I’ve shamelessly stolen this title from Peter Hitchens’s piece because I can’t think of a better way to describe, well, Peter Hitchens.
Mr Hitchens watched University Challenge and was rightly appalled about the Reading graduates’ ignorance of Russia.
They “clearly had no knowledge of the Russian alphabet”, couldn’t identify a single Russian city on a map and “didn’t even know that St Petersburg is on the sea”.
The knowledge of the Cyrillic (not Russian, now we’re casting ignorance stones) alphabet doesn’t have much to do with anything. It’s possible not to know other alphabets and still escape accusations of ignorance. Does Mr Hitchens know the Chinese alphabet? Thai? Arabic? I know I don’t, and I like to think I’m not a particularly ignorant man.
But the rest of his point is valid, as is the observation: “This is normal among educated British people”. The alphabet apart, I doubt that not knowing that Petersburg is on the sea qualifies a person as educated, but the term does have many meanings, so let’s not quibble.
However, the epistemological aspect of it is worth discussing. Ignorance manifests itself in many ways, and unfamiliarity with elementary facts is only the most basic of them.
Knowledge isn’t a collection of data; it’s what happens as a result of collecting data. Just knowing the facts isn’t knowledge, it’s preparation for a trivia quiz, such as University Challenge (a fairly vulgar programme by the way, but that’s by the by.) Knowledge emerges after the facts have been processed, analysed and inwardly digested to enable the person to come closer to truth or, ideally, the truth.
By way of a simple illustration, before going on a motoring holiday in France, an Englishman would be well-advised to learn that in that country they drive on the right, not left. However, now he’s in possession of that fact, he still has to decide whether he’ll go along with the quaint froggish custom and not drive on the left. Unless he does so, he’ll remain ignorant – in the most dangerous way.
Mr Hitchens doubtless knows the ‘Russian’ alphabet, and I’m sure he can say “Hello, my name is Peter” in recognisable Russian. Moreover, I’m convinced he knows more University Challenge type of trivia about Russia than “is normal among educated British people.”
But that command of facts has produced no knowledge at the other end, as demonstrated by his concluding comment that, if those people are so ignorant, “how can so many of them have such strong opinions about the alleged Russian threat? I think it’s the ignorance that breeds the fear.”
Now I hope you won’t think me immodest if I boast that not only do I know the Russian language rather better than Mr Hitchens does, but I also have immeasurably more academic knowledge of Russia. In addition I have the native understanding of it, which is invaluable in the case of a country that makes a profession of being enigmatic.
And yet I regard Putin’s Russia as a deadly threat to Britain, and the West in general. First a few general points.
A major nuclear power that routinely murders or imprisons dissidents, suppresses free speech and runs a gangster economy is a factor of danger simply because of its malevolent presence in the world – and it would be even if it didn’t make any overtly aggressive moves.
When that country commits one act of aggression against its neighbours after another, explicitly threatens the integrity of NATO members and indulges in brinkmanship all over the world, it’s no longer dangerous just generally – it becomes so in a most palpable way.
When the same country opposes the West in every conflict around the globe, finances and arms the West’s enemies (some, like N. Korea with nuclear weapons and ICBMs) and conducts large scale electronic warfare aimed at subverting Western politics, it may provoke a global conflict at any moment.
Surely one doesn’t have to have Mr Hitchens’s self-proclaimed erudition to fear such things? And I haven’t even begun to talk about Russia’s massive rearmament programme, bringing on stream more and more rather diabolical weapon systems.
Yet not all threats presented by Russia are physical. Some are moral, produced by the toxic fumes emanating from its organic fusion of secret police and organised crime – the first such governing elite in history.
I realise that, as a communist well into his mature years, Mr Hitchens has a residual warm spot for the KGB or whatever it calls itself now. He sees nothing wrong in the fact that 87 per cent of the country’s government are unrepentant officers in history’s most murderous organisation.
I say ‘are’ rather than ‘were’ out of deference to Col. Putin, for whose strong, muscular leadership Mr Hitchens feels an almost homoerotic affection. “There’s no such thing as ex-KGB,” Vlad once said. “This is for life”.
This KGB government has fused itself with organised crime to transfer its ill-gotten gains to the West. The money stolen from the people, at least 20 million of whom live under the poverty line of £200 a month, then is laundered through Western banks.
Money may not smell, if one believes Emperor Vespasian. But dirty money soils not only its owner but also its recipients.
Pecunia non olet being the only remaining faith among Western politicians, other than their own power, they close their eyes on their financial institutions and, by ricochet, their whole societies being turned into gangster molls.
They cordially invite Russian bandits (otherwise known as oligarchs) to their countries, rub shoulders with them at social dos, receive their campaign contributions and smooth their way into money laundromats.
At least the US Congress is beginning to do something about it, over President Trump’s objections. The Congress has authorised investigation into the provenance of some trillion dollars of purloined Russian money sitting in American banks. Those assets may well be impounded if the investigation shows they were indeed acquired by criminal means.
Western Europe, mainly Britain, happily lets Russian gangsters launder at least as much again through its own banks – ignoring the moral damage. And London has become a version of Chicago circa 1930, with some Russian gangsters ‘whacking’ one another, and Putin’s hit men ‘whacking’ some others.
I’m sure Mr Hitchens is aware of these facts. But that awareness has produced no knowledge, in its true epistemological sense. And this obtuse ideological ignorance is more dangerous than any other.