Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Subtle Arrogance?

Originally posted on May 5, 2013

What other term should be used for the all-too-common set that doesn’t recognize vividly that it might be mistaken, or limited? The illusion that what one knows is sufficient is the foundation of a great deal of error, and error can easily be magnified into great evil! This is an amplification of the words of the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, who said something like this: “All truths are half-truths. It’s treating them as whole truths that plays the devil.”

If what is known or believed is adequate, then those who claim to know otherwise, or those who have more education, may be denigrated as evil or themselves foolishly prideful. What other term shall we use for those who compound their “subtle arrogance” by hostile dismissal or denigration of those with opposing or expanding or qualifying views.

I’ve erred in calling the first form ‘stupidity’ and the second form ‘ignoramus,” but lacking other words, I chose these harshly judgmental terms. My point is that simply not knowing, innocent ignorance, is nothing to be ashamed of. Indeed, cultivating a modest sense of this is a virtue. It need not stop us from having opinions or being decisive when the situation requires it, but what we do can be tempered by being just a bit short of narrow self-righteousness.

Really, what is at issue here is recognizing that there are several forms of not-knowing. The mischief comes with not knowing that you don’t know. Or as some humorist put it many years ago, using a bit of dialect humor: “It ain’t what yer don’t know what gits yer inter trouble; it’s the stuff ya know fer sure what ain’t so.”

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