Knowledge is just a slippery slope toward finding out I'm wrong about something. So I try to avoid it, usually by watching television or dodging experiences that might broaden my comfortably narrow horizons.
But not everyone is as skilled as I am at intellectual insulation. Consider Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, who last week revealed that his thoughts on gay marriage had changed after he learned his son is gay.
"At the time, my position on marriage for same-sex couples was rooted in my faith tradition that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman," Portman wrote in an op-ed piece in The Columbus Dispatch. "Knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective: that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love."
For those of you keeping score, that's Knowledge 1, Portman 0. And while his change of heart might cost him politically with certain swaths of the Republican base, he's certainly not the only victim of familiarity.
President Barack Obama famously said he had "evolved" on the subject of same-sex marriage, crediting in part the views of his daughters, Malia and Sasha.
"It wouldn't dawn on them that somehow their friends' parents would be treated differently," Obama said. "It doesn't make sense to them. And — and frankly — that's the kind of thing that prompts a change of perspective."
Sarah Palin is known for opposing virtually all forms of government spending (unless it's to buy large cannons to place in her backyard and aim at Russia). But she gave birth to a son with Down syndrome, and as a vice presidential candidate in 2008, she said that a McCain-Palin administration would fully fund the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Familiarity doesn't actually seem to breed contempt, but it certainly presents a danger to ideological rigidity. And if there's one thing we've learned from people on the far right and far left, there can be no equivocation when it comes to our political beliefs.
So what do we do?
Modern-day philosophers like Rush Limbaugh have taught us that the easiest way to always be correct is to shield yourself from any factual information that might make you incorrect. It's like the easiest way to avoid tripping is to remain seated at all times.
In 1995, Limbaugh said: "If people are violating the law by doing drugs, they ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up." Then one of his closest relatives — himself — became addicted to prescription painkillers.
In 2003, he admitted his addiction but was never "sent up" for his drug use and, to the best of my knowledge, never retracted his previous harsh criticisms of addicts.
Our political leaders could learn something from Limbaugh's weapons-grade resistance to knowledge. And they should.
Imagine the trouble we'd have if Obama suddenly learned he had an uncle who was an assault weapon. Or if Republican senator and former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan realized he had a son who was "a poor."
It would be ideological chaos.
So I have two simple strategies that politicians can use to make sure they're not exposed to any undesirable information that could force them to think.
First, no matter what issue you're taking a stand on, avoid all contact with people involved in that issue. Clearly, if the president spent time with people who have been blown up by unmanned predator drones, the country's unmanned predator drone program would be in shambles. And if Portman had talked to any constituents who want to get gay-married, he might have been forced into his embarrassing admission of incorrectness much sooner.
The second step is to thoroughly screen all family members. The sudden discovery of a distant aunt who might make you feel sympathetic about an issue you oppose could be a real time-waster.
So every branch of a politico's family tree should be scrubbed to make sure there are no outliers who are, depending on the political party: gay, disabled, middle-class, unemployed, victims of drone strikes, victims of gun violence, friends of the "salt marsh harvest mouse" (an endangered species that slowed park construction in East Palo Alto, Calif.), Nazis, fans of the Canadian band Nickelback, practitioners of yoga or friends of Ted Nugent.
Follow these steps and you'll be wrapped in a warm cocoon of blissful ignorance, able to stand firmly for what you believe regardless of whether it's factual, popular or even remotely informed by circumstances in the world at large.
After all, if we wanted politicians to evolve, we could just vote a bunch of apes into Congress and see what happens.
Come to think of it, that might be the best idea I've ever had.