A NATION OF WILLFUL IDIOTS
My friend DW sends me a link to this story (warning: YahooNews links have a very brief half-life), and I remark in reply,
In so many ways, that story and its subjects are steeped in the infantile hubris of our overstretched empire.
DW asks in reply,
yep, but one smarter man or woman could make it better…maybe?
I would have to say no. You don’t have to look too closely to see that anti-intellectualism is the broth of our public discourse (especially in the political arena). It isn’t that we as individuals are incapable of acting more intelligently (I believe in the Forrest Gump formula of “stupid is as stupid does”; the inverse is true, as well). For a variety of reasons– some of which I am definitely unqualified to diagnose– we as a nation tend to embrace the lowest intellectual common denominator as citizens. (I used to think this was primarily a major problem among African-American youths; but as the black community goes, I guess, so goes the larger culture.)
For example, I recall how the corporate media pilloried Al Gore (who was not my choice, by the way) in the months leading up to the 2000 presidential election. Among other kaleidoscopic smears, the media made Gore’s erudition a bad thing while casting Dubya’s elitism and faux-evangelical simplicity, arrogance, and regressiveness as an outsider’s folksiness. I recall the criminally idiotic (if largely apocryphal) line about so many people supporting Bush– the potential Chief Executive of the most powerful nation in the world– because he was someone they were more likely to have a beer with.
I personally recall driving through the ‘redder’ regions of the western suburbs some years ago and seeing a large, crude billboard that said “THANK YOU SPEAKER HASTERT FOR OUR TAX CUT.” Did the idiots who authored this mental eyesore understand that the $300 rebate they were receiving was a pittance compared to the huge windfalls going to the superwealthy and their corporations? Did they understand that the ‘tax cuts’– combined with massive deficit spending for the Bushies’ military and ‘homeland security’ juggernauts– would wind up bankrupting the commons at the state and local levels? My uncharitable reckoning is that these Republican faithful didn’t consider the more concrete concerns. The less wealthy among them likely opted to focus on the vicious symbolism of their pittance: at least that 300 bucks wouldn’t be going to any bleeding-heart, nigger-loving liberal urban social programs.
I also note the global incuriosity of the lion’s share of the public. How many of the 62 million who allegedly voted for Bush in 2004 can point to Iraq on a global map? How many of them understand that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were ideological and practical enemies, or that the majority of Iraq’s population practices the same basic variety of Islam as the ruling factions of Iran’s government?
There is also the apathy and contempt the majority of us pay to our political institutions (which are supposed to be of, by, and for the people). If I had a nickel for every witnessed incidence of an acquaintance moving heaven and earth to get out of jury duty, or an acquaintance voicing condescending disdain for ‘politics’ and ‘politicians’, I could afford to emigrate to Scandinavia.
In short, I believe we are highly capable of doing better. If we decided to do better, and to be smarter, then we’d have candidates who approach our real issues in an intelligent manner. Instead, we have politicians who pander to our chosen stupidities, and we have corporate media that spend precious minutes telling us about those politicians’ body language and clothing. No substantial change is going to come from any of that.