Monday, June 23, 2014

The cult of ignorance

"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge." Isaac Asimov
There's a joke that facts have a well-known liberal bias.  That's because so much of conservative politics is so anti-intellectual.  Global warming is a scam, invented by grasping scientists to pad their research accounts.  Women who have abortions will get breast cancer.  Children of gay couples fail to thrive. Medical researchers are hiding cancer cures to make more money with treatment.  There are all false claims that aren't as far from the mainstream as we would like.  The Tea Party in particular, but hte REpublican party overall, is deeply suspicious of intellectuals.

And it's costing us.
The fundamental reason that countries in places like East Asia present such a significant challenge to the U.S. politically and economically is not because they have a lot of people or big militaries, or seem to be willing to grow their economic and political might without concern for issues like damage to the environment (China). The problem is that these countries have core cultural values that are more akin to a cult of intelligence and education than a cult of ignorance and anti-intellectualism. In Japan, for example, teachers are held in high esteem and normally viewed as among the most important members of a community. I have never run across the type of suspicion and even disdain for the work of teachers that occurs in the U.S. Teachers in Japan typically are paid significantly more than their peers in the U.S. The profession of teaching is one that is seen as being of central value in Japanese society and those who choose that profession are well compensated in terms of salary, pension, and respect for their knowledge and their efforts on behalf of children. 
.... in general Japanese value education, value the work of intellectuals, and see a well-educated public with a basic common knowledge in areas of scientific fact, math, history, literature, etc. as being an essential foundation to a successful democracy. 
Americans need to recognize that if the cult of ignorance continues, it will become increasingly difficult to compete politically and economically with countries that highly value intelligence and learning. Nowhere is this more problematic in the U.S. than among a growing number of elected officials who are products of that cult of ignorance and who, thus, are not equipped to compete with their international peers. Why is this a problem of national security? Because a population and its leadership need to have the knowledge and intellectual skills necessary to analyze world affairs in an intelligent and sophisticated way and to elect intelligent, capable representatives. The problem is not really with our educational system; it is with our educational culture. Americans need to remember the words of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote to Charles Yancey on January 6, 1816: "if a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was & never will be."

1 comment:

JCF said...

Hand-in-hand w/ ignorance, is paranoid conspiracy theories (the difference between actual knowledge---which takes work to acquire---and gnosticism, which pretends there's a short-cut). "What They Don't Want You to Know", "Keeping Them Honest" etc etc ad nauseum.