The tobacco industry elevated the art of sowing doubt among the population as a way of confusing people into thinking that their products might be safe. Today, the sugar industry, on the defensive against accusations that their products are leading to the epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and various other illnesses in America, are adopting some of the same techniques, as are global climate change deniers (even while some oil-industry spokesperson admit that global climate change is real and caused by humans).
The purposeful creation of ignorance, by corporations and others, is so widespread today that a new field has popped up to describe its study: agnotology. This article provides a short summary.
Ignorance is at the root of our inability to respond to the ruination of Earth:
“Citing the results of a 2012 Gallup poll, Proctor asks, ‘If half the country thinks the Earth is 6,000 years old, how can you really develop an effective environmental policy?'”
Depending on so many complex institutions of science, governance, and industry to know about the world makes us all more susceptible to manipulation by misinformation and false doubt. Ignorant of the natural world and how it sustains us, we can’t step out and see what’s true and real for ourselves. Ignorant of the myriad complex consequences of our sophisticated modern lifestyles, which require complex methods and instruments of science to truly assess, we become dependent on far-flung institutions to tell us important things.
Under such circumstances, it’s essential that people guard against the planting of ignorance by corporations whose leaders wish to continue to enrich themselves at the expense of public health and well-being and environmental sustainability.