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 Willful Ignorance Becomes a Virtue

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Number of posts : 1919
Age : 47
Location: : Connecticut
Registration date : 2007-01-24

PostSubject: Willful Ignorance Becomes a Virtue   Mon Dec 22, 2008 4:09 pm

I thought that this was a pretty good rant about American anti-intellectualism. He even opens up with a short discussion of Deism.

Quote :
Anti-intellectualism is an American tradition; for whatever reasons, the knowledgeable individual, the brilliant thinker will have their detractors who are not so much in disagreement with what they think or believe, but with their presence. Religious dynamics have driven much of this; the great majority of the Founding Fathers were highly educated products of the Enlightenment. Many of them were deists and held a highly intellectual and sophisticated view of God and his relationship to humanity. They tended to dismiss or at least disregard the more sensational, miraculous aspects of traditional Christianity.

Gradually traditional Christianity had its revenge with the Second Great Awakening, a massive revivalist movement in the early 19th Century. Some of the movers and shakers of this movement claimed that deism and the rationality of the Enlightenment was a path to atheism, and explicitly rejected the intellectual approach to religion favored by the deists and their allies. Explicit in this rejection was the rejection of the intellectual. The American frontier, with its premium on pragmatism, also saw little value in the higher education of the day that dwelt largely on the Greek and Latin Classics.

The publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species unleashed a wave of anti-intellectualism that continues to this day, in spite of the Fundamentalists’ and Evangelicals’ humiliation at the Scopes Trial.

The “brainiac” has always had to watch his or her back against those who saw fit to take them down a peg or two. What every nerd suffered in school hallways or on the playground has been a part of American culture for a long time. The anti-intellectual has always been with us, and will continue so. But today, there is a new twist to this phenomenon: the willful ignoramus.

Others, most notably author Susan Jacoby, have remarked on the growing numbers of people who are not only dirt-ignorant about the rest of the world, science, politics, and the humanities, they are content–nay, determined–to remain that way. [Disclosure: as of this writing, I have not yet read Jacoby’s book The Age of American Unreason.]

Where I have recently seen willful ignorance most strongly manifest is in the discussion of subjects such as intelligent design, global warming, American foreign policy, the war in Iraq, and possible war with Iran. Although I don’t want to sound partisan, I also note that most of this willful ignorance comes from the Right. Not all of it, mind you, but definitely the vast majority. There is an almost savage hatred of fact and reasoning as a means to informing oneself. The liberal tendency to weigh conflicting viewpoints on the way towards accepting one or the other is seen as a weakness and has been used to paint liberals as indecisive and feeble in their convictions. Of course, the Right has been or is being proven to be almost completely wrong on all of the subjects listed above.

But where does this kind of ignorance come from? How is it that ideology–which tells you an answer to any question irregardless of the circumstances or facts–has replaced philosophy, a methodology by which one works their way to an answer that accords with the known facts?

I lay much of the blame on our leadership, which consists of people who are openly and even proudly ignorant, and yet they continue to wield power and influence. We have “intellectuals”¯ such as Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol, or Norman Podhoretz, who, in spite of their education and (alleged) intelligence, are consistently and egregiously wrong about nearly everything on which they claim expertise. Their ability to predict events associated with the Iraq War, for instance, has proven significantly less accurate than reducing their predictions to a yes/no question and flipping a coin. And yet these people are held up as examples of intellectuals who are sufficiently competent to guide our foreign policy. The message this sends is that you can be a great leader or have extraordinary influence and still be thick as a brick.

The news media in America has abrogated its role as evaluator and sifter of claims to find the facts in favor of presenting both sides with little or no comment. The critical aspect of news reporting has dissolved, and thus Americans don’t get to see real critical thinking in action. The increasing focus on celebrities, sensational crimes, entertainment “news”¯ and “discussion”¯ shows where pompous blowhards try to out-yell each other does nothing to lift the thinking of the average American. Add to this media outlets who are almost openly little more than propaganda outlets, Fox News being the most notable example. The rise of rhetoric and posturing in lieu of reasoned, informed discussion and debate is like acid on the brains of those who can’t or won’t guard against it. Intellectual discussion becomes associated with insults, put-downs, questioning one’s patriotism, humanity, moral fiber, integrity, intelligence, breeding, and fitness to live. And who wants to have any part of that?

Public education continues to see reduced funding amid increasing calls for “reform”¯ designed to make our kids the best test-takers in the world, and even there it fails miserably. There is no reason in the world why public education cannot work; it has worked well elsewhere in the world and has produced the basis for American scientific dominance in earlier decades, but there are ideologues and the like among us who cannot abide public anything (works, roads, libraries, health, etc.) but especially schooling. I will concede that there are many, many problems with the way education is conducted in America, but dismantling the public schools is not the answer.

A more charitable explanation is just good ole’ fashioned information overload. Actually, I think this is one of the easier ones to solve in principle, at least. Many Americans just shut down their brains when they reach a point of overload; there’s just too much information out there to evaluate and sift through, “so don’t confuse me with any more facts!” The problem is that to the extent that anyone does learn anything, it’s on a purely random osmotic basis, and chances are the information you pick up will be incomplete, biased, or just plain wrong. Soon even osmosis gets turned off. Watching “Dancing With the Stars” is safer.

Personally, my solution to information overload is to work to eliminate unreliable or toxic information streams from my life. I no longer watch cable news, for instance. In fact, I no longer have cable, period. I have a few carefully-selected web sites I go to for news and commentary, because over time they have proven to be reliable sources of information. Their commentary and analysis remains on target long after the news cycle has moved on.

Eventually, we will have national leaders who can actually out-think a used teabag. Meanwhile, different flavors and styles of anti-intellectualism must be fought, one person at a time. It’s partly a matter of personal responsibility, but it’s also important to make clear to those non-thinkers among us that there are few things more liberating, more pleasurable, more satisfying than knowing how the world wags and what wags it. Those who eschew the call to be an informed and intelligent citizen miss out on one of life’s great pleasures.

"Enjoy every sandwich" ~ Warren Zevon
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Number of posts : 540
Age : 57
Location: : Toronto
Registration date : 2007-09-14

PostSubject: Re: Willful Ignorance Becomes a Virtue   Tue Dec 23, 2008 1:35 am

Interesting. Falls under beer, bread and circuses metaphor.

Certainly not just information, but sensory overload is a problem.

I mean think back,say200 years ago, to a farmhouse in Canada or the U.S. Presuming the chores were done, what would you do for entertainment Embarassed Embarassed . Book, game, music.

Think of what you can do now. INternet, video games, television, radio, stereos. I mean if I were to join in every thread over at positive deism tonight, it would probably be an hour plus.

But what about my guitar, my books I'm reading, talking with my wife, playing with my son. Even doing nothing.

So he does provoke some good points.
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