Ignorance is bliss (for those who lack awareness)

Our brains “subconsciously process that popularity connotes correctness,” deterring us from independent thought

Victoria Ernst, Staff Writer

The phrase “ignorance is bliss” first appeared in 1742 in a poem by Thomas Gray, an English classic poet, according to Smashing Magazine. Literature of the Classical Period attempted to emulate that of the ancient Greeks and Romans, while emphasizing harmony and neutrality in emotion, according to encyclopedia.com.
The notion of ignorance as a luxury has bled through literature into later time periods. Daisy Buchanan famously declared that she hoped her daughter would be a “beautiful, little fool” in Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” It seems as though such a potent message ought to carry true meaning. But potency can be deadly to the wrong audience.
The authors of these literary works made these claims directly or indirectly through their characters with a sense of awareness. In other words, both portray willful ignorance because they understand the power of knowledge.
British philosopher and statesman Sir Francis Bacon first proclaimed “knowledge is power” in a work from 1597. Knowledge grants one access to higher realms of society or degrees of prestige (see for reference: professors).
Today, we live in a digital society in which knowledge seems to be ubiquitous. We can find answers to questions that people once took years to ponder, research and answer in milliseconds. How could we be ignorant when we have access to so much information?
Our error lies in our ability to process information. We now so easily accept information as fact rather than questioning its source.
For the purposes of this article, I consider information to be the components of media that our brains process, ranging from Alix Earle’s TikToks, Dave Portnoy’s pizza reviews, the book you read for that FDR you had to fulfill, to this Ring-um Phi article.
Unless you have awareness, you won’t realize that you are comparing some aspect of your life or self to information that you process.
The most obvious case is with social media. Everyone is looking at each other’s most picturesque version of their “lives” on Instagram. People hide under the shade of anonymity on YikYak and Fizz, posting comments they’re too afraid to say in person, and people fall victim to the marketplace of ideas. Their brains subconsciously process that popularity connotes correctness, increasing the post’s prevalence through the algorithm. On TikTok, influencers tell us what to do and we do it. (I’m guilty, half of my wardrobe is from influencers, but at least I’m aware.)
Most people go to sources they think they trust for information, sometimes to affirm their own beliefs for self-justification. They think they’re aware, but people cannot become aware by re-learning what they already know, or think they know, every single day.
Our brains subconsciously compare ourselves to everything we experience. Even when we listen to music and read novels, our brains subconsciously compare our experiences to those of the author or artist.
We shut off our awareness and consume what we perceive as knowledge. Why? Because it’s accessible and therefore easier than thinking on our own; philosopher Immanuel Kant postulated this idea in the 18th century. It’s also an innate human fear to voice an unpopular opinion.
You cannot change human instinct; you cannot stop yourself from relating to songs, books, posts or reacting to everyday life. But you can become aware of why you act or feel a certain way.
Awareness brings clarity and justice. You will know why exactly you think the way you think. You will know why you perceive information the way you do. But awareness is not bliss.
The danger lies in becoming aware of injustice and feeling as though we have no means of escape.
Once we become aware of something, we cannot become unaware.
This concept explains why Daisy Buchanan willfully chose to act as though she was unaware of her husband’s affair. Willful ignorance demonstrates a degree of awareness; rather, she hoped her daughter lacked common sense.
To a lesser degree of severity, people can choose to be willfully ignorant and go on with their lives. I choose not to watch “The Bachelor” because I think it’s a fabricated load of crap, and I’d rather watch something more interesting (hot take, I know).
I would never engage in a conversation about “The Bachelor” because I know I lack knowledge, or am ignorant, on the subject. I am aware that I am unaware.
Ignorance is bliss, so long as you are willfully ignorant. Knowledge is power, so long as you process the information. Awareness is king.