Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Stuff and Nonsense

Two women fight so violently
in Children’s Museum they
create massive hole in lobby wall.

Stuff and nonsense. How in world has the United States managed to fall into so much confusion, hate, and seemingly endless conflict. The passage of the health care bill was a great and long overdue achievement. You might think people would be relatively content to have a kind of security they have never experienced before. You might think they should even be happy about it. Perhaps they will be after it has begun to work and people will perceive what a massive and welcome change it is. In the meanwhile, however, there is more darkness than light, more confusion than common sense, more violence than reason, more hate and bigotry than we’ve seen for a long time. There are many different ways to look at this.

There is, of course, a basic philosophical difference between Democrats and Republicans. The former see an important role for government in the affairs of its citizens, the Republicans believe less government is better. This difference has important implications for budgets and social programs of all kinds. But this cannot account for what is going on at the moment as this difference of opinion has characterized our politics for a very long time and never before caused such a mess. And most of what is going on is basically a mess. A recent poll indicates that some 67% of Republicans believe Obama is a socialist, some 47% cling to the fantasy that he is not an American citizen, and some 24% actually seem to believe he is the anti-Christ. With those numbers it is not too difficult to see where much of the trouble lies. The fact that all three of these beliefs are demonstrably and absolutely untrue doesn’t seem to register with those that hold them. Then there are those who believe Obama is acting like Hitler, totally false. Some believe he is going to take away their guns, false. Others are convinced he is a Muslim, false. Still others accuse him of being a communist, also false. Then there is claim that his health care bill will result in a government takeover of health care, false. And of course there are some who are simply blatant racists who will never accept a Black man as President. Don’t forget those who believe in death squads, and even others who seriously entertain the rumor that Obama is going to stop them from recreational fishing, both false.

There is little doubt, I’m convinced that Fox (fake) News and the preponderance of right-wing talk shows have contributed to this growing problem. The Republican Party’s singular obsession with regaining power instead of helping the country also is an important contributor. But how is it that so many Americans seem to believe in things that are so obviously false? I believe this has a great deal to do with our failed educational system. You might argue, for example, that there is a war going on between those who are well educated and those who are not. Amazing numbers of our young people never finish High School, and I don’t believe our High Schools prepare children very well when it comes to citizenship, social responsibilities, civics, and such (actually I don’t believe they prepare them very well for anything at all, but there are, I am sure, rare exceptions). With steadily deteriorating schools and grossly underpaid teachers I guess you shouldn’t expect much. I know from personal experience that our High School students are bored beyond belief with their High School experiences (exception sports, of course).

The problem is greater than our High Schools, however. There is a serious resistance to knowledge and learning for its own sake in the United States, a powerful anti-intellectualism that I think is crippling us in some respects. The idea of a “classical” or “liberal” education has all but disappeared, to be replaced by the idea that a University if supposed to prepare you for a profession, a job (which explains why there are now so many professional schools associated with Universities, Business, law, Nursing, etc.). Thus you find people highly knowledgeable about their specialty but virtually illiterate e when it comes to anything else. I have personally known and worked with many M.D’s and Ph.D’s who were experts in their respective fields but knew next to nothing about human behavior, society, or culture. Many of these individuals knew nothing about evolution, nothing about any people other than the Americans they came into contact with, and very often nothing about politics, our political system, beyond that you could probably find in eight year-olds. I have even been asked if there are people in the world who have no language, or people who married their sisters, or who thought that everyone in New Guinea must be cannibals. These were not stupid people, they were just incredibly ignorant about anything except neurology, oncology, noses, throats, and chest pains. In order to master their chosen profession as quickly as possible they simply bypassed any courses that were not considered basic and relevant. University education was not always like this, students studied languages, the classics, humanities, philosophy, literature, and other subjects as well as biology and chemistry. Even if this is all true, there still remains a vast gap between those with an education and those without.

During the last elections a friend sent me a chart that purported to show a correlation between the average I.Q. scores in different states and political preferences. There was no doubt that states with lower I.Q. scores preferred Republican or conservative candidates. I didn’t take this seriously because I don’t believe much in I.Q. scores and I didn’t know how such average scores could be obtained or how reliable they could be. Even so, I’m pretty certain there is a correlation between education and political preferences. I’ll bet that most educated people are far less likely to believe in the nonsensical claims about Obama than others, and we have far too many others here in the U.S. This is why Republicans do not in general want to fund education or improve it, they know they would lose too many votes. Obama will try to improve educational opportunities, the Republicans will oppose all attempts to create an informed citizenry (an absolute necessity for a functional democracy). As for those who believe in the anti-Christ, people being swallowed by whales or riding dinosaurs, what can I say?

The recipe for perpetual ignorance is: be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge.
Elbert Hubbard

Saltwater crocodiles are the largest reptiles on earth, growing sometimes to slightly more than 25 feet in length.

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