As it turns out, I have time for maybe 1 more good post before my work consumes me and I’ll be off the grid again for a few months. So I thought I would address the issue of “willful ignorance,” which we’ll define here as the act of formulating an opinion without evidence, and then intentionally avoiding evidence because the data might disprove one’s conviction. This is a phenomenon that occurs on forums often, especially with emotionally charged topics like “gun control.” Due to the emotions involved, feelings take over rather then thought and rationale. It is because of this that people think it is OK to spout off well defined personal convictions without some basic education on the topic that would lead to an informed opinion. And when it becomes transparent that the persons opinion is not well informed, suggesting (even in the politest and most general way possible) that they do a little more research or perhaps ask some more questions before taking a hard stance leads to a completely emotional response. The suggestor had better brace himself for anger and insults (whether blatant or veiled). A great example of willful ignorance in action and how it can manifest itself with even the most insignificant bits of info can be seen in the recent thread titled “10 round clip controversy.” When it was mentioned that what we were discussing is called a “mag” or “magazine” rather then “clip,” the justifications and denials started rolling in. 1st came in the claims that “well that’s just slang” and “that’s a commonly used term” and “we’re just arguing semantics.” I pointed out the fact that people who are educated on firearms generally won’t use the “clip” to mean “mag,” and that when we are discussing regulating equipment (be it mag capacity or rifle parts or whatever) people should at least be educated a little on these components, starting with proper names. I mentioned that though it may not invalidate an argument, not using correct terms can be quite telling on how well educated someone is on a subject. I suggested that if it is the case that someone is not educated on guns and the gun control argument, then they should do some research and ask some questions before taking a hard stance on the subject. With the way certain people responded, you would have thought I insulted the intellect of their entire family. The snide remarks, the name calling (got called an “elitist”, and the insults (claiming that I have “contributed nothing” of value, reframing parts of what I said to attempt to make me look unintelligent, etc.) ensued. Then, to make matters more hilarious, some people still insisted on using the term “clip,” knowing it is wrong, after the correction. One should ask, why would simply stating that people should be somewhat educated on a topic before formulating a hard opinion be met with such malice? Why the avoidance of educating oneself before weighing in? With the length of some people’s posts, you know that the reason for not seeking out knowledge has nothing to do with time constrains. The reason is WILLFUL IGNORANCE. Gun Control is one of those topics (similar to religious and political topics) where people formulate opinions 1st. Then they become emotionally attached to those opinions, and therefore are reluctant to do any research on the topic for fear that the facts will kill their sacred cow. Their debate becomes a face-saving mission rather then a meaningful discussion. Gun rights advocates get very frustrated when anti-gun people demonstrate this willful ignorance. Often, the anti-gun person will claim to not be “anti-gun” or they will claim to be in agreement with you on most issues due to social pressure or the need for acceptance. But, what will proceed this claim is a call for a major restriction that that no one who is a gun advocate and who understands the 2nd amendment rights issue would even suggest. If they are taken seriously and presented with strong evidence against their position, the response is to not even consider or look at it, as the facts would violate their already formed opinions. This is endlessly frustrating for a number of reasons. First, they are claiming to be both informed on the topic and on your side, when neither is true. And secondly, how do you have a reasonable discussion with anyone who is only there to justify their already formulated opinion, and who isn’t willing to educate themselves on the topic with an open mind? You can’t. You will find yourself arguing in circles, and addressing fallacy after fallacy that you would never have to address with someone who was minimally educated on the topic. But, not all is lost. There are a lot of people who are informed in their opinions, even if they don’t agree with you completely when it comes to gun control. When you are lucky enough to find these people, they make for a very interesting and informative discourse. Furthermore, even if you find yourself in a debate with the willfully ignorant, what matters more then the person with whom you are arguing is the bystanders. The willful ignoramus will not change his mind, or even choose to make sense after a while. But there are plenty of people who haven’t formulated hard opinions yet who are listening/reading, and they are the ones who benefit from the discussion. Even if you are going around circles addressing outright silly claims, you may be helping someone formulate his own opinion based on your intelligent responses. So just remember, it isn’t all for nothing. Here are 2 Wikipedia links that are good to study in relation to the gun control argument. One is on the cognitive bias known as “escalation of commitment.” This is where once a person becomes invested in a decision, they continue to justify sticking by that decision based on cumulative investments even if that decision is wrong. They often demonstrate willful ignorance; ignoring any evidence that their decision was wrong. This occurs with these arguments. An Anti-gun person often decides to formulate their opinion before they fully research it, and they become psychologically invested in that decision. To go the other way would make them “wrong,” which to them they equate being wrong with being “stupid” or “inferior”. So they will often refuse to even look at the other side of the argument. The other link is on “confirmation bias,” which is where people tend to favor information that confirms their beliefs regardless of whether or not the information is true, or how much information exists to disprove their beliefs. This occurs in science and politics, and definitely occurs in the gun control debate: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irrational_escalation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias This article is a long but awesome read. It is titled: GUNS AND PUBLIC HEALTH: EPIDEMIC OF VIOLENCE OR PANDEMIC OF PROPAGANDA? This article discusses how cognitive bias can cloud the conclusions from the social sciences in regards to gun control. It demonstrates the phenomenon and dangers of coming up with an emotional conviction before hand, and allowing that conviction to frame how you gather and perceive data, and the conclusions that you make from that information. It falls right into the idea of willful ignorance and the consequences of this behavior. http://www.guncite.com/journals/tennmed.html Lastly, this article looks at the anti-gun argument from the social psychological perspective. It is very controversial, and will likely offend some of you. Obviously this is a social assessment and won’t apply to every individual who is in favor of some gun control; though I am sure in people’s defensiveness they will get wrapped up in this anyway. But I think it is a good read, and an accurate general assessment: http://www.vcdl.org/new/raging.htm Regardless of your opinions, I hope you enjoy the articles as much as I did.