Brent Woodard

Windermere Valley Shared Ministry

If ignorance is bliss, is knowledge a burden? 

Often, I have experienced this to be true. For example, drinking coffee out of a Styrofoam cup. Not many years ago polystyrene foam (commonly called Styrofoam) was made out of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which helped deplete the ozone layer. (Though apparently no longer made of CFCs, polystyrene foam is a nonbiodegradable substance and is almost impossible to recycle and reuse. It is a significant contributor of microplastics and is toxic for animals and the planet). 

After I learned this about Styrofoam, I could no longer enjoy drinking coffee out of a Styrofoam cup. It was an early experience for me of knowledge being a small burden.

How many children to have? 

One of the greatest contributions we can make to the environment is to have fewer children. Children born in a poorer part of the world have much less effect on the environment than children born in a wealthier part. For those who want to have large families, ignorance to this knowledge might be preferred to the burden of knowing it.

Fossil-fuel consumption 

Once you’ve read the memo about fossil-fuel, that there is only so much of it so let’s not just have a few generations burn it all up, and that it contributes to warming our planet, well, that can become a burden. Especially when fossil-fuel consumption is so tied to “the good life.” How big of a vehicle should we drive? How much air travel is justifiable? How do we “work locally, shop locally, holiday locally and play locally?”

How blissful were the days of suntanning. It’s a bit of a burden now to wear a broad-brim hat and put on sunscreen.

The use of plastic

When it is so cheap to wrap and package and contain things in plastic, ignorance is the friend of the provider and consumer. Knowledge becomes a burden, because then providers have to struggle to package and provide in other ways and consumers have to struggle with their choices too.

I just learned last year that fireworks release significant toxic chemicals in the air. The day is soon coming when people will drive in their electric vehicles to watch fireworks. There will be knowledge, and behavioural adjustments, in one area of life, and ignorance, and no behaviour change, in another.

I don’t have time to write about the culture of eating meat, but I admit that I resist being educated about the animal-eating culture because I’m not ready to change my behaviour.

I close with some questions. Is living in the bliss of ignorance often good for one but a burden for others? Is ignorance a bliss at one point in our life but a burden at another point? When is ignorance a problem and knowledge is a solution? Is there a deeper satisfaction in acting out of knowledge than there is a “bliss” that comes with acting in ignorance?