Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The knowledge divide

Shortly after the election, Nate Silver and the gang at FiveThirtyEight crunched the numbers to see what demographic characteristics separated the Trump supporter from the Clinton supporter, and they found that it wasn't income, or social class that correlated best.  Rather, the level of education was " the critical factor in predicting shifts in the vote between 2012 and 2016."

Why would this be?  They posit several reasons
  • Education levels may be a proxy for cultural hegemony....Trump’s campaign may have represented a backlash against these cultural elites.
  • Educational attainment may be a better indicator of long-term economic well-being than household incomes. ...
  • Education levels have strong relationships with media-consumption habits,...
  • Trump’s approach to the campaign — relying on emotional appeals while glossing over policy details — may have resonated more among people with lower education levels as compared with Clinton’s wonkier and more cerebral approach.
They conclude:
The education gap is carving up the American electorate and toppling political coalitions that had been in place for many years.
So, what has happened with the election of Trump to the White House?  Over at Foreign Policy, David Rothkopf invokes "The Shallow State" of ignorance that this uneducated, anti-intellectualism engenders.
Donald Trump, champion and avatar of the shallow state, has won power because his supporters are threatened by what they don’t understand, and what they don’t understand is almost everything. Indeed, from evolution to data about our economy to the science of vaccines to the threats we face in the world, they reject vast subjects rooted in fact in order to have reality conform to their worldviews. They don’t dig for truth; they skim the media for anything that makes them feel better about themselves. To many of them, knowledge is not a useful tool but a cunning barrier elites have created to keep power from the average man and woman. The same is true for experience, skills, and know-how. These things require time and work and study and often challenge our systems of belief. Truth is hard; shallowness is easy....
Trump & Co. are allergic to demonstrable, proven facts whether they be of the scientific, political, social, cultural, or economic variety. With leaders like these, the shallow state exists only on the surface, propelled only by emotion and reflex. Therefore, anything of factual weight or substance disturbs, disrupts, or obliterates it much as a rock does when dropped onto an image reflected in a pond. 
He highlights the antipathy to science and the arts expressed by the Trump administration as a further manifestation of this dumbing down of our institutions.

 This is the culmination of a long decline, that writer Thomas Nichols has highlighted as "The Death of Expertise".   He's written a book about this, but before that he wrote an article:
To reject the notion of expertise, and to replace it with a sanctimonious insistence that every person has a right to his or her own opinion, is silly.

Worse, it’s dangerous. The death of expertise is a rejection not only of knowledge, but of the ways in which we gain knowledge and learn about things. Fundamentally, it’s a rejection of science and rationality, which are the foundations of Western civilization itself....

This isn’t just about politics, which would be bad enough. No, it’s worse than that: the perverse effect of the death of expertise is that without real experts, everyone is an expert on everything. To take but one horrifying example, we live today in an advanced post-industrial country that is now fighting a resurgence of whooping cough — a scourge nearly eliminated a century ago — merely because otherwise intelligent people have been second-guessing their doctors and refusing to vaccinate their kids after reading stuff written by people who know exactly zip about medicine.
 So the real divide we see is those who are less educated and to some degree proud of their ignorance, and those who live in an empirical, fact-based world.

Is this related to Trump's immense support amongst the conservative Evangelicals?  We know they are wont to educate their children in home-schools, or religious colleges to keep them from Dangerous Ideas.   At Religion News Service, John Fea calls out his fellow evangelicals   for their deliberate anti-intellectualism.
Fear can easily be exacerbated by false information. And good information can often alleviate fear....These are facts. They are backed by statistics, data and evidence.

It is time for my fellow evangelicals to take seriously what the Founding Fathers of this nation called an “informed citizenry.” Better yet, it is time to counter fear with facts — a necessary starting point for worshiping God with our minds.
I don't know how to bridge this divide, because I live in the world of facts, science, art, and reality, and I am at a loss to explain these values to those who refuse to hear.   And meanwhile, the White House destroys data and makes up "alternative facts".

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