Of all the powers given us, none has done more for humanity than science. Because knowledge is the ichor that flows in science’s veins, it may surprise when I say: Let’s hear it for ignorance!
(It may also surprise you, especially if you are Neil Gaiman, when I say that the absolutely true story—told here for the first time ever—of how Delight of the Endless became Delirium ties in to this rallying cry, because you may not remember telling anyone that story, least of all me. Relax. All will be revealed.)
Many of us, especially those in the science-fiction community, take it as a given that knowledge is a good thing, and that the more of it we have, the better off we will be. But too much of anything—except for love in the truest sense of the word, and pet cheerleaders—can be dangerous. (And frankly, though it pains me to admit it, even the cheerleaders can be trouble, once you get beyond a single squad.) And of course, this is actually a common theme in SF: the scientist with the God complex, the poor sap marked for death because he knows too much, the experiment gone horribly awry—or gone all too perfectly, with unforeseen consequences. As Delirium’s older brother Destruction, from Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics, puts it: “‘Are not light and gross bodies intraconvertible?’ Alas, they are. And from that follows the flames...the big bang. The loud explosions.”
Which is not to say I think we should turn back the clock on scientific progress—first, that would be a futile case to make, and more important, I would miss microwavable burritos too much. Nor do I think that the most earnest plea to the world’s thinkers that they stop and consider what they’re doing before they clone anthrax or build golem-lady toast-butterers would be heeded. But in the personal sphere, too, there can surely be great benefit to not knowing things.
For example, not knowing what the hell three big seniors from another school’s wrestling team were talking about, when they accosted my friend Pat and me at Hardee’s in ninth grade, saved us from a terrific beating, and I don’t think it would have worked if the blank looks on our faces hadn’t been genuine. (It was only after they left and our friend Harleigh returned from getting ketchup that he revealed he’d murmured something pejorative about their sexuality as we’d walked past their table earlier. Jackass.)
And some of you can probably attest to ignorance’s beneficent effect on getting laid. Yes, I’ve missed a couple of chances to sleep with someone because I never caught on, but I bet I’ve closed the deal as many or more times because I just didn’t catch on right away, which kept me from saying too many, uh, “witty” things to demonstrate how “awesome” I was at an early, fragile stage of the game.
And while that kind of authentic ignorance is certainly more pure, I would argue there is good to be had as well from the straight-up willful brand: How many bad internet fights start because even though you’re pretty sure you know the answer, you can’t help but wonder what numbskull thing someone will say if you push them a little bit (and I say this as someone who has started a few of these in his time)? How many hurt feelings—and maybe more important, hours that could be devoted to more productive pursuits—might be saved by simply quashing that desire to know exactly what kind of idiot you’re dealing with?
So this isn’t a call to arms for stupidity—I just want to give ignorance its due. I mean, it can even be fun! As a literary device, ambiguity is to be prized, after all. And even if you don’t want to get as highfalutin as all that, plain old not-knowingness can be pretty great on its own. Speaking for instance, as we were, of Neil Gaiman, there’s the case of the “forgotten god” in American Gods, whose identity I for one hope he never reveals; it’s annoying not to have that resolution, but annoying in the best way possible, not unlike when the cat jumps in your lap while you’re trying to work. Same goes for the aforementioned absolutely true story of how Delight became Delirium...
Which, as you the wiser among of you have probably figured out, I have decided not to reveal after all. It seems apparent to me, on further reflection, that it’s one of those things that’s more fun to be ignorant of, at least for now. As Delirium herself puts it, “Not knowing everything is all that makes it OK, sometimes.” And if you don’t agree, there’s also always bathtub gin. Cheers!
Commenter Moff’s real name is Josh Wimmer, and he can usually be found at scribblescribblescribble.com/blog.