Ignorance Is Bliss
When Thomas Gray wrote “Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise” in 1742, he was commenting on how much more human beings accomplish because no one knows the date of his or her own death. Nowhere did Gray say that uneducated people are happier. In fact, as America becomes more drastically divided between the haves (as in, “I’;ll have a café latté”) and the have-nots (“Do you want fries with that?”), the question of whether ignorance is bliss becomes a greater concern than ever before.
The premise here is that people can be kept happy by not telling them how bad things really are. Certainly governments seem to follow this lead, frequently under the rubric of “national security.” But, for example, as airline personnel discover when they fail to make timely announcements and passengers are stranded on the runway, there are limits to both ignorance and bliss.
Existentialists posit that the more we know about our situation, the more powerless we are to affect it. That is reflected in a 1961 statement by John F. Kennedy: “When I became President, what surprised me the most was that things were just as bad as I’;d been saying they were.” Had JFK not become the most powerful person in the world the moment he took the Oath of Office, he might have been frustrated by his sudden loss of ignorance. For everybody else, a University of Kentucky study (reported by Alfie Kohn in
Although Shirley Eaton—the poor “golden girl” who succumbed to solid body gilding in the James Bond movie