Seven deadly signs of ignorance


I should have known when I sent a post to E-Democracy. So I should have taken the slap-in-the-face retort with equanimity – but didn’t. After the finger-jerk “delete” reaction, I started to reflect. The agitated respondent clearly felt that the discussion of the right to know, access, transparency in government, information as a public good that I was promoting was not only esoteric but downright irrelevant and obviously aggravating. Once again, the implicitness of information, its elusive chameleon quality, places discussion of information as a resource beyond the pale.

It reminded me of a friend’s proposal many years ago that we peak interest in an informed citizenry by identifying the “Seven Danger Signs of Ignorance.” Recently I googled the “Seven Danger Signs…” and found that the phrase is now applied to everything from therapists to corporate partners. At that time, though, the context was – and still is – ignorance of what our government is up to now.

There Seven Danger Signs of ignorance of our government far exceeds that convenient list of seven. In spite of the e-list detractor, who had every right to express an opinion, I maintain that a wise elector must make time to think about access and the right to know in a political environment transformed by information and communications technology. Though I think a lot about the danger signs of ignorance concerning our government it is with trepidation (once bitten…) I nominate this random sample of Danger Signs for consideration:

1. The January 2008 report of the Center for Public Integrity lists some 935 false statements made by federal officials about this nation’s entry into the war in Iraq.

2. The FCC is generously sharing the people’s airwaves with the world’s moguls who will thus have open access to the information highways of the nation and the globe.

3. Closer to home, there has been talk in state government about turning the assumption of openness on end.

4. The brilliant cadre of investigative journalists on the Twin Cities newspaper scene has been decimated.

5. The Twin Cities journalism scene is the top of an iceberg that freezes the budgets for investigative journalism throughout the nation.

6. Local efforts to provide ready access to verifiable, unbiased information in the public good struggle to craft a solid economic model that assures independence and sustainability.

7. Great as it is for efficient exchange of ideas, the blogosphere is saturated with misinformation and highly refutable ignorance by and about the government.

Though it’s difficult to stop at a mere seven, that appears to be the digestible number for signs of cancer – not to mention deadly signs – so seven will suffice.

If you’re concerned about this aggregation of Danger Signs – and if you have others that trouble you – consider spending a day exploring the plight, and the possibilities, for Minnesotans “Afloat in the wireless pond.” Funded by the Minnesota Sesquicentennial Commission conference rests on the assumption that the Deadly Signs are challenges and that technology has been and can be harnessed for the public good, expanding access and enhancing understanding of government by and for the people.

Speakers include Ken Brusic, editor of the Orange County (CA) Register, Laura Waterman Wittstock, CEO Wittstock & Associates, Marian Rengel, Minnesota Digital Library, poet Morgan Grayce Willow, Thomas Leighton, City of Minneapolis, Jim Ramstrom, Land Management Information Center, Carol Urness, retired librarian and editor of Minnesota on the Map (2008), Peter Shea, educator and producer of the Bat of Minerva, David Wiggins of the National Park Service, and more. Demos and exhibits throughout the day.

The day-long conference is 9-4 on Saturday, March 1, at Luther Seminary, Como and Hendon in St. Paul. Details at $20 payable at the door includes lunch and materials. Limited seating – reservations or questions: