JR'S Free Thought Pages
America the Stupid
The United States is primarily a nation of delusional dunces, crackpots and cranks – willfully ignorant idiots and proud of it
By Johnny Reb
“The superior man knows what is right, the inferior man know what sells.” – Confucius
“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” – Bumper Sticker
Is the Republic of Jesus (aka The United States of America) really the dumbest country on the planet? It’s difficult to accept an affirmation to this question considering that some of the most prominent intellectuals in the world are American and the existence of some the most prestigious universities such as MIT and Stanford. But the US is a country of paradoxes that reveal shocking disparities in both intellect and wealth. In recent polls it was found that 40% of Americans believe in ghosts, 78% believe in angels and more Americans believe in horoscopes than they do evolution (the cornerstone of modern biology). These alone are disturbing statistics. They also firmly believe in all sorts of other religious, quasi-religious and pseudo-scientific nonsense and new Age gobbledygook that’s promoted endlessly on corporate television. Then there’s the popularity of bimbos like Sarah Palin who’s clearly dumb enough to qualify for the next Republican presidential candidate for the presidency.
One could forcefully argue that Americans consciously prefer their leaders dull and non-intellectual particularly since they may have elected the dumbest leader of any country in recorded history in George W Bush - twice. So it’s not only just the large white underclass* that’s been intentionally kept poor, ignorant, brainwashed and deluded, a class created and maintained to serve as a cheap labor pool that will of necessity undertake all the unpleasant underpaid grunt work of corporate America, enrich small businessmen and fight and die in the endless imperialistic wars for America’s elites, because most of the rest of the country appear to be dumber that a sack of pipe wrenches too. Yes, even the frat boy Ivy League privileged classes who own and run the country are intellectually challenged. These spoiled brat dipsticks have more money than brains (the semi-literate Bush, who bragged publically he’d never actually read a book but now has apparently written one, has an MBA from one of those elite schools – yeah seriously), you know the greedy silver spooned conservative bastards who brought down the global economy and continue with the same failed economic model of unfettered casino capitalism. We’re still mired in what no one in the conservative establishment wants to admit is a global depression. Stupidity may be defined as the rejection of any consideration of counter-evidence or counter-argument to one’s beliefs and the failure to learn from prior mistakes. The United States is a country in which everything is for sale and anything that sells must be “true”, thus reducing truth to utility and profit. The US is the most indoctrinated, delusional overly sanguine populace in the world and consequently is the perfect place to peddle intellectual rubbish and complete public lunacy. And The Idiot’s Republic comes complete with a docile, credulous, ignorant and hyper-optimistic public ready to lap it up. These folks never remove their rose tinted spectacles, not even for a second. We’re number one in everything and don’t you forget it.
*You must read Joe Bageant’s Rainbow Pie (2010) for an informative, insightful and deeply personal account of the entrenched misery and plight of the working poor in America. I also highly recommend his Deer Hunting with Jesus.
The next leg down in the depressed global economy and the nail in the coffin of the middle class seems to be only a matter of time. I suppose it’s called the “middle class” because it’s situated in the middle of extreme poverty on the one side and extreme obscene wealth on the other. The entrenched Conservative investor class and greedy silver spoon frat rats with their totally hollow MBA’s now want it all and they will take down any semblance of democracy and the common good that remains with it. These pampered folks born into wealth and privilege never have believed in democracy. Following the Second World War when the “middle class” was created by strong unions and GDPs they have simply sliced off too much of the economic pie – the greedy ruling class assholes want it back. To conservative elites, this was a “crisis of democracy”, that is, too much democracy. These philistine cretins who learned to cheat on the golf course by the age of six (thus preparing them for the business world) only perceive knowledge as instrumental, you learn to earn, rather than knowing as an end in itself. Their influences have all but destroyed the notion of a liberal education where everything, including the status quo of the Conservative Corporate Welfare State is exposed to skeptical inquiry. A rigorous humanities education teaches values other than utility, that there is more to human existence than being a wage slave in a mind destroying job busily brown nosing to become a boss.
A couple of years ago I was sitting in a Chapters bookstore sipping obscenely overpriced coffee in an adjoining coffee shop and asked several young ladies who were clearly college kids what they were studying. When they all chirped out that they were majoring in “Marketing”, my heart sank and I was rendered speechless. Contemplating on the revelation, I quickly became depressed and shocked that this pathetic rubbish is now accepted as an area of “intellectual inquiry” at a college. What a colossal waste of four years, getting a BBS degree, Bachelor of Bull Shit.
I was reading recently that cheating at colleges and universities is totally out of control. That ought not to be surprising because, let’s be honest, manipulating and conning the system actually prepares students well for the world of business, better than the dreary courses that are destroying their brain cells for their business degrees. Students at business colleges are even required to take a course with the oxymoronic title “business ethics”. Give me a break – surely no serious person accepts the existence of such a thing? But I suppose these people will make good employees in criminal organizations such as bailed out banks and investment houses since the entire economy has become nothing more than a legalized giant con game. The transformation of universities into job-training mills is destroying the notion of universities as institutions of free thought and genuine intellectual inquiry and whereby one hopes to have his mind cracked open, challenging the rigor mortis of the status quo. Let’s face the facts: training is not teaching.*The university has become increasingly anti-intellectual, careerist and corporatized, accepting the pragmatic, utilitarian and mercenary objectives of the current capitalist system of greed and material personal fulfillment, attracting more uncurious dunderheads who should not be there.
*Training implies instructing students for specific skill sets, like marketing, accounting or welding. Teaching entails development of broader thinking and literary skills such as conceptual analysis, argumentation, reasoning skills, critical thinking, research and experimentation. What many people fail to understand is that this sort of humanist/scientific education will prepare you better for the world of business (if that’s how you want to spend your life) than any business school would. How a man like George W Bush (and most of the leaders of the Tea Party loonies) who spend several years at a silver spoon Ivy League University did not come to understand even a simple logical blunder like bifurcation (false dilemma) and its notorious partner equivocation, the fallacy that every issue has only two equal and opposite sides is mind boggling (“You are either with us or against us, America, love it or leave it”).
This depressing state of anti-intellectualism in America is not new. Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America* wrote about it six decades after the American Revolution and Richard Hofstadter wrote about it 50 years ago in his Anti-Intellectualism in American Life** back when business courses and degrees like the mind numbing banality of an MBA either did not exist or belonged in third rate vocational schools. According to Hofstadter the rise of idiot America is essentially the result of a distrust of nerds, geeks, intellectuals and specialists who work primarily in scientific research. Strangely these same anti-science half-wits consult nerds such as a cardiologist or computer technician, not their pastor or psychic, when they suspect they may have heart disease or cancer – or need advice on how to get their computer working properly. What is the source of this distrust and disdain for smart people who actually have genuine knowledge and know how to think? It’s essentially about profit and political power, a conservative quasi-religious led agenda that promotes the idea that intellectuals and experts ought not to be trusted, that the pursuit of pure knowledge has no utility (or profit) and the ascendency of the notion that the people we should trust the most are those who know the least, those who acquire their knowledge on faith, gut feeling, intuition and an endorsement of the notion that all opinions are equally rational, valid and true. Everyone of course is entitled to their opinion regardless of whether or not its hooey, but someone who accepts the idea that all opinions are epistemologically valuable is a totally deluded ignoramus.
*Tocqueville was taken aback by the “universal conformity” he found in the United States, observing that “I know no country in which there is so little true independence of mind and freedom of discussion as in America.” The cult of personality and myth constructed about George Washington and the Founding Fathers in general reached ludicrous extremes, and continue to this day.
**Here is Hofstadter: “The case against the intellect is founded on a set of fictional and wholly abstract antagonisms. Intellect is pitted against feeling, on the ground that it is somehow inconsistent with warm emotion. It is pitted against character, because it is widely believed that intellect stands for mere cleverness, which transmutes easily into the sly and diabolical. It is pitted against practicality, since theory is held to be opposed to practice. It is pitted against democracy, since intellect is felt to be a form of distinction that defies egalitarianism…Once the validity of those antagonisms is accepted then the case for the intellect…is lost.”
The few highly intelligent intellectuals that have run for president of the United States have invariably been rejected outright. The cultured ultra-intelligent and articulate Adlai Stevenson lost twice to the folksy Kansas rhetoric of Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s. This trend has prevailed and become even more daunting with the election of the village idiot George W Bush in 2000 and 2004. The fact that Ike was a war hero might partially explain his electoral victory during the post war years but how do you explain a doltish C student frat boy philistine primate like George W Bush who makes Ike look like Einstein, getting elected to anything? This semi-literate goof has nothing going for him, brandishing the intellect of a crayfish and the personality of a speed bump.
Not only do most Americans know little or nothing of science, mathematics, philosophy or history and geography outside their own country they know precious little of their own. In a recent poll only one in four Americans could name more than one of the five freedoms in the US Constitution. Hofstadter saw American anti-intellectualism as basically a cyclical phenomenon that regularly manifested itself as the dark side of the country's anti-democratic impulses in fundamentalist religion and education perceived as simply a utilitarian preparation and stepping stone for work or career. But today's brand of anti-intellectualism is less a cycle than a deluge. If Hofstadter (who died of leukemia in 1970 at age 54) had lived long enough to write a modern-day sequel, he would have found that our era of non-stop infotainment and celebrity worship by corporate dominated media has far outstripped his most apocalyptic predictions about the future of American culture. As the late social critic and educator Neil postman stated in the title of one of his books “we are Amusing Ourselves to Death.” The country is drowning in data and information but there is a serious scarcity of knowledge - and wisdom is all but non-existent. Fact is now defined as anything a person believes, faith is deemed a virtue when it is one of most insidious intellectual vices and truth is determined by the passion and intensity of the belief. Evidence and argumentation have become irrelevant.
The War in Iraq was one of Idiot America’s purest products, spoon fed bullshit that gullible American’s lapped up like ice cream on a hot day. It was the paragon of one of the primary premises of willed ignorance: people believed the pack of lies they were sold, not what they saw, knew or could figure out for themselves by simple intellectual curiosity, skepticism and research. Like everything else in America the Iraq War was reduced to salesmanship. The shameless prevarications by Uncle Tom Powell at the UN on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were not even plausible to anyone with a functioning brain. Larry Wilkerson, a top aide to former secretary of state Colin Powell referred to Powell’s pronouncement at the UN as nothing more than “ten pounds of manure in a five pound bag.” The weapons were nothing but a faith-based fiction and Powell, the man who tried to cover up the Mai Lai massacre in the Vietnam War, once again was exposed to the world as a lying bastard. But Americans chose to believe those in government who with passionate god-fearing fervor and patriotic flag waving enthusiasm lied to them many times before and now, with a spurious seriousness, do it again. Even after Powell’s shameful speech, gullible Americans plagued by cognitive dissonance and intellectual rigor mortis continued to believe the lies. Where is Powell now? I guess even Americans have a limit on the amount of bullshit they can consume. They believe their slimy political oligarchs rather than experts – historians, political scientists, sociologists, and social critics such as Noam Chomsky who know what they’re talking about and tell the ugly truth about America, a truth most clearly do not want to hear.
The same sort of obfuscation by the corporate profiteers occurs with eerie regularity such as in the tobacco industry with the prolonged debate over the overwhelming evidence of the harmful effects of cigarette smoking and it’s happening all over again with the debate and denial of anthropocentric global warming primarily by multinational oil companies. The recent oil spill by British Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst environmental disaster in US history, was plagued by obfuscation, misinformation and outright lies about the magnitude of the disaster, all with government complicity.
The attitudes of former President George W Bush, leading Republicans, and now Sarah Palin, have been the antithesis of the scientific. Recent survey data by the Pew Foundation found that only 28% of Republicans believe that humans impact global warming and 59% reject any theory of evolution. The faith based Republican White House did all it could for eight years to hide the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are contributing to climate change. It tried to prevent government scientists from speaking honestly to the public. The Wall Street Journal has similarly peddled anti-science and pseudo-science to oppose policies to fight human-induced climate change. These anti-scientific approaches affected not only climate policy, but also foreign policy. America went to war in Iraq on the basis of an imperialistic agenda and George W Bush's gut instincts and religious convictions, not rigorous evidence, referring to the war as a “crusade.” “God told me to invade Iraq”, says Boy George. Likewise, Sarah Palin has called the Iraq War "a task from God." When the leaders of the country behave in this preposterous puerile manner, one realizes there’s no hope for the country.
The problem is an aggressive, long standing and pervasive Christian fundamentalism in the United States that denies modern science and accepts a pre-enlightenment medieval world view and an entrenched anti-intellectual current that views experts and scientists as the enemy. The fact that the American Empire and its domestic economy are in a steep decline will hopefully reduce the influence the US has in the global community. That may be a good thing for the rest of us, but it’s probably too late.
As in the great Bruce Hornsby song “That’s just the Way it is, some things will never change.” But if they don’t, we’re finished, not only as a country, but as a livable planet.