Until recently, I had never experienced a proudly ignorant person in real life and it had always felt more like an internet phenomenon, but yesterday it happened.
My partner brought an acquaintance over that he had met at a friend’s place. I assume their shared heritage (they are both Americans living in Germany) and their interest in video games had led to that connection.
When Chris* came over, my boyfriend invited me to join them as well and we met at a restaurant to eat something. When the question came to why I started studying philosophy, I told him that it had initially been my second choice after a biology major. When he asked me why, I answered that it would have been obligatory to work with mice that they bred and killed for that specific purpose and that I was vegan – hence, it would have forced me to act against my moral convictions. I then quickly changed the subject to which discipline of philosophy I was aiming to pursue and asked him about his own studies, too.
I thought I had successfully dodged the bullet, but as soon as the waiter brought our food, the ordeal started (note that I was really trying to be friendly with him, because he was my partner’s guest). At first, he kept going on about how tasty his meat was for about 5 minutes straight, then he kept “joking” about vegans being weird and non-human for another 5 minutes. So far so good. I was slightly annoyed by his sheer persistence, but it wasn’t all that bad.
It became interesting when he asked me why I decided to go vegan and I told him how I don’t want to cause unnecessary harm to other conscious beings. Apart from that, it is better for the environment and ,therewith, in the interest of humans as well.
Instead of reacting to what I was saying, he simply decided that I was wrong and claimed that animals are not morally relevant, because they are not humans. I kept asking him about the reason for the moral relevance that he ascribed to humans. “Is there a certain property?” “Would you maybe say that humans are more relevant, because of their relation to other humans?” I told him that so far, he had only given me a thesis, not a whole argument.
He continued to say that he would not feel inclined to help an injured dog in the streets, but that he would feel different about humans, so I inquired whether his criterion of choice was his personal relationship to the beings in question. He ignored that and made a remark on the lack of intelligence in dogs. I mentioned studies from the field of cognitive ethology and told him that a dog’s intelligence is comparable to that of a 3 year old. Considering this, it should be morally irrelevant, if I do harm to small children or certain mentally ill individuals. He didn’t like that and returned to the statement that there is still a difference, because they are still human (note that this only brings him back to his unsupported first thesis).
The glorious end of the “discussion” was marked by him deciding that he had “won the argument”, because he had refused to give me an argument, which led to me not being able to convince him (the heck?). He was actually proud of acting in an unreasonable and ignorant way.
This example is, as I said, taken from a singular personal experience of mine and I don’t mean to suggest that all human omnivores are unable to give a sound and valid argument. It is mainly meant to illustrate how a proudly ignorant person engages in “discussions”.
I am still baffled about his lack of interest in a reasonable argument. And I am even more concerned about the obvious pride that his behavior seemed to elicit in himself. Those are the kinds of people that cause and strengthen social injustices in all of their forms. They are often speciesist, sexist, and/or racist and, therewith, pose a threat to the freedom of many other individuals that are part of a free and diverse society.
I don’t have a perfect solution on how to deal with proudly ignorant people, but it seems clear that preventing people from acquiring a damaging attitude like that is easier than making them change their way in adulthood. Therefore, we should emphasize critical thinking and teach argumentation theory and basic logic at schools. Those skills are of great importance in most of the areas of our lives and there are better reasons for making this part of the obligatory curriculum than for memorizing the structure of a cell membrane.
I had my chance to vent and let you know about my thoughts. Now it’s up to you as well: Can you relate to my point of view or did I just write a load of nonsense? Have you ever encountered proudly ignorant people? Tell me about it. 😉