Ignorance vs. Knowledge

In brainstorming potential collective course statements, I saw repetition of a common idea: increasing knowledge is essential. Grace, Jennifer, Sabrina, Emma, myself, and other classmates all emphasized that a vital takeaway from this course is that we should increase learning to create societal change.  This necessary increase in knowledge is overwhelming. Faced with the impossible task of attempting to learn everything conflicts with the common saying–“ignorance is bliss”. Is ignorance bliss? Or is knowledge power?

Genetic testing is a popular new field that has gained attention recently. As tests become cheaper and more accessible, people are faced with a dilemma. Should they test themselves for potentially debilitating diseases such as Huntington’s and Multiple Sclerosis? Or is “ignorance bliss” in this case? Huntington’s disease is a unique disorder in which symptoms do not usually appear until an individual’s late 30’s or 40’s, after reproductive age. An individual with Huntington’s in their family history may consider genetic testing to see if they have the gene for Huntington’s before having children. However, if the result is positive, they then have to gamble with the possibility of bringing a child into the world that will eventually have to deal with the debilitating disorder. Also, the individual will have to deal with the fact that they will develop this disorder in the future. Was the individual better off in their state of ignorance about their future? With this new knowledge, the individual can prepare for their future. However, in preparing for their future neurodegeneration, they may not be living their healthy life to its full potential, as they will be burdened by their impending future. They were probably happier in their state of ignorance before their diagnosis.

Medical Apartheid emphasizes increasing knowledge of racism in medicine to attempt to heal the scars from historic discrimination of African Americans. Washington details this discrimination because “trying to ameliorate African American health without understanding the pertinent history of medical care is like trying to treat a patient without eliciting a thorough medical history: a hazardous, and probably futile approach” (21). Increasing knowledge of discrimination in medicine is vital to improving African American health care.

Knowledge is a delicate balance. Knowledge does bring power, and this power brings negative or positive consequences. Epistemophilia is dangerous–blissful ignorance can be ruined by knowledge.

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