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03 August 2010 @ 10:10 am
How often does the difference between "stupidity" and "ignorance" come up in your daily life? How do you make this distinction, and how does it change how you interact with people who are performing one or the other?
I'm feeling: curiouscurious
m.entrope on August 3rd, 2010 02:22 pm (UTC)
Stupidity seems more like a choice than ignorance. Ignorance seems more like inexperience or lack of awareness.
existential hot showerveek on August 3rd, 2010 02:25 pm (UTC)
Quite often. My default assumption when it comes up is ignorance. It crosses the line into stupidity (which I'll assume to mean something like "willful obtuseness," since I don't know very many stupid people) when someone is claiming to be an expert in a subject but manifestly isn't, or when I've had experience with/of them that makes me believe they should really know better.

I get impatient with people when I believe they're being willfully obtuse; it registers as an action of negative intent. The nature of the intent can have different flavors, like "playing with me" as in the case of some teachers, or "intentionally provoking in an unhelpful way," or "ignoring an inconvenient part of reality."

Ignorance is easier to deal with, since it registers with me as neutral. Sometimes, in cases of ignorance, I still think a person should know better, in which case I'll provide information with varying levels of emphasis. This also manifests sometimes as impatience, but is so to a much lesser degree. In the case of ignorance I think of impatience as a failing on my part.
harimad on August 3rd, 2010 02:39 pm (UTC)
Fairly frequently. I remind myself that ignorance can be fixed.
Rowan: Dishevelledmzrowan on August 3rd, 2010 02:42 pm (UTC)
Given the profession I'm in, it comes up quite often (although less now that I'm not teaching all the time).

It's interesting to me that the two comments so far have assumed that "stupidity" is deliberate. As a trainer, one of the things I had to deal with every moment I was teaching was that different people have different abilities to absorb information (and different affinities for different types of information). Given the frustration I saw on a daily basis from the people who were slower to pick things up, I'm sure they wished they were on the other side of the bell curve.

The distinction greatly changes how I interact with someone when I'm trying to communicate information to them. Every interaction involves delicate fine-tuning as I sense this how this person's ability to learn and current knowledge mesh with what I'm trying to convey.
Boring Nerd: cthulhu eyebrowssignsoflife on August 3rd, 2010 03:06 pm (UTC)
Despite my general positive regard for the commenters, I have a great deal of trouble with the persistent equation of intelligence and goodness, and lack of intelligence with willfulness.

Some people are simply Not So Bright. The VAST majority of the human race is substantially less smart than anyone currently in this conversation.

Some of my most passionately curious students have been not-so-bright. Some of my most obnoxiously obdurate students have been the smart kids. These axes, they are orthogonal.
Misanthropic extrovertdbang on August 4th, 2010 06:31 pm (UTC)
I never use the term "stupid" to refer to being on the left end of the intelligence bell curve. The term is reserved exclusively for those people who nurse their ignorance like a fine wine, savoring it, coddling it.

Those with less brains I struggle to interact with positively, but I don't assume they are there willfully.
existential hot showerveek on August 3rd, 2010 03:19 pm (UTC)
Hmm. I don't tend to equate "different abilities to absorb information" and being "slower to pick things up." Speed doesn't indicate relative intelligence, to me, whereas the ability to absorb, retain and use information at all does. So yeah, teaching often needs customization to (among other things) learning styles, but for me stupidity doesn't enter into that at all unless we're talking students who are retarded in their mental development. (I almost wrote "special needs students," which is far from accurate.)
Kcatkcatalyst on August 3rd, 2010 06:32 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I had the same reaction. I do think there is such a thing as willful ignorance, but it's different from stupidity. My thing with intelligence is that ideologically I believe that intelligence is a basically false concept and that everyone's equally smart, just in different ways/contexts. And then I have one or two students in each class who really are just not that bright, there's no other way to describe it. I find this frustrating. Stupid empirical evidence.
Boring Nerd: boring nerdsignsoflife on August 3rd, 2010 02:50 pm (UTC)
Oooh, too much to say here.

Pretty obviously, one of my roles is as a teacher, and a teacher who confounds ignorance and stupidity is going to be a very bad teacher. It can be a huge challenge to figure out the correct material to teach (prior knowledge) and the correct pace to teach it at (intelligence). Worse, the students themselves tend to confuse ignorance for stupidity; I think this tends to be worse in science and math. "I do not know it" and "I cannot learn it" get mixed up.

I'm still capable of getting hot under the collar about a discussion about curriculum I had with another grad student a while ago -- I feel that our current introductory biology course is insufficiently rigorous & too conceptual; that it would be better to take a standard text in the field (I'm biased towards Campbell and Reece) and build a solid foundation, instead of depending on their high school educations, a dependence which only perpetuates class and racial inequities in secondary school preparation.

This isn't a revolutionary concept; my own intro Bio class -- at Harvard -- followed that strategy. But my interlocutor insisted on characterizing it as "dumbing it down," completely confusing ignorance for stupidity (and failing to realize that covering more material in less time is ultimately MORE demanding, not less.) It still makes me grouchy, despite the fact that neither of us is going to be sitting on a curriculum committee anytime soon.


Evolution and ignorance.

One of the other things I've discovered is that most of the people I encounter who "don't believe in evolution" are not willfully ignorant religionists, but casually ignorant people who have been mis-taught, deceived, or simply not taught the basic principles of evolutionary biology, and are often willing and even eager to understand. This isn't quite the same distinction as between ignorance and stupidity, except that I've always found willful ignorance much more frustrating than simple lack of intelligence. What I'm discovering, however, is that common ignorance is much more prevalent.


And finally -- one of the most frustrating things to me is when I've ended up in a fairly technical conversation with a moderate stranger, and they get prickly if I don't assume they know or completely get a particular point, and I'm often thinking, "I know graduate students in this field who mess up 'paternal' and 'parental'. This is not a test of your intelligence." It's the assumption that anyone not possessed of exactly the set of facts that you are is *stupid*, and therefore if I don't assume you are possessed of that set of facts, I must be impugning your intelligence rather than the infinitude of your knowledge base. I'm slowly getting better at handling that kind of conversation, but it's still frustrating.


Strangely, after such a long reply -- in my day to day life, "ignorance" and "stupidity" are generally really well separated. Most of my regular interactions are with people with whom mutual intellectual respect is assumed, and our ignorance of the details of each other's systems is inevitable.

DancingWolfGrrldancingwolfgrrl on August 3rd, 2010 02:53 pm (UTC)
I tend to think of ignorance as being accidental and largely the fault of something missed in one's education or experience. Once someone explains the missing thing to you, if you keep saying or doing dumb stuff, then it's stupidity :) (It is way easier to be smart if you agree with me, obviously!)

I feel like it comes up a lot for me in sensitive topics like race and gender, and occasionally at work around technology (where people flat-out refuse to learn to do things). I think that in some ways, what strikes me as willful ignorance -- that is, people who I know have heard a lot of smart words on the topic but maintain views I find problematic without articulating reasons I can understand as valid for them. In some sense, I feel like when someone is really actually stupid, maybe they really can't get it, which is also not their fault. When I feel like someone is set up to get it but doesn't, that's the most frustrating situation for me!
fanwfanw on August 3rd, 2010 04:28 pm (UTC)
I always defined stupidity as a lack of intelligence while ignorance is a lack of knowledge. The latter can be corrected.
Kcatkcatalyst on August 3rd, 2010 06:36 pm (UTC)
Given what we know about intelligence, so can the former, at least to some degree.
fanwfanw on August 3rd, 2010 07:02 pm (UTC)
Hmm. I'm curious what you mean. I always understood that intelligence refers to the facility with which one is capable of learning. Those with mental retardation (now, fashionably renamed "intellectual disability") can learn many things, but they never gain the ease of learning which more intelligent individuals have. Likewise, I can learn many things, but I will never be the 23-yr old MIT professor or the polyglot diplomat.

Is there some new study I'm unaware of?
Beahbeah on August 3rd, 2010 04:39 pm (UTC)
Though I use it colloquially to mean a far broader range of things, I tend to think of stupid as the opposite of smart, as in, one's innate intellectual capacity. Ignorance is not necessarily linked to intelligence, though it can be harder to "fix" ignorance with a limited intellect.

This makes me think of Flowers for Algernon. Charlie starts off both stupid and, in many ways, ignorant. As he becomes smarter, his ignorance is revealed to him, and he is able to combat it (though I posit that plenty of smart people choose not to do that). When he reverts back to stupid, he no longer has the capacity to understand complexity or nuance, and once again returns to ignorance, but not out of malice or fault.

I suppose where I'm going is that I'm inclined to give ignorant stupid people more leeway than ignorant not-stupid ones. I probably still don't want to be around them, but they're less likely to get under my skin.
lazyzlazyz on August 3rd, 2010 04:51 pm (UTC)
One is bliss, the other isn't even close.
T Streich: avviesweetbaboo on August 3rd, 2010 06:27 pm (UTC)
A lot. Also,
There's not knowing something [relevant to conversation at hand].
There's not being efficient at processing previously EDIT unknown or known concepts or information.
There's obdurate willingness to resist learning specific [relevant] or general concepts or information.

There are more, of course, but I expect those are the three most common essential definitions for "stupid" / "ignorant", "stupidity" / "ignorance". Like the difference between "hearing" and "listening", since different people assign different values to those the worlds in question.

Practically, it often comes down to "should I waste another five minutes of possible aggravation to explain this AGAIN"?

Edited at 2010-08-03 06:30 pm (UTC)
David Policardpolicar on August 3rd, 2010 08:55 pm (UTC)
All the time.
The biggest pragmatic difference for me has to do with how the subsequent conversation goes. Dealing with ignorance can even be satisfying sometimes. Dealing with stupidity is uniformly frustrating.
Zilya: paintings-creaturesklingonlandlady on August 4th, 2010 04:05 am (UTC)
If someone is Just Not Bright but otherwise well-meaning and pleasant, that can be ok. If they are ignorant (uninformed about something) but curious and willing to learn, that can be great. If they are Willfully Ignorant, that's really frustrating.
David Policardpolicar on August 4th, 2010 05:11 am (UTC)
Well, I suppose a lot depends on the interaction. If I can just nod and smile, or walk away, or otherwise let things go as they will, then I don't mind stupidity too much. Or ignorance, come to that.
sarahshevettsarahshevett on August 4th, 2010 05:39 pm (UTC)
YOu can't fix stupid.
The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

and they don't know how stupid they are so it's not as if you can try to deal with it.

Illusory superiority or as I like to call it, arrogance.
I consider stupidity unreasonable and I DON'T deal with it.
Once someone is obviously so stupid as to be unreasonable, as to see that their actions are not only NOT helping them, but actually causing them harm, I stop dealing with them, so I don't get caught up in their web of disaster.

"A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses. "

I avoid them at all costs.
The do not listen to reason, nor are they usually even open to discussion.

Ignorance, otoh, is lack of knowledge, information, or the ability to assimilate information.
Ignorance is just not knowing, or maybe even refusing to know.

I run into WAY more stupid people than ignorant ones.