Ignorance, Indifference and Inertia

John Hanna

[Reprinted from Land and Freedom, November-December 1939]

Ignorance, Indifference and Inertia impede progress in the twentieth century as they have delayed progress in all the centuries. Ignorance is not simply an attribute of the unlearned, the people who have not had the advantage of the thing we call education. It is found very frequently among the highly educated. Ignorance consists in the disposition to ignore the ideas advanced in disagreement with prevailing belief or custom. This has been true in all times. When Roger Bacon tried to establish or obtain recognition of the value of experimental science as opposed to the old system of authoritarian scholasticism he met the antagonism of the so-called educated; some actively interfered with his work many more simply ignored his teachings. The seem has changed. Experimental science has become the order of the day; colleges and industrial plants have their research laboratories in a quest for new knowledge or for a better application of the old.

The Roger Bacons of the twentieth century are stirring the world with proposals for social and economic betterment. History repeats itself. These efforts are being ignored. This Ignorance is very prevalent among the people who dislike any disturbance of the established order. Such is the attitude of Ignorance.

Indifference is the natural child of ignorance and bean a strong resemblance to its parent. Indifference is negative in all respects except in that of standing in the light of others. Indifference to art never painted a picture carved a statue or wrote a poem. Indifference to mechanical achievement never invented a machine. Indifference to sanitation or therapeutics never isolated a microbe or founded a hospital. Indifference to economic principles never solved a social problem, never even understood one. Men who are so indifferent to social and economic problems that they never read a serious book or listen to a serious discussion of them still feel competent to express an opinion on any proposal for social betterment or economic change. This feeling of competence is usually the product of political or business affiliations and is governed by them; allaying any desire for a deeper knowledge of the subject. Such is the attitude of Indifference!

Inertia in the sphere of human conduct bears the character it has in the physical realm, a tendency when a rest to remain at rest and when in motion to continue in motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an outside force. Human inertia is a compound of ignorance and indifference. How often one hears "There has always been greed in the world and there always will be." "We have always had wars and we always will." Some take refuge in a quotation from Scripture, "The poor ye have always with you." Such inertia is sloth; had it prevailed at all times we would still have the ox-cart and the sail as our only means of transportation, millions would still be dying in epidemics of cholera and yellow fever. Inertia in human affairs results in the retention of a bad system or no better reason than that of precedent. Such is the attitude of Inertia!

There is available a body of fact, in support of the principle of land-value taxation, which is as definite and is valid as any upon which the laws of physics and chemistry are founded. Someone has said, "Find the acts, face the facts, follow the facts." A good rule! But ignorance never yet found a fact, Indifference faces fact and fallacy with equal unconcern and Inertia follows only precedent until acted upon by some outside force, a Roger Bacon or a Henry George.