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Innocence and Ignorance – unpicking Idiocracy with Sarah Palin

March 13, 2014

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I was musing on that HBO movie about Sarah Palin staring Julianne Moore.   A little while ago I know, but it’s a story with ongoing implications.

It was funny enough and I dare say accurate, but it made that critical error of making Palin’s devastating ignorance seem somehow kind of cute.  Her flailing attempts to get to grips with the world around her (as opposed to the world in her head) end up in securing an unexpected sense of compassion from the viewer.  As Moore’s Palin flails about helplessly, not knowing anything about anything we end up feeling sorry for her.  Or at least, so the critics tell me.

Perhaps this is a function of Moore’s acting.  She just couldn’t help but gather sympathy in a starring role.  But the story as told risked reinforcing a prevalent and dangerous belief that there is some kind of semantic slippage between ignorance and innocence, that one slides into the other or that one is symptomatic of the other.  If a “little learning is a dangerous thing”, then Sarah Palin must surely be the least dangerous politician in the Northern Hemisphere right?  Wrong.

Innocence and Ignorance only sound alike.  They’re very unalike in fact.  Ignorance, defined as a defining characteristic of an adult rather than as a necessary encumbrance of childhood is utterly antipathetic to innocence.  No, where there is genuine semantic slippage, authentic elision of meaning, is between ignorance and arrogance.

Sarah Palin, and other previous and subsequent examples of the the idiocratic Right are not ignorant because they are innocent but because they are arrogant.  The famous howlers that entertain the online community are the product of a profound contempt for others.  The reason why she and other politicians are so uninformed is because they think they already know everything,  This kind of stupidity in an adult is not “natural” but carefully cultivated and policed.   It takes work for a wealthy and privileged person to remain ignorant.  The “natural” human impulse is to learn and grow, to reach out to others and try and find out more about the universe.  Ignorance, sustained ignorance is a profoundly unnatural human condition. It requires effort to maintain.  Sarah Palin is ignorant because she despises others.  Without a very carefully maintained contempt for humanity, it is almost impossible not to learn more than she seems to have done.

Ultimately, there are more important things than determining the accurate and “true” level of stupidity of George Bush, Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin.  If their stupidity is largely an act, then the consequences are even more frightening.  A more urgent and significant task is to unpick and expose the grammar of idiocracy and the way in which benefits from false associations.  Why, when Bush and Kerry went head to head in 2004, did so many people prefer the wealthy privileged white guy who looked like he’d wasted his education to the wealthy privileged white guy who seemed to have benefited from it?  How and why does “ignorance” convey a sense of the “common touch”?

Wilful ignorance is wilful arrogance.  It is incompatible with the kind of basic sane humility that is necessarily cognate with the need to reach out to others and seek to learn from them.  There is nothing “childlike” about ignorance in an adult, because children are people with a craving to learn.  Then again “childish” and “childlike” are diametrically opposed terms, whose confusion and elision has serious political consequences.


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One Comment
  1. shakytweets permalink

    I have watched the film twice and did not feel the slightest twinge of sympathy. I thought Sarah came across as self serving, dishonest, and manipulative. Plus the arrogant bit is there too, she can’t be so stupid that she doesn’t know she is not qualified for vp.

    My sympathies are with the American people for being stuck with the worst so called “democratic” system in the developed world. No PR, a head of state with actual power instead of a Prime minister, and no restrictions on campaign funding.

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