“Where ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise”
This is the last line in the 1747 poem by Thomas Grey. A line which has been infamously decontextualized into the adage:
“…ignorance is bliss…”.
A saying which cynically alludes to the concept that becoming wiser or more knowledgeable is somehow akin to an increase of misery and discomfort on part of the learner.
Frankly, I disagree. Completely.
If ignorance truly is bliss, the question follows: ignorance of what? What must you be ignorant of in order to remain blissful? Of course, I can think of a lot of things one can not know, or not think about, in order to improve one’s mood: environmental devastation, war, racism. But to be ignorant means to ‘not know, nor ever having known.’ You can be aware of evil without dwelling on it. In fact, knowledge of evil is equivalent to Prudence. A virtue.
Are you blissful if you are ignorant of what to eat in order to maintain good health? Does bliss result from ignorance of what it takes to maintain a healthy relationship? What about ignorance of your own talents and capabilities? An ignorance of inspiring figures or works of art?
Thomas Grey, and others philosophers, seem to suggest that childhood is some sort of ‘misery in waiting’, requiring only a general education of the world’s faults to initiate all young individuals into their grumpsome and grim adult years.
But knowledge of the bad is not knowledge total. A car crash is not a driving lesson.
I understand the necessity to be realistic about the dangers and trials of a life lived fully, but to equate ignorance with bliss is to sleep in a hole in the ground. It’s dangerous thinking to reason that a learned individual is by nature less satisfied with life. If anything, that mentality robs you of what little ignorant ‘bliss’ you have; living in dread of the one wretched day in which you may accidentally learn something…
The caterpillar is ignorant of what it means to be a butterfly. The egg is ignorant of that which is birdlike. This does not mean there will be no storms. No predators. But to stay in your egg or cocoon means there will be no sunlight either.