Friday, October 31, 2008

Something to Think About from AlterNet and Me - An Overview

"How was it allowed to happen? How did politics in the United States come to be dominated by people who make a virtue out of ignorance? Was it charity that has permitted mankind's closest living relative to spend two terms as president?

How did Sarah Palin, Dan Quayle and other such gibbering numbskulls get to where they are? How could Republican rallies in 2008 be drowned out by screaming ignoramuses insisting that Barack Obama is a Muslim and a terrorist?" Palin attended five colleges to receive a degree and John McCain graduated fifth from the bottom of his class. The level of ignorance in America is unbelievable.

On one level, this is easy to answer: Ignorant politicians are elected by ignorant people. U.S. education, like the U.S. health system, is notorious for its failures. In the most powerful nation on Earth, 1 adult in 5 believes the sun revolves around the Earth; only 26 percent accept that evolution takes place by means of natural selection; two-thirds of young adults are unable to find Iraq on a map; two-thirds of U.S. voters cannot name the three branches of government; and the math skills of 15-year-olds in the United States are ranked 24th out of the 29 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

But this merely extends the mystery: How did so many U.S. citizens become so dumb and so suspicious of intelligence? Susan Jacoby's book The Age of American Unreason provides the fullest explanation I have read so far. She shows that the degradation of U.S. politics results from a series of interlocking tragedies.

One theme is both familiar and clear: Religion -- in particular fundamentalist religion -- makes you stupid. The United States is the only rich country in which Christian fundamentalism is vast and growing.

And the United States is peculiar in devolving the control of education to local authorities. Teaching in the Southern states was dominated by the views of an ignorant aristocracy of planters, and a great educational gulf opened up. "In the South," Jacoby writes, "what can only be described as an intellectual blockade was imposed in order to keep out any ideas that might threaten the social order."

But this is true not only in the South, but nation wide. Try to have an intelligent political conversation with most anyone anywhere in America and you encounter folks who never do their homework but just take the words of right wing talk show hosts as gospel.

"The specter of pointy-headed alien subversives was crucial to the elections of Reagan and Bush. A genuine intellectual elite -- like the neocons (some of them former communists) surrounding Bush -- has managed to pitch the political conflict as a battle between ordinary Americans and an overeducated pinko establishment. Any attempt to challenge the ideas of the right-wing elite has been successfully branded as elitism.

Obama has a lot to offer, but until our education system is fixed or religious fundamentalism withers, anti-intellectuals will flaunt their ignorance."

And if there's anything we need in these perilous times, it's an intelligent president. Just look at all the damage an ignorant one has managed to wreak in just eight years.

George Monbiot is the author of Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning. Read more of his writings at This article in it's entirety originally appeared in the Guardian.


Linda said...

I'm so glad you said all this. I've wanted to speak out but don't trust myself.

For most of my life I was a Southern Baptist which is by no means a moderate, let alone liberal denomination. The religious fundamentalists rode into town with the Reagan administration and it was a huge painful fight in the Southern Baptist Convention but the fundamentalists won. It was so painful I still cry today when I think about it.

I'm no longer a (fundamentalist) Southern Baptist for mostly one reason, they tried to restrict my intellectual curiosity and stop me from asking questions.

It was an extremely painful experience for me, I'm crying as I write this. I'm now a liberal. I simply could not restrict myself to their constraints.

Margie's Musings said...

Oh Linda, that is so sad. My church has no such restrictions and I would not be able to stay with one that did either.

We are encouraged to think for ourselves and investigate everything.

Sansego said...

Wait...I was confused reading your post. What was your writing and what was quoted stuff? And who were you quoting?

I wish you would make it more clear when you are excerpting someone else's words...especially long passages. I found it hard to distinguish which one were your thoughts and which ones you're quoting. You don't want to get accused of plagiarism.

Margie's Musings said...

Nicholas. I had quotes around the quoted material and the source of the material was listed at the bottom. It came from AlterNet, as the caption indicated.

Sansego said...

But was it all excerpted, or did you write any of your own thoughts? I saw quotes on some parts and not on others. So, I was confused.

Margie's Musings said...

The parts I had quoted were from the author of the article. Anything not in quotes were my thoughts.