Wednesday, June 17, 2015

On Ignorance - Deliberate or Otherwise (6/17/15)

I have written a lot about the mens rea concept that goes by various monikers such as deliberate ignorance, willful blindness, conscious avoidance etc. Today, I was reading a blog entry on the Volokh Conspiracy (I suppose that is an admission against interest) that deals with the large topic of Ignorance Studies.  Ilya Somin, Everything you ever wanted to know about ignorance, but were afraid to ask – the “Routledge International Handbook of Ignorance Studies” (Volokh Conspiracy 6/16/15), here.  The Amazon link for the book is here.

The facets of ignorance are too great to cover here (and, in any event, I am ignorant of most of those facets).  But I will focus on the portion of the blog entry that deals with some variation of the concept of deliberate ignorance.  Professor Somin starts by knowing that it is a large compendium on multiple facets of ignorance by many authors who, I suppose, make some claim to not be ignorant on the subjects they discuss.  Professor Somin then says:
My own contribution to the volume deals with the phenomenon of rational ignorance – situations where people make rational choices to forego acquiring knowledge that is potentially available to them. My previous work on rational ignorance focuses primarily on voter ignorance, which I argue is often dangerous. But in the Handbook chapter, I emphasize that in many situations, rational ignorance is actually beneficial. If people always learned the maximum possible amount of knowledge, they would pass up opportunities to use the same resources for more valuable purposes. Still, the chapter also emphasizes how rational ignorance can be harmful in situations where individually rational behavior can lead to bad collective outcomes. For example, it is often rational for individual for voters to be ignorant about politics; but an entire electorate of mostly ignorant voters can be a real menace. The chapter also explains why rational behavior (including rational ignorance) isn’t necessarily morally right, and how rational ignorance differs from irrational ignorance and what I call “inadvertent” ignorance.
Readers might want to review the Supreme Court decision in Global-Tech Appliances, Inc. v. SEB S.A., ___ U.S. ___, 131 S. Ct. 2060 (2011), Court slip opinion here and casetext opinion here.  Global-Tech is discussed in many blogs since the decision, but here is my blog entry on the decision: Global-Tech in Supreme Court Speaks on Willful Blindness (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 6/2/11), here.  For all blogs on the subject, click on the link below for Conscious Avoidance (which is the term I use on this blog for the concept going by the various names noted above.

Keep in mind that Global-Tech was a civil case but did discuss the used of deliberate ignorance in a criminal setting.  And, even in the civil setting discussed, it did not have the heightened level of mens rea applicable in tax and related crimes -- intentional violation of a known legal duty, which requires that the defendant know the duty (i.e., know the law) and intend to violate the law.

Which reminds me of one of the sayings of Will Rogers:  "You know everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects."

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