In an article today in Smirking Chimp, “Dig Down Deep: An Open Letter to the Nation,” Doug Giebel, a writer from Montana, chides us for being to blame for the nation’s ills. This is a theme we often see, as many believe that “the people get what they deserve,” and so on. This idea that the public is basically irresponsible or worse has been often expressed. H. L. Mencken, for example: “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public,” or. “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”
Giebel makes no pretense as to who he thinks is guilty: “We should call a halt to this charade and take matters into our own hands. After all, we're the guilty ones for having permitted the earmarks of greed, arrogance and malfeasance to trump effective government.”
And again: “Ignoring the past, we have encouraged our "leaders" to become hedonistic sycophants of big money and power. Ego and self-preening hubris substitute for reasoned discourse, contemplation and a dedication to the principles of constitutional fairness and human decency. It's time we accepted responsibility and atoned for our negligence.”
I agree we should atone for our ignorance, but I would also suggest the situation is not as simple as it may appear. There is, at the very least, a kind of chicken or egg quality to this argument. That is, if we had a truly serious and highly functioning democracy, in which we had an informed (and better educated) citizenry, and if we also had a situation of complete transparency with respect to information, and if the public was always made aware of the facts and different possibilities of matters of government before having to decide, and if they then made mistakes leading to ill effects, then, and only then, could one honestly say the citizenry was responsible. We here in the U.S. are far from meeting these conditions. When you have a population in which very large numbers do not believe in evolution, believe their President was not born here and/or is a Muslim, believe in Armageddon, or that people and dinosaurs roamed the earth together, or that the earth is a mere 10,000 years old, apparently also believe in ghosts, or believe their President is the anti-Christ, and you should vote for someone you’d like to have a beer with, or believe someone like Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann is qualified to be President, and so on, I do not believe you can honestly say we have a well-informed or educated citizenry.
Education, especially higher education, is not highly valued by a great many of our citizens, and, even if some do value it, it is not easily obtainable, especially by the poor, whether minorities or not. And education has not been a very high priority in the U.S. for quite a long time now, a situation that has allowed our schools and Universities to deteriorate at an alarming rate. In some of our cities fully 50% of students fail to graduate from High School, and many who do graduate cannot read much better than 5th graders. Our students have fallen far behind other countries when it comes to math and science, and the arts and humanities struggle mightily to get funded at all. In many school districts I understand that courses in civics and government are no longer offered. A recent study reveals that our College students spend very little time on their studies and much more time in socializing. Grade inflation has increased year by year. From the point of view of a strong and viable democracy this is a truly shocking state of affairs.
What is worse, when it comes to having an informed public, we are subjected daily to what is mostly infotainment rather than news. And as the major networks are all corporate owned they basically only offer what it is those particular powers want us to hear. We rarely hear the truth about anything, and one of the most watched networks is no more than the propaganda arm of one party that skews everything in their favor. We are not only badly educated we are also not at all well-informed. I know from personal experience that most ordinary citizens in Europe are far better informed about world affairs than the average American. Indeed, ordinary Americans seem to know nothing about geography and even less about other cultures.
Giebel is obviously aware of this but still believes it is our own fault. He asks, “How stupid do they think we are?” And answers: “The answer is obvious. We the people have been bamboozled by sweet talk, promises promises and self-imposed laziness, hoping (even believing) that those we send to manage the nation's business will do the job. But, my fellow Americans, the buck doesn't stop with our elected potentates. The buck stops with us.” And also: “In an age awash with "information," we the discontented live in a state of self-induced ignorance prodded to anger 24/7 by professional ranters who have no shame.”
But is it truly the fault of ordinary citizens who do not have access to information and facts and are, in fact, mostly kept in the dark. It seems to me to be a gigantic stretch to argue we are in a state of “self-induced ignorance” when it is extremely difficult if not impossible for an ordinary citizen to acquire the kind of information needed to make truly cogent decisions, even if they had the time and the resources to make the attempt. We have been kept poorly educated and ill-informed on purpose by those who prefer to have us that way. It is easy for them to manipulate a public kept in ignorance and fear, and that condition also keeps us docile and unlikely to revolt or even participate in decision making. Indeed, at this very moment they are trying to take away the right of workers to have a voice in their own affairs. With their powerful media and endless lies and propaganda they can lead a gullible public into the most outrageous beliefs: capitalism (greed) is good, socialism is unspeakably awful, right-to-work laws (actually, right to make less money) are good, labor unions are bad, abortions are never useful, poverty for children is good, immigration is bad, cheap labor is good, Social Security and Medicare are bad, endless “war” is good. Tax breaks for the wealthiest are good, workers make too much money, Israel is good, Palestinians are bad, Our national interests are good, everyone else’s are bad (unless they are like ours), America is exceptional, others not, and so on and on and on until everyone succumbs to such ennui and disgust they either don’t bother to vote at all or they vote for someone who promises the impossible and inevitably just delivers more of the same.
Is it reasonable to believe that ordinary citizens were prescient enough or sophisticated enough to realize there was (and is) a conspiracy to quietly and systematically betray them, that the very people they elected to represent them, trusted to represent them, would slowly over time fall prey to the evil siren song of corporate money and cease to represent the public interest entirely in favor of keeping their jobs and perquisites? Having chipped away at our rights and privileges, as well as our wages and benefit, they are now poised to administer the coup de grace, taking away our right to even have a voice in our own affairs. Giebel is right, we have certainly been “bamboozled,” and we should certainly attempt to overcome it, but to argue that it is entirely our own fault, under the circumstances, is both unfair and unreasonable. Perhaps it is not too late to defeat this fascist threat, Wisconsin would seem to be an ideal place to begin.