Synchronicity, serendipity – whatever you want to call it – is real. My early notes for this week’s blog post read, “Not sure what I want to blog about this week but I had an idea – maybe the Willfully Ignorant, or Willful Ignorance, or something like that.” Mere moments after writing that in my journal, I came across multiple articles and quotes that echoed that very thought.
First was a post on Facebook by my friend and fellow resistor (the master resistor, actually) Chris Cangeleri of an opinion piece from the Miami Herald called “In Trumpworld, it’s OK to be ignorant” [Leonard Pitts, Jr., MiamiHerald.com, 2/17/17, http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/article133497824.html]. A great quote from the piece, which almost exactly captured what I had been thinking to write, was: “It’s time we talked about the most consequential political divide in this country. That divide is not between liberals and conservatives. Rather, it is between the ignorant and the informed, between those who have information and can extrapolate from it and those who do not and cannot. There is an education gap between left and right, and it poses a grave threat to our national future.”
I’ve written about this before and I likely will again, because it’s something that troubles me very much about my country. I’ve never considered myself one of those “Rah-Rah-U.S.A.!” people. As much as I grew up loving the Olympics, it was the sportsmanship among athletes rather than the competition between countries that appealed to me most about them. I’m part of a generation – the Baby Boomers – that has witnessed a time of greater prosperity than has ever been known in the world, and the United States has had the most respect it has ever had (or may ever again have). I’ll save the history lesson for another day, but the bottom line is this: I can never remember a time in my 50-plus years of life when there was such a sharp gap between the educated and the willfully ignorant in this country.
And there is no greater evidence for this than the results of the 2016 presidential election. During the campaign, whenever I listened to Donald Trump speak (and how could I NOT? The mainstream media, which he now deems them “the enemy of the people,” gave Trump so much free TV time, we couldn’t escape him), I would hear nearly nonsensical strings of fourth-grade-level vocabulary words in run-on and incomplete sentences that wouldn’t be conveying ANYTHING, really, and he would punctuate his every line with “Believe me!” or “Am I right?” and a wave of his signature stubby-fingered OK sign. (What a tell! Every time Donald Trump says “Believe me!”, he is clearly lying.) And I would say to myself, “How could anyone in their right mind think he’s making any sense whatsoever? What is he SAYING? Does he even listen to HIMSELF?” Yet so many people – none of my close friends (with whom I am universally politically aligned) but certainly many people I know, who I consider at least semi-intelligent – were hearing something completely different. What they were hearing was what they WANTED to hear. It didn’t matter if it didn’t make a lick of sense; they wanted to hear it, so that’s what Trump was saying.
In considering this week’s post, in addition to the Pitts article cited above, I also serendipitously came across a couple of pithy quotations. One was posted by another one of my fellow resisters on Facebook, from an American abolitionist and vocal supporter of women’s and Native American rights back in the mid-19th century named Wendell Phillips (who was also a contemporary of Frederick Douglass, who still has definitely NOT done any great things lately).
The Wendell Phillips quote: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few. The manna of popular liberty must be gathered each day or it is rotten. The living sap of today outgrows the dead rind of yesterday. The hand entrusted with power becomes, either from human depravity or esprit de corps, the necessary enemy of the people. Only by continued oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot; only by unintermitted agitation can a people be sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.”
Heavy stuff, but the bottom line is this: In a free country, the people have to be vigilant about their rights because once they hand over their power to the elites in control, it is damn hard to get back.
We’re a nation of sheep, as Trump’s election has proven: ignorant people being led by the nose by Fox News and con men and people with money who control the people who don’t have money. The populace is woefully ignorant – and willfully so. Organized religion contributes to that, and also a lack of respect and support for teachers and public education (as evidenced by the ability of the thoroughly unqualified Betsy DeVos to not only buy her position as Secretary of Education but also to make noise about eliminating public education entirely, to be replaced by some mishmash of home schooling and charter schools and God in the classroom – egads!). Sometimes I think people are happier to be told what to do rather than to think for themselves.
I’ve written about this before in a broader post about public education [“An Ideal Education,” 7/6/16]. It troubles me that so much focus in schools is on teaching to standardized tests and not teaching youngsters how to think for themselves based on their powers of observation and critical analysis. That kind of emphasis is sorely lacking in schools until college level education, and by then most of the folks who need to be critically thinking about their roles and responsibilities in this country and the world have essentially dropped out of the system.
The founders set up the U.S. Constitution as a blueprint for governance of the people, by the people, coming as it did out of the fight for independence from a controlling monarchy. Today’s sheep give lip service to patriotically living up to the standards of our forefathers but they’re not willing to question authority and get involved in their own governance. It’s an awesome responsibility, and what’s happened is that large numbers of people (perhaps a majority of us, and I include myself in that number) have abdicated their power to such a degree that they allowed a con man to be elected by a bare majority of the bare majority (57.9%) of eligible Americans who actually bothered to vote in a damn presidential election, let alone mid-term or local elections, when you can have the most access to the governing power that most affects you.
The other quote I came upon was from George Orwell, whose classic 1984 is undergoing a rediscovery because of its prescience. Said Orwell, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” This is so, evidently, because it is so easy to believe what you want to believe, especially when people in power are pushing it on you, despite the actual FACTS in front of your face. The denial of the FACTS in front of one’s face has become alarmingly common, and the people in power are doing nothing to change that (and, in fact, are unabashedly promoting such denial).
That George Orwell quote was cited in a transcript of the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at the UCLA given by Bret Stephens [“Don’t Dismiss President Trump’s Attacks on the Media as Mere Stupidity”, Feb. 18, 2017, Time.com, http://time.com/4675860/donald-trump]. Following on Orwell’s quote, Mr. Stephens said, “We each have our obligations to see what’s in front of one’s nose, whether we’re reporters, columnists, or anything else. This is the essence of intellectual integrity. Not to look around, or beyond, or away from the facts, but to look straight at them, to recognize and call them for what they are, nothing more or less. To see things as they are before we re-interpret them into what we’d like them to be. To believe in an epistemology that can distinguish between truth and falsity, facts and opinions, evidence and wishes. To defend habits of mind and institutions of society, above all a free press, which preserve that epistemology. To hold fast to a set of intellectual standards and moral convictions that won’t waver amid changes of political fashion or tides of unfavorable opinion. To speak the truth irrespective of what it means for our popularity or influence.”
I could go on – I haven’t even touched on the absurdity of the accusations of “fake news” by Trump and his minions against established and reputable newspapers and media conglomerates with extensive fact-checking teams and decades of public trust. Certainly, the big ones are controlled by a few powerful (wealthy, white, male) people, but I think, if Big Media is guilty of anything, it’s of trying too hard to be fair and balanced, to the point where they’re almost afraid to call bullshit when they hear it. Not to mention the free publicity they gave (and evidently continue to give, since Trump is still campaigning even after winning) the Trump campaign.
But I’m preaching to the choir. It seems highly unlikely that I will change anyone’s mind or convince them that they need to work a little more on their critical thinking skills because they’ve been bamboozled bigly by a con man. I go to sleep every night hoping that, when I wake up, it will all have been a bad dream. But perhaps one good thing has come of this horrible political nightmare: The outpouring of protest and public outcry will maybe, just maybe, cause some of the previously willfully ignorant to do a little more digging, get a little more involved, and start seeing clearly what’s been in front of their own eyes all along.