The great philosopher Patrick F. McManus once wrote, “No greater bond exists between two male friends than shared ignorance.”
In his 1995 essay “Hunting the Wily Avid,” McManus asserts, “Shared knowledge is fine as far as it goes, but one friend invariably knows more about a given topic than the other, thereby creating an intellectual imbalance.”
Mutual ignorance, however, is bliss.
Conversations can go on for hours, days even, if there’s no chance that a verified truth will slip in and get in the way. Occasionally, fistfights will break out in defense of arguments made up on the spot concerning subjects we didn’t know existed 10 minutes earlier. We thrive on communal obtuseness.
When my car quit running, my equally mechanically ignorant buddy Paul and I popped the hood.
“Did you kick the tires?” Paul said.
“Tried that,” I said. “Now my toes hurt and the car still doesn’t start.”
Paul rubbed his chin. “Kicking tires usually works. It sends a vibration up the car’s spinal column.”
I nodded. “Yep, sometimes the wires get tangled around the spinal column. A good kick gets them unstuck.”
Paul poked at the engine with a stick. “I bet it’s the carburetor.”
I snapped my fingers. “That’s gotta be it. It’s always the carburetor.”
“They sure don’t make carburetors like they used to. These days, they break down all the time.”
“Today’s inferior carburetors,” I mused, “probably triggered those measles outbreaks in New York.”
Paul leaned against the car. “I think you’re right. We hadn’t heard of measles in years. Then all of a sudden, they pop up. What’s New York got? Lots of cars. It was all those deficient carburetors that caused the measles.”
“Yep.” I crossed my arms. “You know the exhaust from those things lowers IQ. That’s why test scores are so low. Carburetors.”
“Makes sense,” Paul said. “Kids started flunking the same time carburetors got bad. You’d think Congress would do something about it.”
“Lots of cars in Washington,” I said. “Carburetors everywhere, fogging their minds.”
About this time, Dan showed up. Dan is a mechanic. His presence created an intellectual imbalance.
We tried to educate him anyway.
“You wanna know what the problem is?” I offered.
“That’s easy,” Dan said. “You’re out of gas.”
Paul and I exchanged shrugs. “What about that nasty looking carburetor? That’s what did it.”
“Nope.” Dan slammed the hood. “Carburetors were phased out of cars 25, 30 years ago. You don’t have one. Nobody has one.”
Just like that, our interesting and informative conversation was killed. We hadn’t even finished warming up before an intellectual imbalance ruined everything.
We shifted uncomfortably in the depressing silence.
Until Dan said, “You know what’s causing that measles outbreak in New York? Carrots pollinated by rabbits.”
We’re still hashing over that one, enjoying ourselves through every suspect surmise and shaky conjecture along the way. Nothing brings guys together like shared ignorance.
IF YOU HAVE no idea what you’re talking about, chat with Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org, at the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or @BurtonWCole on Twitter.