The Underestimated Human Ignorance

By Abel Merawi

wars-human-ignoranceJuly 29, 2020 ( -- What do you call a person who forgets the invaluable lessons of history? What is a good term for a person who engages in activities that harm oneself and others? What type of person believes in verily absurd fictions to the point of sacrificing oneself and others? What is the name of a person who begins every interaction in labels and categories? I don’t know about you, but I call such a person profoundly ignorant. To use words such as madness and stupidity would perhaps be more appropriate, yet I fear offending everyone, including the stupid in me! Let us then stick to the word ignorance and apply it to the whole of our species. As a general proposition, I contend that we are ignorant and afflicted with myopia since it is difficult to identify any other species that works against itself.

In defining human beings, most philosophers have concluded that we are rational and/or social animals. But upon closer scrutiny into individuals and societies that constantly bring their own demise, I prefer adding the word ‘potential’ in the definition. Accordingly, human beings are ‘potentially’ rational and social animals. When we don’t live up to this potentials, we enter into a profound state of ignorance. But enough with abstractions and generalizations. I will now proceed with the overwhelming evidence that attests to our ignorance. Above all, I hope this evidence can make us cease underestimating our ignorance and overindulge in our greatness. This offensive remark against myself and fellow human beings is necessary in order to live up to our rational and social potential.

The difficulty of this attempt is in finding broad spectrums that account for various manifestations of the issue I am discussing. Realizing this, I highlight the following areas of human ignorance at the risk of omitting some and being misunderstood. I consider them to be collective symptoms of ignorance that emanate from individual choices.

Group Mentality

It is perfectly understandable to find people in groups. It is an evolutionary necessity that helps protect individuals from the dangers of the wilderness. It was also useful when tribes fought for territory and resources. However, it should have been something we dropped somewhere along the evolutionary process; especially after forming international unions such as the League of Nations – if it had lived up to its name. But it seemed to have intensified as people created innumerable standards to distinguish between ‘we’ and them’. The in-group or ‘we’ is always favored and the out-group or ‘them’ is always seen as an enemy. Such ignorance is evident wherever humans inhabit on earth. This group mentality comes in different guises: we call it a difference in religion, race, nationality, culture, or ideology. The potentially social animal is perpetually stuck in this labyrinth and appears to be unable to move to a higher level of consciousness. Instead of expanding the group, we have stunted its growth. This ignorance made us forget that the group we belong to was the result of continual unity with other groups.   

Racial Bigotry

The dominant manifestation of group mentality is evident in racial differences or, to be exact, racial inequality. Personally, I cannot think of a more farcical and absurd concept as racial bigotry. During the colonization and WWII, the world may have been tricked by some scientists, who claimed race determines a person’s worth. However, we have irrefutable evidence that there is only an alterable cultural difference instead of an inherent racial difference. Nevertheless, thanks to our ignorance, people still assume race makes people unequal. And the ironic part of such mentality is evident in the assumption that the race we belong to is always better. This continues to be a pandemic that leads to oppression and inequality of all sorts. I think anyone claiming racial difference should be mocked for ignorance just as one saying the color of one's cloth determines his or her value!   

Worldview Extremism

Just as racial differences, ideological differences have also been one of the causes of human misery. We can easily recall the Cold War and see its consequence on the rest of the world. What makes such ignorance the more absurd is the fact that it is the case of scholars’ and intellectuals’ extremism. Such intellectuals arrogantly believe that only their worldview is true and the rest must convert. Such extremism in worldviews has different names: socialism, communism, or even democracy. The sheer ignorance is revealed everywhere people sacrifice their lives and others for the sake of an ideology. Ignorance speaks through western nations whenever they invade an Arab country such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya for the sake of liberal democracy. Similar to dictators, the unjust action of democratic nations in other nations is anything but democratic. Personally, I don’t see why nations can’t incorporate various ideologies in different aspects of life. Can’t we follow different ideologies for a political, economic, and social life? To be cured of such ignorance and arrogance we all need to be a bit humble and consider other ideologies as possibilities, however flawed they may be, just like ours.  


History has taught us with a harsh experience that we lose more from wars than we imagine to gain. Only some, such as the arms industry, profits when the rest of the country suffers. So why do we still do it? Perhaps ignorance and illusion of one’s greatness. Undeniably, the further we go back in history, we see empires and nations built on wars. However, that invariably comes at the cost of immense suffering to the average man. This has become lesser in the modern world in which nations are held accountable or generate future enemies. Nevertheless, the problem persists. So, why can’t we just leave out the fight and pursue negotiations? Alas! Trapped in our own creation, we consider this gullible.

These and other forms of ignorance diminish the progress of our species. I admit there is no quick fix for a global pandemic, but the process begins when we admit and accept our ignorance. Most of our ignorance seems to emanate from our adherence to popular beliefs and negligence to truth. We can eradicate this collective problem only when every individual begins to take life seriously and reexamine the values attached to it. We can speed up the process by using our education system. Rather than just acquiring technical skills, we must learn humane values and what it means to us as species. We have the potential to be rational and social, as history is abundant with people who lived up to this human potential. Individually, we must strive to be the best version of ourselves.


Abel Merawi is Addis Ababa-based contributor for He can be reached through this form.

Other articles by Abel Merawi:

Is America the Land of Freedom? (Part II)

Is America the Land of Freedom? (Part I)

Capitalism Becoming an Impediment to Morality

Ketman: Living in Disguise to Gain Acceptance

The System and the 'Criminal'

Trust as an Economic Force

Do You Trust the Government?

Our Online World

Fame Mistaken for Expertise

The Heavy Burden of Healthcare Workers

A Time to Reflect

The Plague by Albert Camus: Fiction Becomes Reality!

History of Pandemics in Ethiopia

Human Struggle Against Pandemics: Historical Perspective

Crisis Profiteers

You Can Make a Difference

Rule of Law for a Free Society


The Origins of Law

Determinants of Market Value: Part II

Determinants of Market Value: Part I

Your life Matters Too

Manifestations of Artistic Expression

Achievements vs Natural Accidents

The Grip of Sacrifice

Injustice is Never Justifiable

Education Demands of the Future

Job Security, Life and the Unpredictable Future

The Shift From Racism to Culturism

Sacrificing Meaning for Power?

Culture and Market Forces

Intersubjective Reality

Seeking Cosmic Justice

National Myths: Makers and Destroyers of Nations

Are We Truly Free?

Maturity: The Prerequisite to Freedom and Democracy

Loyalty to Truth, Not to Group

The Value of Work

The Flaws with Ethiopian Political System

Intellectuals and the People

Where Are Our Pathfinders?

The Allegory of the Cave and Its Lessons to Leaders

The Truth Behind Humanity

The Seven Virtues

The Seven Deadly Sins

What is the right thing to do?

Building National Identity

Adey Abeba and the Spirit of Change

Mob Violence

Living the Truth as a Human Being

Hubris - The Tragedy of Not Learning from Others

The Era of Group Mentality: Us vs Them

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