Christopher Nolan’s much-anticipated war movie Dunkirk opened this past weekend. Highly anticipated and stellarly-reviewed, it tells one of the great stories of 20th century history: the rescue of 400,000 British, French and Belgian soldiers from a French beach during the early days of World War II. Apparently, this event isn’t worthy of being related in a historically accurate fashion, at least according to the sentiments of Brian Truitt at USA Today.

the fact that there are only a couple of women and no lead actors of color may rub some the wrong way.

Perhaps there aren’t women and lead actors of color in the movie because there weren’t women and major figures of color involved in this particular episode in history. Or, does history not actually matter any more?

Consider a tweet by Twitter user @emily_Marie43:

jesus wasn’t white. he was born in a primarily muslim country. goodbye.

The question of Jesus’s “whiteness” aside, apparently Emily Marie is ignorant of the fact that Mohammed the Prophet was born nearly 550 years after Christ’s death, meaning that Islam didn’t even exist until the 7th Century A.D. There’s also the pesky fact that Jesus’s birthplace was part of the Roman empire at the time, an empire that had its own pantheon of gods (co-opted, of course, from the Greeks). These basic facts, which any junior-high-school student should know, apparently either leaked out of or never entered Emily Marie’s brain pan.

Emily Marie’s ignorance mirrors that of the people who carry on about Palestine and Israel and history and how the Palestinian homeland is occupied by Israelis. These people are either as ignorant of the relative ages of Islam and Judaism and the history of that part of the Middle East, or they demonstrate partial ignorance of history by engaging in snapshot geography.

In a similar vein, we find people who ignorantly declare that the entirety of history is that of whites subjugating and oppressing minorities, and therefore racism only exists in one direction. Yes, there are people who believe this. They either ignore or are unaware of the Mongols spreading across Europe, of the Ottomans in southeastern Europe and north Africa, of the oppressions foisted among the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans, of the history of the Aztecs, of the internecine oppressions among Native American tribes, of the Rwandan Genocide, of the Indian caste system, of the fact that fewer than 10% of the slaves taken out of Africa were bought to America, of the story of Exodus, and so forth. Human history is that of man’s cruelty and oppression of those who are “other.”

These examples share this commonality: a social justice declaration rooted in an overt ignorance of history.

Here’s the neat thing about ignorance: It’s easily treated. Here’s the terrible thing about social justice arrogance: It is highly resistant to treatment.

When someone goes public with an assertion, especially in a strong, contemptuous, and condescending fashion, it’s difficult to walk back. Many people, perhaps even most people, would rather stubbornly defend a position born of factual ignorance than admit it was born of insufficient or wrong information. This seems especially true in social circles that require conformity, rely on external validation, and work backwards from pre-ordained conclusions.

Social media have compounded this problem, because it has become incredibly easy for just about anyone to go widely public with an opinion. And, with the Internet, everything is forever. I believe that our modern information age, where anything you want to know is literally always at hand, has had a perversely contrary effect on people’s levels of knowledge and ignorance. Confirmation bias is easier than ever to feed, tendentious and outright false “sources” of information are there for anyone who seeks to validate a preferred opinion rather than build one based on facts, and the rush to be first with an opinion – to be a frontrunner rather than get mocked as a bandwagon-jumper – results in people saying inane or wrong things that they later choose to defend rather than amend, no matter the contortions required.

This problem isn’t going away, sad to say. Being heard today almost requires being quick, noisy, and outrageous. Saying stupid things or things born of ignorance is rarely punished, because there are always people who like what was said and don’t care if it’s wrong.

What can we do about this? First – lead by example. If you put forth a position that’s later undermined by information you didn’t have, own up to it. People who choose to deride you for intellectual honesty aren’t worth giving a moment’s consideration, and if they are actual friends or acquaintances and aren’t merely busting balls, perhaps they’re not worthy of your friendship or association. Second – be magnanimous in victory. If you challenge someone with facts, and he adjusts or corrects, don’t mock him. Third – don’t let garbage slide by. Yes, it can be tough to be the “emperor has no clothes” kid, especially in today’s viper pits of social and political discussion, and it’s not something we can all do all the time. But, just as the “emperor has no clothes” kid opened more than a few eyes, challenging ignorance or BS can create quiet converts, converts who may eventually become challengers themselves.

There is little excuse for saying ignorant things nowadays, and even less excuse for clinging to them when they’ve been unmasked. A well-functioning society must be one that cleanses itself of such when they occur.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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