Monday, 16 May 2011


When I was in Dubai I stayed at this pretty decent hotel. 4 stars I think. It was a nice, friendly, “international-ish” environment. The hotel staff at the desk was a paragon for a condensed United Nations conference. One of them was even Sudanese, although he looked a bit Indian with his gel-molested hair. All in all, the hotel had a very welcoming feel to it. So on one of the occasions when I got into the elevator to set off on the relatively long, ear-pressurizing trip to the 44th floor where I stayed, a middle aged man stepped into the elevator with us. I was with a friend, and we were making small talk in our version of Arabic. So the man, most likely Iranian, turns to me and asks where I was from. So I told him. Then he asked, with a bit of gesticulation, “That (my country) and Nigeria.. Same same?” His English was woeful and his gestures were implying geographical locality. “Yes”, I said “Yes they are.” We both turned away, him proud of his geographical knowledge, and me with a smug look on my face.

This wasn’t the first time someone showed a lack of knowledge about my country, but it wasn’t the worse. I usually get the “Which continent is it in?” or the utterly hopeless “Is it next to India?” At least the man in the elevator got the Africa part correct. I don’t blame anyone though, because I think knowledge is acquired when the respective person deems it necessary.

The thing is, ignorance is not an issue, until people take advantage of it. Most of the people around the world don’t know much beyond the confinements of their habitat. That said, it doesn’t make them bad people, or “ignorant” people. At the end of the day ignorance is relative. You might think you know it all, but when compared to others with more knowledge you might be considered ignorant.

Ignorance is dangerous when you are subject to propaganda, like in the west; or when you are duped into thinking that the election of a certain individual will get you out of poverty. Even then it’s not your fault. The people behind the falsified promulgation strategies that target the less acquainted are the ones to blame.

The word ignorant is being misused. It doesn’t mean stupid or idiotic like most people assume. For example, when most Arabs talk about how the American population is ignorant of their strife in the Middle East it’s utterly preposterous. When the whole world talks about the lack of knowledge of western professionals towards certain detailed aspects of people’s lives it’s also preposterous.

The only entity one can blame is the media, and of course the education systems. These are the aspects in peoples’ lives that shape the outcome of their profundity.

I, for example, think that awareness of global affairs, politics, history and culture is necessary for my progression in life. You might not. Or some Genetics PhD student living in Toronto might deem it redundant. All I’m saying is, people acquire information on a need to know basis, and this basis is completely dependent on people’s perception of what they need to know. So, the only thing you can technically disparage is someone’s judgment on what’s necessary and what’s not – from a knowledge point of view – for their own progression.

Ignorant literally means unaware. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with being unaware. It only becomes wrong when one is unaware of something that directly affects them, like all other things in life; like being unaware of the fact that not getting to work on time will get you fired. Being ignorant of something that does affect you is bad, but being ignorant of something more distant, I think, is a personal choice. The morality of this choice can always be brought into question, but that’s beside the point.

On the other hand you can argue that awareness isn’t synonymous with knowledge. Basically, you can be knowledgeable, but apathetic to the realities of a situation. In which case using the word ignorant can be justified, or not, depends how you look at it.

Don’t for one second think I’m trying to promote ignorance, or justify it. I’m all for intellect, it even makes for nice dialogue. All I’m saying is the word “ignorant” is being misused.

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