which are a form of carbohydrate.  How sad!)

Here are some recent news reports about the evils of sugar that you can check out if you’re interested. The last one is a video:

If I had never heard about these studies, I could have continued right along, happily (and ignorantly) eating my sweets.  Of course I already knew that sugar isn’t good for me, but I didn’t think it was so horribly bad, so I felt fine about eating it in moderation.  Now that I am more informed, my bliss has been spoiled.  I can never eat sweets in the same casual, unconcerned way again, because I now know that they could be slowly killing me.

So do I wish that I had remained ignorant?  Honestly, part of me does.  I just want to enjoy the simple pleasure of eating tasty food, without having to worry about what it might be doing to my body.  However, my more rational side knows that blissful ignorance is not worth it for the following two reasons:

1. It’s unlikely that I’d be able to preserve my ignorance forever, and when I am finally forced to see the truth, it might be too late to avoid suffering the consequences of my ignorant actions.  For example, if I were to continue eating as much sugar as I pleased, unaware of the risk involved, a few years down the line I might be diagnosed with diabetes, at which time the doctor would almost certainly educate me about the dangers of eating too much sugar, in a very unpleasant way.

Although I hate to get political, I feel it is my civic duty to also point out the likelihood that climate change will someday be recognized as a really good example of how our current ignorance (perhaps even willful ignorance) can lead to disastrous consequences for the future.

2. Even if you never have to personally suffer the consequences of your ignorant actions, it’s quite likely that someone else will.  Fortunately, my excess cookie consumption will probably hurt me far more than it will ever hurt anyone else.  However, if my sugar intake really were to cause me to get sick and/or die, that would presumably cause my family and friends to suffer somewhat, and my healthcare costs would be a burden, both to my family and to society at large.

Here’s an even more powerful (albeit hypothetical) example of how one person’s ignorance can lead to another’s suffering: Imagine that you have a fancy new diamond ring that will continue to bring you great pleasure so long as you do not find out that (1) the stone was mined by slaves and (2) it’s purchase helped a violent warlord buy weapons that were used to kill innocent civilians.  Although you may have been ignorant of your ring’s history, that doesn’t change the fact that you contributed to someone else’s suffering.  Had you known that other people were going to have to suffer so that you could have the ring, you probably would have either decided that you could live without it, or found one that was ethically produced (unless you are a horribly mean and greedy person).

So to conclude, here’s my long answer to the ignorance-bliss question: I believe that, while it lasts, ignorance is bliss for the ignorant individual, although it may very well cause suffering for other people whose lives are intertwined with that of the ignorant individual.  Because of ignorance’s potentially horrible consequences, I prefer to be knowledgable, even when it means that I have to sacrifice a little bliss.

Just so we’re clear though, I have no intention of giving up sweets entirely.  I like sweet treats and am going to continue eating them in small quantities.  While I eat them, I will know that I am being stupid and probably feel a little guilty for it, so I’ll save myself for only the finest quality desserts, to make the self-condemnation worth it.

That’s all I’ve got for you today.  Thanks for reading and happy learning!


4 thoughts on “Is Ignorance Bliss?

  1. Interesting blog. One thing’s for certain: If sugar doesn’t kill you, something else surely will. We’re all going to die someday, and our loved ones will be sad when we do. So you’re wise not to completely deny yourself the pleasure of a sweet from time to time while you’re still here alive and kickin. I agree with most of what you’re saying. But I also believe that a certain level of deliberate ignorance is a healthy thing. Armed with too much information, people often become unable to trust their instincts and go with their gut/listen to their hearts….however you want to put it. Possibly that ability is related to the “street smarts” that you admit you lack. You can never know everything about everything, no matter how much research and statistics you can cite to back yourself up. It’s all the unknowns that keep things interesting! Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks for your comment. That’s an issue that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I agree that it’s tremendously important to listen to your gut/heart. However, I believe that my gut/heart does a much better job guiding me when I’ve already internalized quality information about the issue I need guidance for. Information also helps me know when my gut/heart can’t be trusted. There’s a fair amount of research out there that identifies areas in which we predictably fail to make good decisions. One of these days maybe I’ll write a post about that.

      Definitely there is such thing as information overload. There are certainly limits on how much information we can process (it’s sort of like the paradox of choice problem). So maybe the ideal is to have a “balanced information diet.” This just occurred to me, so I haven’t had time to ponder and develop the idea yet, but I suppose a balanced diet of information would include both uplifting information and depressing information, liberal perspectives and conservative perspectives, positive feedback on your performance and negative feedback on your performance, etc.. A healthy appreciation for the fact that you can never know everything is essential as well, as you pointed out.

  2. Although you partially touched on this, I think it’s important to remember the flip side. In remaining within ignorance, one could still have a “better” or more meaningful life. I understand your premise that bliss is not worth the ignorance due to the consequences in the long run but the consequences are not always irreversible, negative, or impose detrimental effects on others. One example that comes to mind is from a documentary I watched about a poor fishing community in Africa. When one of the natives was asked if life was hard, he responded by saying “No, I have my health, my family and my home. What more do we need?” Although he is not as educated or wealthy as many westerners, he is probably more happy than most westerners because he is ignorant to the wealth and the education that has been revealed to many westerners.

    P.S. I really enjoy this series, keep them coming.

    • Very good point and example. Sounds like we could learn something from that man. And I wonder, do we Westerns have more responsibility than that African man to learn about the consequences of our actions, since our high-consumption way of life uses more of the world’s resources?

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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