Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Revenge of the ignorant. Is it too late for America to wise up?

There's a piece in Monday's Boston Globe titled "Yes, there is shame in not knowing." In it, the author, who teaches writing at New York University, argues that it's not okay to be willfully ignorant -- and that people who refuse to seek out knowledge, or who willfully refuse to believe facts, should be ashamed and shamed.

While I agree with Taylor that willful ignorance is shameful, it is precisely articles like this, and people feeling shamed -- or looked down upon by "the media" and "elites" -- that has resulted in Donald J. Trump, who pandered to people's baser instincts and flouted knowledge and truth and facts, being elected president.

Indeed, I would argue that we now live in a time, at least in this country*, where being ignorant (being proud of a lack of intellectual curiosity and not caring about facts or the truth or attaining knowledge) is considered a virtue, and makes you "a real American," and being smart (having an intellectual curiosity, wanting to learn, a desire to gain knowledge) is bad and makes you "elite."

[I don't know about all of you, but I'd sure as heck rather be in the elite camp than be considered uneducated or ignorant. But, as my 18-year-old daughter just reminded me, amongst pre-teens and teenagers, it's often considered cool to be stupid and not cool to be or act smart. And it's the same among some adults, sadly.]

Lest you think this is the first time in recent history where being considered smart -- as in intelligent, well-prepared, and thoughtful -- put one at a disadvantage, especially if running for higher office, it's not. Just cast back to the 1990s, which could well be considered the Era of the Nerd, where young wiz kids who were good with technology could and did make millions -- and having an MBA, JD, and/or PhD seemed to be de rigueur** to getting ahead.

Then in 2000, the Supreme Court Americans, many as a slap in the face to or rejection of nerdism, and specifically know-it-all Al Gore, elected George W. Bush, who proudly boasted of his poor record as a student and showed a lack of interest in learning or intelligence briefings. And soon after we had 9/11 and a war in Iraq to show for it.

Now we have president-elect Donald J. Trump, the new hero of the uneducated and ignorant, who tells us he doesn't need to read or have daily intelligence briefings because he is "like smart," smart in this case meaning not knowledgeable nor mentally alert, nor witty or clever, but shrewd.

And it's true that he outsmarted a field of Republicans with his boasts and his lies. And he outsmarted the mainstream media with his sales pitches disguised as breaking news and big announcements. But it is only a matter of time until some terrorist or foreign power outsmarts Trump -- and inflicts serious damage on our country. (Per the CIA and FBI, Russia already has)

So my question is, when are Americans going to wise up?

* in many places, though not all
** Does using phrases like "de rigueur" make me an elitist?


Dave S. said...

Willful ignorance, or at least anti-intellectualism, has a long and proud history in this country, going back to at least the 1950s, when the GOP derided Adlai Stevenson as a pointy-head. Gotta admit that "the best and the brightest" took a hit in the '60s, unfairly or not.

To answer your question, my cynical side says never. There's good bank to be made off the ignorant and easily-led.

J. said...

@Dave S., I was trying to work in that famous Adlai Stevenson quote, where one of his supporters calls out "Governor Stevenson, all thinking people are for you!" And Adlai Stevenson replies, "That's not enough. I need a majority."

There is also the quote attributed to Winston Churchill, "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”