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Ignorance Is Bliss

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Gokulnath Govindan Dr. Aratrika Das ENG 104 August 26, Tuesday 2014 What implication does denial have in our understanding of the world? “Ignorance is Bliss!!” In this chapter “Silencing”, from his book, A Language Older Than Words, Derrick Jensen seeks to understand the barbarity that humans inflict upon each other as well as the world in which they live. He fails to understand the fact that “if our behaviour is not making us happy, why do we act this way“ (15)? Jensen uses the help of terms such as Denial and Silencing in order to answer this question. We can safely interpret from the essay that in this particular context, silencing and denial coexist and more often act as synonyms. Therefore, the fact that denial is not explicitly mentioned in Jensen’s essay does not mean that he is ignoring it. Although we shall be looking at what denial is and how understanding it helps the author in answering his central question, the primary aim of this paper is to look at the implications denial has in our understanding of the world. This is so because if there were no implications of denial, other questions of what it is or why it occurs could be rendered completely pointless.

According to Oxford English Dictionary, Denial is defined as “asserting (of anything ) to be untrue or untenable”. Jensen talks of three forms of denial in his essay. The first form mentioned is self-denial or in this context, the victim’s denial. Jensen’s own experience with childhood abuse by the hands of his father act as a real life example of this form of denial.When he was a child, his father would beat and rape Jensen, his mother and his siblings. Jensen quotes Judith Herman, a trauma expert as he claims that “The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness” (4). He too responded to these events by forgetting all such incidents of abuse. Jensen even describes these events in his essay by completely denying every bit of it. He states that “Do not believe a word that I write in this book, about my father, about the culture, about anything. It’s much better that way” (14). In the above lines he advises the readers to deny all his allegations because it would not only help them sustain in this world of deception but also strengthen his own denial. While in one hand he would state something such as the quote mentioned above, on the other hand he would claim that the only thing worse than the actual crime was the denial that any of it ever happened. Through such conflicting statements all Jensen attempts to do is try to explain the dual and complex nature of the implications denial has in our lives. It is definitely important to forget what has happened and move on because no one would be able to survive if one is forced to recall such an event. But in denying ourselves of these memories what we end up doing is fail to learn from our mistakes. When Jensen and his family were busy burying these memories they should have actually attempted at stopping them from happening again. It is ironical how his denial of past events actually lead to the acceptance of similar future events. The second form of denial is the one which is inflicted upon others or in this context, the perpetuator’s denial. In this case the perpetuator denies that he has inflicted any sort of harm towards the victim. One of the ways this is done is by not talking about them. This is particularly true in the case of animals. As an example, Jensen would describe a typical slaughterhouse. He does not mince his words or paint a pretty picture while describing it. He explains how a steer is tortured without any regards for the feeling it undergoes at that particular point of time. Since these animals have no form of communication which we seem to comprehend, we humans assume that they have no feelings, both physical and mental. It is not as if a steer would ever sue the slaughterhouse for menial working conditions. We have no problems with such behaviour as long as we don’t need to confront it. The mere fact that in the first two readings, I skipped most of this section since it was gory shows us how much denial controls our understanding of this world. This does not mean that this is limited to animals only. Jensen’s father never accepted the fact that he did any of the crimes he was charged with in this essay. Jensen claims that once the inconvenient evidence such as a urine-soaked underwear or a broken door “were fixed, there was nothing left to remember” (4). Once the father would forget everything, the family would follow him by doing the same thing and the pattern of abuse would continue as before. The third and final form of denial is one were we are not directly involved or in this context, the third party’s denial. We humans prefer to turn a blind eye towards all situations that do not affect us. We believe and live by the idiom ignorance is bliss. We assume that if we do not know of a problem that exists in this world, that problem is just not there. This form is evident in cases involving past mistakes by human hands. Jensen uses the example of Holocaust to illustrate this form of denial. He asks the Germans present during the holocaust : “By what means did they suppress their own experience and their own consciences in order to participate or (similarly) not resist” (14)? The part about not resist is an important characteristic in this form of denial. The mere fact that we could have saved millions of lives if the German citizens would have stopped denying and start resisting shows us how dangerous implications denial has in our lives. Now that we have looked into the three different forms of denial talked about in Jensen’s essay, let us try to understand why is it that we insist upon understanding the world like this. Jensen claims that we humans live in a world of make-believe. Therefore in order to understand the world in these deceptive terms we have failed to recognise what is real and what isn’t? All that helps us attain our selfish needs is deemed as real and anything else such as the agony of an animal is looked upon as irrelevant. Jensen states that humans pretend as if they are “at the top of a great chain of being, although evolution is nonhierarchical” (6). It is not as if all the humans are at the same level in this chain. Women, children, African American and many others were also placed below by deeming them as other humans or ugly creatures. The author even talks about Descartes who became the prototypical modern man while adding on to this superiority complex. Descartes and his subsequent philosophers claim that there are some people who should be given all the powers involving any sort of decision making, all others which include the other humans and animals should be denied of all rights. One of the other ways by which Denial is spread into our society is with the help of our culture. Jensen quotes R.D. Laing as he states that “The condition of alienation, of being asleep, of being unconscious, of being out of one’s mind, is the condition of the normal man”. It is clear from the statement mentioned above that our culture shall term you normal only if you at least follow the third form of denial. It is interesting to know that even though I am trying to look at why denial exists in the society it is not as if the reasons listed above is what creates denial in the society. This is an endless cycle. Denial helps us build a make-believe world which further helps induce denial in the society. Therefore in one way all these reasons mentioned above are also implications of denial in our understanding of the world. As I conclude my essay we can note how much of a role denial has in our life. Since I realise the above mentioned fact I know that there is no easy and quick fix for this. As Jensen claimed, the task ahead of us is huge but it is not as if it is impossible. I hope that we humans strive for a day where ignorance is not bliss and there is no need for denial.

Works Cited
Jensen, Derrick, “Silencing”, A Language Older Than Words, (United States: Chelsea Green Publishing Co.; 2004), Pg 2-16

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