From the editor
// Sarah Vitet

“Protect me from knowing what I don't need to know. Protect me from even knowing that there are things to know that I don't know. Protect me from knowing that I decided not to know about the things that I decided not to know about. Amen.”
—Douglas Adams

What would you like to be reading about right now? Do you want to learn, or read about something you already know about? Would you prefer to read about a topic that’s more removed from your reality, like pop culture, or would you rather read about current events or politics?

According to the American Psychological Association, “The less people know about important complex issues such as the economy, energy consumption and the environment, the more they want to avoid becoming well-informed,” as reported by Science Daily.

They found that people avoided information that questioned the government’s ability to handle things like the economy, though they did not avoid positive news. The more complex the issue, the more people relied on the government to take care of it, rather than understanding it themselves, thereby emphasizing their dependence on the government. The more serious the issue, the less likely participants in the study wanted to understand it.

According to the authors, “Educators may want to consider explaining issues in ways that make them easily digestible and understandable, with a clear emphasis on local, individual-level causes.” Otherwise the topics seem too scary, and we don’t want to know about them at all.

A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research in 2008 showed that before buying a product, people want to know all the information they can about it. After purchasing, however, they want to feel positive about their purchase, therefore vague product information is more reassuring in the long-run. To avoid buyer’s remorse, we keep ourselves unaware of any potential drawbacks to our purchases; once we’ve eaten the french fries, we really don’t want to know the nutritional information.

Another study of over 400,000 students in 2009 showed that those least-informed about the environment were the most optimistic in regards to future environmental improvements, whereas the better informed students had a more realistic view. While “ignorance is bliss” may be cliche, it’s becoming the increasingly alarming mantra for Western society.

The biggest step in becoming an aware member of society is recognizing our individual responsibility for ourselves and our world. As children, we are taught to believe that adults have everything under control, and any example of instability impacts and terrifies us deeply. As we age, we begin to realize that we are the adults, that society is based entirely on abstract concepts, and not everything turns out OK in the end – it’s scary, and often easier to block out than process and confront. With the cost of living in Vancouver being so high, wages so low and tuition getting higher and higher every year, it’s especially difficult to grow up and face reality as an adult. Life is busy and stressful even on a micro, day-to-day level.

Although our lives are extremely structured and regimented, the APA study underlines our ever-present fear of the unknown. We are so busy pretending that our lives are “under control” that any information that could potentially threaten our illusion of security is simply avoided. Yes, staying ignorant is easy, but it’s also safer.

Of course, the only way to overcome the fear of the unknown is to eliminate the unknown: to learn. Ignoring news articles because we don’t feel confident that we know enough about the issue is backwards. Avoiding negative information about products we’ve bought is self-detrimental. Believing that everything is OK when it isn’t is deluded. We know all this.

What we have to do is take an active role in our own lives: get over our collective inferiority complex and embrace the negative along with the positive. Nothing is one-sided, even your new pair of headphones or your favourite politician. Once we accept a more realistic view of life, we can take a more active role in how things are run. While it may not be blissful, it’s a lot more empowered and dignified than blindly doing what we’re told.

//Sarah Vitet, Editor-in-Chief

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com