In Defence of Ignorance by A.G. Gardiner
In the essay In Defence of Ignorance by A.G. Gardiner we have the theme of knowledge, ignorance, contentment, change and acceptance. Taken from his Leaves in the Wind collection the reader realises from the beginning of the essay that Gardiner may be exploring the theme of knowledge and how it is impossible for one man to know everything. No matter how much he might strive to attain all the knowledge that he can. Gardiner knows that he cannot help the boy with his learning and he is not too proud to fool himself into thinking that he can. For Gardiner can see his own limitations when it comes to the little that he does know. He also views most knowledge as being esoteric or known by few and as such may have very little value to the average person. Just as a medical student may need to know where the diaphragm is. A student of another school who is not studying medicine may not. For most people learning is a task that will lead a person in a certain direction though they may not need the all the information that they have learnt. In life it might prove to be of very little value to them and it is better to be ignorant rather than having information or knowledge that one may never need or be able to share with another individual.
Ignorance is not a crime though an individual can be made to feel foolish. Which in turn wounds the individual’s pride. Should they not have the knowledge of others. No matter how useless the knowledge may be to an individual. There are people who will acquire knowledge that they will never use and there are people who like Gardiner are prepared to readily admit that they do not know very much. Yet they can still live a contented life. Knowledge is often used as a tool to gauge an individual’s intelligence. However knowledge that is not used is of very little use to anybody. It may also be a case that Gardiner is suggesting that everybody relies on another human being when it comes to learning. Be it the pupil and the school teacher or in Gardiner’s case the discovery that he has uprooted a tree and not his vegetables. There is always a lesson to be learnt.
It’s just a matter of what use the lesson is to the person. Many people are content to know very little about the world while others consume books day and night in the hope of learning more about the world. Gardiner is not one of these people. He is content in knowing the little that he does know and appears to only need to learn something new when necessity dictates. This does not make Gardiner any less intelligent than another person. Rather it shows that he is satisfied with his life. Feeling no real urges to explore the mysteries that may surround him. Also just because Gardiner might know something that someone else doesn’t know may not necessarily mean he is more informed than that person. That same person may know things that Gardiner does not know and which Gardiner can learn from. The incident of being driven through the countryside one day being an example. Gardiner learnt about Poplar trees from his engagement with the old fellow who was driving the pony and chaise. It might also be significant that Gardiner does not look for sympathy due to his lack of knowledge or because he may be ignorant of most of life’s mysteries. Rather he accepts the position he finds himself in.
Gardiner also highlights that with knowledge comes change and what was believed by society in years gone by is not necessarily what is believed today. People’s opinions change as time advances and new discoveries are made. Where man might have once believed that the sun revolved around the earth. It is now known that this is not the case. Yet those who believed that the sun did revolve around the earth should not be considered ignorant. They had firm beliefs at the time that suited their needs. It made sense to them that the sun would revolve around the earth. In generations to come the very things that Gardiner believes in may also prove to have no foundation. Such are the advances that man is making. What was true yesterday may not necessarily be true tomorrow. There is no shame in being ignorant when it comes to one’s beliefs. Some of the greatest scholars the world has seen have had their opinions debunked with the progress of time. It is better for a man to know a little and to be content with that. Should he learn anymore that too is okay but it is important for a man to admit to his limitations and not seek complete knowledge on everything. Firstly it is not possible and secondly the information may become redundant.