Top 10 Things People Pretend They Don’t Know

There are plenty of good occasions to pretend not to know something: an embarrassing secret of a friend, a plan for a surprise party, the punchline of a child’s joke.

There are plenty of good excuses to actually not know something: it would take decades of study, it’s of no interest or value, it would cost so much money to research it that you could have saved millions of lives instead.

There are, I think, fewer good justifications for pretending to yourself (not just to others) not to know something that you actually already know or would know with a moment’s consideration, something overwhelmingly established by widely acknowledged and clear evidence, regardless of what your television might tell you.

Here are 10 of those things.

10. It costs vastly less money and is far more effective (and with fewer costs of every sort) to prevent crime by providing things like housing, nutrition, education, healthcare, retirement, and guaranteed income, than to attempt to deter crime through mass incarceration, capital punishment, and the use of armed forces to address addiction or tell people they are driving too fast.

9. There is no shortage of money or needed resources, not in the United States, and not on Earth. By choosing to do without billionaires or bigger militaries, we could also do without poverty or hunger. By choosing to do without health insurance companies and current government healthcare programs, the U.S. could spend less and get more, like other countries do.

8. The Earth’s climate and ecosystems are rapidly collapsing, and are in no way being seriously addressed by the world’s governments, least of all by the government of the United States, which has done more damage than any other.

7. Maintaining — never mind building and proliferating — nuclear weapons is and always was absolutely insane, in no way justifiable, and generative of a serious risk of ending all life on Earth before other destructive behaviors can do so.

6. Violent efforts to improve the world are usually far less effective, successful, or lasting than nonviolent efforts, and the idea that violence can be justified is a delusion sustained by entertainment and unthinking anger.

5. Industrial societies are not superior to indigenous and sustainable societies, and among industrial societies the most superior is not that of the United States, which trails most others in life expectancy, health, education, happiness, and liberties.

4. It is not true that we can (and must) continue enlarging economies on a finite planet. An economic system that requires that impossible and immoral feat is in need of major changes.

3. Every single person is of value, and prejudice against anyone is equally stupid. We don’t have time for overcoming sexism but not racism, or overcoming racism but not xenophobia, or to go on “humanizing” away every little prejudice one at a time. We’re going to have to speed up the rejection of all prejudice.

2. Corrupt political systems do not represent or speak for you or care about you even when one part (or Party) of them is even worse than some other part.

1. Death is actually death, and there’s no God, or gods, or spirits, or mystical forces, or something heartwarmingly powerful about the extent of our ignorance, that absolves us of complete responsibility for what we do and fail to do.

Not only does it do great damage to pretend that each of these things is false, but the habit of so pretending does great damage, facilitating further pretenses. And the standard created by accepting some of these pretenses makes it harder to reject others. Of course it’s your “right” to believe that people don’t die, but then why isn’t it your uncle’s right to believe that the Earth’s climate is doing just fine or would be if something were done about homosexuals? I wish there were a way to challenge dearly held myths without offending anyone, but the thing seems by definition impossible. We ought, therefore, to recognize that, not only are myths that we ourselves cherish dearly held, but others that seem like simple stupidity to us may be dearly held by some people — and for exactly as good a reason, since there is no good reason for any of this. Perhaps knowing that we all struggle with facing even fairly obvious truths (even the ones that didn’t make this list because I’ve failed to face them) can help us collectively do better.

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