Tahlequah Daily Press

May 21, 2012

Willful ignorance, or just how we are?

Managing Editor


A friend of mine sent me a link on Facebook from health.com, which featured one of those “superlative” lists designed to catch your eye with a promise of revelation that never materializes. They bear breathlessly bold titles like “Ten Movie Stars Who Look Great Naked,” or “Best Cities That Still Allow You to Smoke in Restaurants,” or “Top 10 Places to Retire in the U.S.” Cherokee County has capitalized big-time on that last one, and we’ll keep beating that horse after it’s desiccated into a small strip of hide.
This list denoted the “Ten Most Depressing States in the U.S.” I won’t name the friend – even though he fully intended me to address the topic – because he’s a rather intimidating if affable sort, but mainly because I didn’t think to get his permission to quote him before I started writing. He’s also intelligent, and some of you will guess his identity by his comment: “Thought it might appeal to your twisted little mind. I’m curious to find out what the other three categories are other than poverty and lack of health care. You suppose “willful ignorance” is a category?”
Having given it some thought, I believe I’ll have to discuss this with him further. If you are “willfully ignorant,” wouldn’t you have to first accept that your beliefs, behaviors and thought processes constituted ignorance, and that you deliberately established that status for yourself? 
I’ve heard people admit to ignorance on a limited basis: “As far as how God created the universe, I’m ignorant,” or “I’m ignorant when it comes to calculus formulae, but I’m good at grammar.” But few people proudly claim a pervasive, all-encompassing  lack of information. 
In a teaser before listing the states alphabetically, the website suggests “personal circumstances and genes play an important role in mental health,” and that mental distress is “unusually ... common in some states ... due to economic troubles, lack of access to health care, or other factors.” (It’s a serious topic, and you can see a serious take on it if you read the guest commentary by State Rep. Mike Brown to the left. He lists several reasons why being an Oklahoman and being depressed might be mutually inclusive, and what we can do about it. The “willfully ignorant” will not like what he has to say.)
The online list, undoubtedly compiled by someone who hasn’t actually suffered the indignity of living here, included representative “clip art” for each state. Not surprisingly, Oklahoma’s selection was a tornado. The accompanying text suggests the “flat, barren landscape” might be what’s brought us low, proving conclusively the blurb-writer has never been to the eastern part of the state. But he’s spot-on when he mentions the high poverty rate and alarming lack of health insurance coverage. He (or she, but I’ve decided the writer is a “he”) could have gone further, citing our poorly maintained toll roads, our high rate of smoking, or our rate of obesity (especially in kids), and some of the other things Mike mentions in his column. If the blurb-writer had been keeping abreast of some of the odd goings-on at our statehouse, he’d have more grist for his mill.
Elsewhere on Facebook, someone posted a cartoon from the Tulsa World, which depicts a couple in a car (presumably retirees, because they have the time and money to travel, and the woman is wearing a bun on her head). A road sign reads “Nohomos, Oklahoma.” The man, who is driving, says, “Weird name for a town.” The woman quips, “State motto.”
I reposted the funny, and added, “What you DON’T see in this cartoon is a sign a little down the road for the next town: Webepacken.” 
I was not surprised when another friend private-messaged me: “You’re exaggerating with that ‘packen’ deal and making Okies look bad.”
“How am I exaggerating?” I wrote. “Did the governor NOT just sign an open-carry law?”
“Well, you sounded like you had an attitude about it,” he grumbled textually.
“How does making a joke about Okies constitute an ‘attitude’?” I typed. “I’m just sort of laughing at our own expense – which, as a lifelong Okie, I have a right to do.”
“I guess you were thinking if you can’t make fun of yourself, who else will?” he responded.
Maybe I’m willfully ignorant, but I didn’t understand that, so I replied, “I think you took that saying of context. People will make fun of Okies, regardless of whether we do it ourselves.”
I haven’t heard back from him, but neither have I been unfriended. I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t joke about another town the couple in the cartoon would be passing through: Eggzapursen.
Kim Poindexter is managing editor of the Tahlequah Daily Press.