Knowledge is Power. Ignorance is Bliss.
Would you prefer to be powerful or blissful?
To be clear, I am not talking about wattage output or that first ride on a new race bike here. Although this is a good indication that the answer to the above question is obviously dependent on one’s definition of the terms involved.
To be more specific, would you rather have prestige and influence or complete happiness? See, now the question takes on a little different meaning.
“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” - Confucius
All beings have knowledge thrust upon them simply as a function of experience. What we choose to do with this knowledge varies but we all come to know the world in which we live through actions both willfully taken and begrudgingly endured. Therefore, we are all inherently ignorant (happy) and only come to obtain knowledge (prestige and influence) as a result of the overwhelmingly random circumstances by which our lives are dictated.
Well, yeah. No duh. What’s your point?
In keeping with this theme, I don’t know the answer to that question. But I have been thinking a lot lately about how “knowledge” and “ignorance” can radically influence our experience as sports fans. Unfortunately, the two qualities are not mutually exclusive and the followers of professional cycling, in particular, must often weigh the powerful benefits of knowing about the sport against the ignorant bliss of appreciation without skepticism or awareness of past transgressions.
For example, I have been fascinated by the response to Tyler Hamilton’s USPRO Championship victory and the resulting emotions it has stirred within the cycling community. All greater issues of penance and punishment aside, the uproar created by his recent success shows how the assumption of knowledge can cloud the possibility of ignorance and illustrates the depths to which people internalize their own subjective version of the truth. This is truly fascinating stuff from a perch on the Ivory Tower but not so pretty from road-level.
“Better to know nothing than half-know many things.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
It is clear that many will simply never forgive Hamilton for having tested positive and steadfastly proclaimed his innocence. These individuals have taken their “knowledge” of various events and have come to the conclusion that he is undeserving of their admiration as a human being, let alone as a bike racer. They are unable or unwilling to overcome the baggage of past headlines and are thus prevented from appreciating the value of current performances. This is not meant as a judgment on these people, it is simply a fact proven by comments and behavior in this context.
But if one were ignorant of Hamilton’s past and took his victory on face value alone, it would be a remarkable example of determination, strength and courage to overcome the odds. He was woefully outnumbered by the Garmin-Chipotle riders but was still able to find a way to win – despite the many challenges that he faced that day. He played his tactics to near-perfection and still had enough left in the tank to win the final sprint, despite having to do most of the work to stay away over the final kilometers. I would argue that if anyone but Hamilton had won the Stars and Stripes jersey in the same fashion, he would be universally praised. But unfortunately for Tyler, his Rock Racing kit will always be stained with the scarlet letter of a “convicted doper” for many within the cycling community.
“Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.” – Albert Einstein
Now, it is certainly not my intention to get into a debate about Hamilton’s past guilt or innocence. Regardless of the data presented by both sides, the reality is that very few people will ever know the full story. Perhaps thankfully, I am not one of those people. But the position I find myself in as a follower of cycling is one of choosing to find pleasure and value in the present or allowing my so-called “knowledge” of the sport to damage my appreciation of it. At this point it is impossible to be completely ignorant and blissful but sometimes I wish I could stop being so skeptical and critical as a result of my not-very powerful knowledge.
But then again…
“If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them.” – Isaac Asimov
The reality of the situation – or at least what my experience allows me to assume – is that we are all fallible. Our actions are not always pure and our knowledge is not always correct. We go through life rationalizing our own decisions while criticizing those of others. Like all animals, we are often jealous and spiteful and unforgiving. Thankfully, as human beings we have been given the gift of self-reflection and have ample opportunities to prove that the human condition is not as nasty as history would lead us to believe.
“If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.” – Mark Twain
Or perhaps it is even nastier. History clearly illustrates that Power is a corrupting force so maybe Ignorance isn’t so bad after all.