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Sun Mar 25, 2012, 01:10 PM

We are in an "Age of Ignorance"

x-posted from GD.


Widespread ignorance bordering on idiocy is our new national goal. It’s no use pretending otherwise and telling us, as Thomas Friedman did in the Times a few days ago, that educated people are the nation’s most valuable resources. Sure, they are, but do we still want them? It doesn’t look to me as if we do. The ideal citizen of a politically corrupt state, such as the one we now have, is a gullible dolt unable to tell truth from bullshit.

An educated, well-informed population, the kind that a functioning democracy requires, would be difficult to lie to, and could not be led by the nose by the various vested interests running amok in this country. Most of our politicians and their political advisers and lobbyists would find themselves unemployed, and so would the gasbags who pass themselves off as our opinion makers. Luckily for them, nothing so catastrophic, even though perfectly well-deserved and widely-welcome, has a remote chance of occurring any time soon. For starters, there’s more money to be made from the ignorant than the enlightened, and deceiving Americans is one of the few growing home industries we still have in this country. A truly educated populace would be bad, both for politicians and for business.

--snip--

In the past, if someone knew nothing and talked nonsense, no one paid any attention to him. No more. Now such people are courted and flattered by conservative politicians and ideologues as “Real Americans” defending their country against big government and educated liberal elites. The press interviews them and reports their opinions seriously without pointing out the imbecility of what they believe. The hucksters, who manipulate them for the powerful financial interests, know that they can be made to believe anything, because, to the ignorant and the bigoted, lies always sound better than truth:

Christians are persecuted in this country.
The government is coming to get your guns.
Obama is a Muslim.
Global Warming is a hoax.
The president is forcing open homosexuality on the military.
Schools push a left-wing agenda.
Social Security is an entitlement, no different from welfare.
Obama hates white people.
The life on earth is 10,000 years old and so is the universe.
The safety net contributes to poverty.
The government is taking money from you and giving it to sex-crazed college women to pay for their birth control.


One could easily list many more such commonplace delusions believed by Americans. They are kept in circulation by hundreds of right-wing political and religious media outlets whose function is to fabricate an alternate reality for their viewers and their listeners. “Stupidity is sometimes the greatest of historical forces,” Sidney Hook said once. No doubt. What we have in this country is the rebellion of dull minds against the intellect. That’s why they love politicians who rail against teachers indoctrinating children against their parents’ values and resent the ones who show ability to think seriously and independently. Despite their bravado, these fools can always be counted on to vote against their self-interest. And that, as far as I’m concerned, is why millions are being spent to keep my fellow citizens ignorant.

http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2012/mar/20/age-of-ignorance/

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Reply We are in an "Age of Ignorance" (Original post)
cleanhippie Mar 2012 OP
Jim__ Mar 2012 #1

Response to cleanhippie (Original post)

Sun Mar 25, 2012, 02:55 PM

1. Do you consider yourself part of the problem?

I think history makes clear that we are all products of the time and place that we live in. If our time and place is racist, the odds are overwhelming that we'll be racist. If we live in a colonial power, the odds are that we'll believe colonialism is a benfit to the natives. If we live in a consumer society, the odds are that we'll be, largely unthinking, consumers.

So, if we live in an ignorant age, the chances are pretty good that we're ignorant.

Look at a couple of Simic's examples:

... Teaching American literature, as I have been doing, has become harder and harder in recent years, since the students read little literature before coming to college and often lack the most basic historical information about the period in which the novel or the poem was written, including what important ideas and issues occupied thinking people at the time.


Not that long ago in a literature class, we read House of Mirth written in 1905. Without googling, do you know what ideas and issues occupied thinking people at the time? Think Simic might consider you as part of the problem?

How are you at the history of your region:

Even regional history has gotten a short shrift. Students who come from old New England mill towns, as I have discovered, have never been told about the famous strikes in their communities in which workers were shot in cold blood and the perpetrators got away scot-free. I wasn’t surprised that their high schools were wary of bringing up the subject, but it astonished me that their parents and grandparents, and whoever else they came in contact with while they were growing up, never mentioned these examples of gross injustice. Either their families never talked about the past, or their children were not paying attention when they did. Whatever it was, one is confronted with the problem of how to remedy their vast ignorance about things they should have already been familiar with as the generations of students before them were.


Famous strikes? Charles Simic was born in 1938. Strikes were probably a much bigger concern when he was young than they are today. Maybe Simic knows all about the strikes of his day. But I wonder if, when he was a college student, he knew the regional history of his local region from 50 to 100 years earlier.

It's very common for older people to think young people are extremely ignorant. I think at least some of that is because young people grew up in a different world with different concerns. Their elders may be ignorant of the issues that concern the young people.

Is this an ignorant age? I don't know. If it is, chances are that we're all pretty ignorant. My guess is that if people look back at us 100 or 200 years from now, they'll see plenty of faults. I doubt that we can see the glaring faults that they'll see. We're just too consumed with living and largely unable to question certain implicit assumptions that are just part of our age. Unable to question them because we don't even realize we have them.

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