For a short book, it has a long history. It started out as a doctoral project called ‘The Value of Ignorance,’ which I finished 10 years ago. Then, a couple of years ago, I finally had time to return to the topic. This was before Brexit or the US elections. I focus on those two events in a chapter, but a key point of the book is that ‘post-truth’ didn’t start this decade.
It’s becoming more recognized lately as an important field of research. There has been a lot of interesting work in behavioural economics and psychology lately on rational ignorance and the will not to know. But this literature ignores earlier work in feminist theory, critical race theory and postcolonial studies on the uses of unknowing and strategic ignorance in both cementing and dislodging power hierarchies. The first scholars of ignorance are still neglected today. The Unknowers redresses this.
I develop a typology for thinking about different groups in society, informal bodies that lack formal membership but which have identifiable figureheads and shared characteristics. I suggest these groups are exerting anti-democratic control over decision-making through different tactics that make themselves appear like enlightened knowers and thus purportedly legitimated to make decisions for others without democratic consent. I call them ‘the Strong’ and ‘the Smarts’ and I propose that encroaching corporate authoritarianism is arriving in their joint guise.
I wasn’t planning to develop a typology, but it evolved and took shape. I also use shorthand to describe various resistance movements. I call them ‘the Greats’.