How Anti-Intellectualism Is Destroying America
By Terrence McNally, AlterNet.
"It's like these guys take pride in being ignorant." Barack Obama finally said it.
Though a successful political and electoral strategy, the Right's stand against intelligence has steered them far off course, leaving them -- and us -- unable to deal successfully with the complex and dynamic circumstances we face as a nation and a society.
American 15-year-olds rank 24th out of 29 countries in math literacy, and their parents are as likely to believe in flying saucers as in evolution; roughly 30 to 40 percent believe in each. Their president believes "the jury is still out" on evolution.
Steve Colbert interviewed Georgia Rep. Lynn Westmoreland on "The Colbert Report." Westmoreland co-sponsored a bill that would require the display of the Ten Commandments in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, but, when asked, couldn't actually list the commandments.
This stuff would be funny if it weren't so dangerous.
In the 2004 election, nearly 70 percent of Bush supporters believed the United States had "clear evidence" that Saddam Hussein was working closely with al Qaeda; a third believed weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq; and more than a third that a substantial majority of world opinion supported the U.S.-led invasion, according to the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland. The political right and allied culture warriors actively ignore evidence and encourage misinformation. To motivate their followers, they label intelligent and informed as "elite," implying that ignorance is somehow both valuable and under attack. Susan Jacoby confronts our "know-nothingism" -- current and historical -- in her new book, The Age of American Unreason.
A former reporter for the Washington Post and program director of the Center for Inquiry-New York City, Jacoby is the author of five books, including Wild Justice, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. Her political blog, The Secularist's Corner, is on the Web site of the Washington Post.
Terrence McNally: Have things gotten worse? How were things different as you were growing up?
Susan Jacoby: Well, I have just been told that all of my memories of growing up are wrong, because memory is absolutely inaccurate. It's only a "narrative."
I'll give you an example of how stupid this country has become. I'm one of the village atheists on Faith, a panel sponsored by the Washington Post and Newsweek. In a recent post I wrote that when I was 7 years old, I was taken by my mom to visit a friend who had been stricken by polio and was in an iron lung. Polio has basically been eradicated, but I grew up when polio was still a real threat to children, before the Salk vaccine.
This childhood friend had been playing and running only three weeks before, and now he was in an iron lung. And I asked my mom, "Why would God let something like that happen?" And to her credit, instead of giving me some moronic answer, my mother said, "I don't know."
After posting this on Faith, I received an e-mail saying, "All childhood memories are unreliable. We construct narratives to justify what we now think."
Of course it would be stupid if I'd said I became an atheist at the age of 7. But I hadn't said that, only that I remembered this childhood experience as making me begin to question what I'd been taught. The whole tone of the e-mail was that nobody's memory about anything could possibly be accurate -- no fact could possibly be true.
TM: That doesn't sound like a typical evolution doubter. It sounds like an attack on rationality from a rational person.
SJ: That's right. One of the points I make in my book is that unreason pervades our culture. It's not just a matter of right-wing religious fundamentalism. There are all kinds of unreason and suspicion of evidence on both the Right and the Left.
TM: Misinformation may well have been the deciding factor in a close election in 2004. I worry not just about the lack of information and knowledge, but also the active disparagement of those who would even care about such things.
SJ: Contempt for fact is very important.
I'll give you a great example that's already obsolete. At the end of the primaries, both Hillary Clinton and John McCain endorsed a gas tax holiday for Americans this summer. Every economist, both liberal and conservative, said this would do nothing to help matters. And when Hillary Clinton was asked by the late Tim Russert, "Can you produce one economist to support the gas tax holiday?" she said, "Oh that's elite thinking."
Now to say that economists have nothing intelligent to say about whether a gas tax will give people economic relief is like saying that you don't ask musicians about music; you don't ask scientists about science. It's not just an attack on a political idea; it's an attack on knowledge itself.
TM: And this from a woman who was in the top of her class at Yale Law School.
SJ: Of course, she doesn't believe it for a minute. It shows that a lot of politicians think they have to play to ignorance and label anything that goes against received opinion as elitism.
Original article posted here.