The quote “ignorance is bliss” seems to appear and apply in many aspects of society. According to several sources, the idea first comes from Alexander Pope in “An Essay on Criticism” and later appears as “Where ignorance is bliss, ‘Tis folly to be wise” by Thomas Gray’s poem “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College.” This theme of ignorance is seen in many novels and recently I’ve discovered, Greek anecdotes.
First off, let’s start with the meaning of the proverb. On Urban Dictionary, the proverb means “The lack of knowledge in reference to a situation, particularly a messy one. Once the whole truth is revealed one realizes they were much happier being clueless.” All the definitions and interpretations I’ve come across are related to this connotation, “…if you don’t know something, then it can’t affect the your view of the world. You will continue being happy.”
So that brings up the argument, is this just nonsensical rubbish made to justify a false assumption or is there truth in this proverb? Well, first analyzing the full poem by Thomas Gray. In his work, he reflects on the innocence and free-will of children, being amused by simple games, constantly laughing and enjoying their childhood lives, and not needing to revel in the misfortunes and hardships of adult life, working, and all the problems that are wrong in this world.
*Spoilers from Oedipus Rex* One topic of ignorance that struck me recently was the irony of prophets in Greek mythology. A reoccurring coincidence in Greek mythology is that once a prophet reveals misfortunes in the future, the individual connected with it seeks to hinder fate. A shining example of this trend is conspicuous in Socrates’ trilogy Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone. Had it not been prophesied that the son of Laios would one day kill his own father and one day have children with his mother; and, if Oedipus had not been told that he would one day kill his father and sleep with his mother, the following misfortunes may have been adverted. So, had the prophets not revealed these visions, Oedipus, that said child, may have never been sent away from Thebes, believed in the lie that Polybus and Merope were his true “parents” and that Cornith was his homeland, left Cornith, and went to the prophet at Delphi– where on this journey, he unknowingly meets his true father, King Laios, and out of rage, kills him, this whole timeline would have been non-existent. So the ignorance of the probable future could have stopped all of the following events from occurring. Right? Yeah, possibly. But then again, in the novel, there are a few aspects could have also changed the outcome. For example, had Oedipus been told and not kept ignorant of his true parents, he would have been able to advert committing parricide and over twenty years of misfortune. (I’ll put a short skip-able list below of events could have changed Oedipus’ fate.)
Should’ve been ignorant towards:
- The prophesies to Laios: this would have prevented Laios and Iocaste from sending Oedipus off into the mountains.
- Prophesies to Oedipus: would have kept him from leaving Cornith and killing Laios on the path where three roads meet.
- His origins: had it not been discovered where Oedipus came from, he wouldn’t have been exiled, blinded by the misfortunes caused by his unknown unknowns, and many characters’ deaths could have been adverted. Instead, he would have been happy as king of Thebes, oblivious to the atrocities, and war between his sons/brothers on rule over Thebes wouldn’t have occurred.
Should have known:
- Oedipus should have been told who his parents/origins were.
- Should’ve known that he was cursing himself– threatening the man who the gods said to bring the justice with exile.
- The shepherd and Iocaste (his wife/mother’s) knowledge/secrets.
Changing the topic now: Often times, the ignorance of people in the modern media (most, not all) and the many superficial commentaries I overhear irks me to no end. But then, the more I think about it, the more I realize that others’ are totally unaffected by the issue that they are so easily waving off. Instead, it’s people like me who are stressing about these issues and apathetic, nonchalant responses. So does this mean that knowledge is a bad thing? And that ignorance makes life easier? Well, it’s hard to say “yes it is” or “no, it isn’t” to the topic of “unknown unknowns” (as coined by Donald Rumsfeld). However, it is also reasonable to say that it’s conditional. The answer to avoiding ignorance lies elsewhere. However, my advice based on 15 years of experience (not much to work off, I know), but all I can really say is to keep an open mind, a group of trusted and wise friends nearby, never think yourself too great or egotistical to evaluate the advice of others, and just be aware of problems around you, trying to fix or educate others in any way possible– whether it be writing a book, ranting in a video, or writing a mere blog post and hope others will sympathize with you and listen to what you have to say.