Denial, Ignorance and Stupidity

How is it that, at a time of unprecedented human knowledge human beings still say and do things that seem….well, stupid? Why is it that some forms of knowledge are so inconvenient that they can only be resisted or actively denied? What does it mean to be ignorant at a time of abundant ways of knowing better?

I began to think of these questions during my PhD research on the global extreme metal music scene. I was struck by how some metalheads that ‘knew better’ nevertheless seemed to act in deliberately ignorant – or sometimes racist, sexist and homophobic – ways. I developed the concept of ‘reflexive anti-reflexivity’ to highlight the ‘smart’ ways in which some metal scene members resisted knowledge. Sometimes, this practice could be a source of play and humour.

Over time, I started to become interested in similar phenomena beyond metal and, in particular, how organised forms of ‘denialism’ resisted scholarly consensuses on the Holocaust, climate change and more. I remain impressed, as well as horrified, by the artful creativity of denialism and denial. In an age of knowledge, denial, ignorance and stupidity can be carefully constructed ‘accomplishments’ rather than failures to be smart.

Scroll down for details of my book on denial and keep scrolling for my other writings, talks and other presentations on this theme.