We are stupid and ignorant

Screenshot anime Aho-girl

Let’s enjoy our idiot lives together! From the aptly named Aho-gaaru, or Idiot Girl.

One thing that most of us will never fully grasp is how stupid and ignorant we are, simply because we are human. And being human, while great fun at times, is being very very limited. As I have said before, “life is not only short but also very narrow”.

I used to be a genius. Not Nobel Prize level – that takes hard work too, and I hate that – but I used to effortlessly be one of the best at whatever school I went to after puberty. (I matured slowly so in my childhood I was not particularly bright.) I have remained curious since then, learned much and understood much. And the more I know, the more I realize that I don’t know and will never ever know in a human life.

As I said, I’m on the brighter end of the scale, even if not sensationally so. And I say with absolute certainty that even if I could relive my adult life a thousand times over, I would still not learn all that my fellow humans know and can do, let alone what none of us can. I don’t here talk about the origin of the cosmos or the relationships between the fundamental forces of nature. I mean things like building a house, repairing a car, growing various crops, raising children, preparing food that is both tasty and beautiful, programming an operating system, engineering a bridge or a tunnel, herding reindeer, growing bonsai trees, landing an airplane. All that jazz, including various musical instruments.

No, literally, a thousand lifetimes would not be enough to master every skill that someone has today. Probably not even enough to dabble in them all. But dabbling and mastery are not the same, although the dabbler may think himself a master until he learns enough to realize how little he knows. Most people who work in a field for decades, don’t become really awesome at it. They stop at some intermediate level that is good enough. They get paid, they don’t get fired, people even speak well of their work, finished, case closed. People speak well of my work as well. They are horribly wrong. I am terrible at what I do, even though I like it, and every workday is another day of despair about the fact that I not only know almost nothing about what I do, but can’t find a way to learn it within my remaining lifetime.

Yes, each workday is a day of mental pain, shame and regret. And I doubt it would be different in any other trade. In fact, helping people with software problems is probably one of the things I am best at. If I could go back in time to my younger body at an earlier age and take a different path, I doubt I would end up much better, and quite likely worse.

There is something called the Dunning-Kruger effect: People who are really ignorant, tend to even be ignorant of their ignorance. The Bible tells us so. OK, it actually does, but Dunning and Kruger verified it by controlled, repeatable test, and so it is named after them rather than some wise king in Jerusalem. (I am a big fan of divine wisdom myself, in principle, but my experience is the same as that of Johan Oscar Smith, founder of Brunstad Christian Church: Rather than gaining insight into the beasts of the Revelation, divine wisdom showed us the beast within ourselves. Not a pretty sight.) Anyway, sometimes ignorance really is bliss. Or at least absence of a certain form of pain.

On the other hand, ignorance and stupidity bring their own pains. No matter how convinced you are that it is all other people’s fault, reality doesn’t budge all that much, and being stupid and ignorant, you can do even less than you otherwise could have done to dodge the mule-kicks of fate. Not that even the brighter and wiser of us can avoid them all, far from it. But it is kind of nice not to have HIV for the rest of your life just because it seemed like a good idea to have sex with some friendly person. Or to not sleep in a prison bunk because you took a chance and it didn’t work out. Not have a lifelong mountain of debt and no job because you borrowed a little now and then, including from your employer without asking, because you were sure you would win the big jackpot one day. So yeah, being at least moderately non-stupid is a blessing as well.

But being smart enough and having enough life experience to know how little you know and how little you can do, that brings its own pain as well.

There is a saying that God must love mediocre people since he made so many of them. Yeah, or maybe it is an act of divine mercy, that so many people are bright enough to survive but not bright enough to realize how little they can know and do.

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