Age of Ignorance

Via Paul Fidalgo’s blog at CFI, an essay by Charles Simic, in The New York Review of Books, from about two years ago.

In the past, if someone knew nothing and talked nonsense, no one paid any attention to him. No more. Now such people are courted and flattered by conservative politicians and ideologues as “Real Americans” defending their country against big government and educated liberal elites. The press interviews them and reports their opinions seriously without pointing out the imbecility of what they believe. The hucksters, who manipulate them for the powerful financial interests, know that they can be made to believe anything, because, to the ignorant and the bigoted, lies always sound better than truth:

  • Christians are persecuted in this country.
  • The government is coming to get your guns.
  • Obama is a Muslim.
  • Global Warming is a hoax.
  • The president is forcing open homosexuality on the military.
  • Schools push a left-wing agenda.
  • Social Security is an entitlement, no different from welfare.
  • Obama hates white people.
  • The life on earth is 10,000 years old and so is the universe.
  • The safety net contributes to poverty.
  • The government is taking money from you and giving it to sex-crazed college women to pay for their birth control.

One could easily list many more such commonplace delusions believed by Americans. They are kept in circulation by hundreds of right-wing political and religious media outlets whose function is to fabricate an alternate reality for their viewers and their listeners. “Stupidity is sometimes the greatest of historical forces,” Sidney Hook said once. No doubt. What we have in this country is the rebellion of dull minds against the intellect.

My bold emphasis.

Which in turn links to another article, by Garry Wills, about Rick Santorum and home schooling.

Santorum seems to be thinking of colleges as resembling his own teaching experience. As a home schooler of his seven children, he had a monopoly on what they were taught at impressionable ages. He is thinking of himself when he says an educator “wants to remake you in his image.” Why else did he make it impossible for other minds, of elders or even of equals, to impinge on the minds of his children? (Perhaps he does not think of this as “remaking” the children’s minds but of “making” them, since they did not have anything to remake until he made them. In this case he is comparing himself not with a college teacher but with God.)

… I think it inevitable that questioning of childhood beliefs should take place at various stages of adolescence. This does not happen in junior year or senior year on campus. It is part of a long process called growing up.

At some point, late or early, children disengage themselves from the stories crafted for them. Their loss of belief in the tooth fairy is only slightly behind their loss of teeth. There is a slow motion race to disappear between Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. The Stork undergoes, for some, a lengthier demise—and “the birds and the bees” do not long outlast it. Others, I hope, soon disabuse themselves of belief in their parents’ infallibility. Certain religious myths are discarded without necessarily losing faith. That I do not believe in Noah’s Ark does not mean that I must stop believing in God—though certain home schooling parents force that connection on their kids.

Minds grow by questioning things, and adolescence is a great period of questions. Mark Twain and H. L. Mencken learned to cross-examine the Bible all on their own, without any help at all from college. An unquestioned faith is not faith but rote recitation. The opposite of such questioning is not deep belief but arrested development.

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