The Power of Ignorance

Over the course of our lives, we all make transgressions. Sometimes we upset our friends and cause trouble for institutions. There is no reasonable way to lead a completely inoffensive life. So when we inevitably make a transgression we are at the mercy of others to forgive us, whether we like it or not.

Forgiveness is good, but it seems like some people are more likely to be forgiven than others.

In Luke 23:34 Jesus says of his tormentors, “Bless them, lord, they know not what they do.” Regardless of how you feel about the Bible, this quote raises an interesting question concerning knowledge, ignorance, and forgiveness. If people offend you in ignorance, if they know not what they do, are their transgressions as bad as somebody who knowingly offends? Is it easier to forgive a person who does bad things if they didn’t know what they were doing is bad?

Stealing athena

”Were not stealing. We’re looting. It’s different!”

Claiming ignorance almost seems like a social, and even legal, get-out-of-jail-free card. If ignorance is such a good excuse, then what is the value of knowledge?

People who know what they are doing are less likely to be forgiven for doing bad things. If you decide to make brutal jokes about your friend’s grandmother, and you know she just died, then you are being a jerk and everyone will hate you. If someone else shows up and starts making the same mean jokes about the same grandma, but they don’t know grandma is dead, then everyone else is more likely to forgive and move on with their lives.

So two people say the same offensive thing, but one does so with knowledge and the other expresses their crude statements in ignorance. Only one of these folks has a chance of walking away without irreparably damaging their reputation, and its not the guy with the knowledge. Ignorant people seem to be able to get away with whatever they want, as long as they don’t know what they’re doing.


“Who knew people could be manipulated through social media? Oh well, live and learn, I guess.”

Maybe that is why powerful people so often seem so completely clueless. Ignorant people are forgiven, and forgiveness can stack up over the years to equal influence. Ignorant people often benefit from their flawed behavior, and yet they also benefit from the mercy of others. It doesn’t seem fair, but as long as you don’t know its not fair then you can continue to exploit the system. As long as you don’t know you’re exploiting anyone, then exploitation is fine.

Now I believe we have revealed the vilest of creatures and the truest of monsters: People who claim to know nothing, not so they can learn more, but so they can escape without consequences.

How do you reign in a person who cries ignorance so they can get what they want? How can you tell true ignorance from claims of ignorance that are only for show?

The worst president

“I didn’t know pretending not to know stuff was bad, so now you have to forgive me“