“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” – Isaac Asimov
This country has fallen into kakistocracy wherein the least qualified amongst us now control the country. The anti-intellectualism of the totalitarians has taken hold, and people of intellect have no desire to be placed in positions of power. After all, what educated person actually wants to argue with the cretins, morons, imbeciles, and simpletons who suffer from a terminal case of Kruger-Dunning Effect? Even the most ardent supporter of liberal democracy, of freedom and equality, can be beaten down by this mass of ignorance. This is particularly true when those same cretins, morons, imbeciles, and simpletons are a cancer infecting 1/3rd of the body politic (at least).
The symptoms of the cancer are there and have been there for some time. Perhaps the most pervasive of these symptoms is a rise in anti-intellectualism in the nation. This is nothing new in the United States; this attitude stems from a largely illiterate 17th – 19th Century America where the average person was more likely to view an academic education as “impractical.” It also can find some roots in the persecution by British “upper class” intellectuals of the “ignorant” American colonists.
The Reverend Bayard R. Hall, A.M. said it best,
“We always preferred an ignorant bad man to a talented one, and, hence, attempts were usually made to ruin the moral character of a smart candidate; since, unhappily, smartness and wickedness were supposed to be generally coupled, and [like-wise] incompetence and goodness.”[i]
It is a sad truism that in the past fifty years, the intellectual, the “scientist hero” has been replaced with the ignorant brute in modern folklore. Even the Geek and the nerd are required to be more than simply intelligent and educated, they must also be “The One.”
This is a shame because it is those intellectuals that represent the front-lines in an ongoing war against tyranny. Noam Chomsky, one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th and hopefully 21st Century said; “Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions.”[ii] He, in fact, argues it is the duty of the intellectual to shine a light on falsehood. Not merely to pass falsehood over, and hope it goes away, for that is not enough. A lie planted, grows, unless, ripped from the ground by its roots, it is destroyed.
Today we have accepted the lie as truth, ignorance as wisdom, pronouncements of pundits as fact, even in the face of overwhelming opposing facts. There is a class of intellectuals that have facilitated this de-evolution. They act as apologists for the very forces that are responsible for the dumbing down and attack those who take those forces to task.
Author Ray Williams in his 2014 article in Psychology Today, “Anti-Intellectualism and the ‘Dumbing Down’ of America,” argues that there is a growing trend in the nation to dismiss education, disbelieve science, and devalue art. The intellectual pursuits have been replaced with vacuous entertainment, the glorification of ignorance, and deliberate gullibility.[iii] Evidence of this abounds in the media, in the quality ratings of our schools, and in the number of people who apparently suffer from a terminal case of Dunning-Kruger effect. For God’s sake people, 18% of Americans still believe that the sun revolves around the earth! Another 3% had no opinion … say what again? 24% do not know that the United States gained its independence from the United Kingdom![iv] These are not difficult concepts to master, and yet, Americans have not mastered them. Even today, in 2016, illiteracy in the United States approaches 14% in adults, with 20-23% of adults reading below basic reading levels. Some 30 million American adults cannot read beyond a fifth-grade level! This ranks the United States 16th in literacy.[v] Is there any good reason why the United States has a lower literacy rate than Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Azerbaijan, Poland, Tajikistan, Armenia, Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, Russia, Slovenia, Cuba, Turkmenistan, Slovakia, Uzbekistan, and Palau? Any good reason at all? Even so, in spite of a changing economic structure from manual labor to that of an information culture, the percentage of the population that is not educated beyond primary school has grown to between 68-72% (depending on how it is calculated). 12th Place. Worse, the United States sits at 52nd place among 139 nations in quality of math and sciences.
Totalitarianism dogma requires the state to eliminate all critical thinking and forces the plebeians to swear obeisance at the altar of state, or more commonly, at the altar of the man who controls the state. The mere idea that we, as free citizens should be required to slavishly serve the state is anathema to principles espoused by the founding fathers of this country. The current crop of “republicans,” who think that Bush’s “”You’re either with us or against us…” philosophy is the height of foreign and domestic policy, are anathema to the foundations of the country.[vi] The next four years under an American fascist authoritarian and theocratic administration are likely to be the most challenging for intellectuals intent on defending the truth. It seems to those of us who are educated, and honest that the dumbing down of America is complete. Could it possibly get any worse? It could; intellectuals, particularly those who resist the movement towards authoritarianism, seldom (as in never) do well under such administrations. According to Kevin Kelly, some “conservative” (read fascist) groups have already set up websites to monitor college professors whom they deem to be “anti-American” and “unpatriotic.”[vii], [viii] The president-elect has already chosen anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-trade, anti-liberty demagogues as his chief advisors – they merely await the stamp of approval from a Congress that has already proven, through cow-towing to a man who, as candidate they declared unfit for office, that it has no integrity, and no true desire to do anything other than maintaining its own power base, even at the expense of the country. Those who can speak truth – and speak it loudly – against the lies of the regime are perhaps the gravest threat to the power elite. Those who can speak truth to power suffer at the hands of those same persons, loss of livelihood, threats to health and life, threats of imprisonment. The parasites in power will treat these seekers of truth as pariahs. After all, these “men of honor” cannot even cope with the dread criticism of satire. There is no humor to be found in that.
[i] Hofstadter, Richard, Anti-intellectualism in American Life (1962), p. 46.
[iii] Williams, Ray, “Anti-Intellectualism and the “Dumbing Down” of America.” (2014). Psychology Today. URL: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201407/anti-intellectualism-and-the-dumbing-down-america Accessed: December 8, 2016.
[iv] Crabtree, Steve, “New Poll Gauges Americans’ General Knowledge Levels.” (1999) Gallup.URL: http://www.gallup.com/poll/3742/new-poll-gauges-americans-general-knowledge-levels.aspx. Accessed December 8, 2106.
[v] Lake, Rebecca, “Shocking Facts: 23 Statistics on Illiteracy in America” (2016). Credit Donkey. URL: https://www.creditdonkey.com/illiteracy-in-america.html. Accessed: December 8, 2016.
[vi] From President George W. Bush’s November 6, 2001 “You are either for us or against us” speech in a joint news conference with French President Jacques Chirac. Before the United Nations.
[vii] Kelly, Kevin, “The Coming War On Intellectuals Under Donald Trump”, (2016) Mint Press News. URL: http://www.mintpressnews.com/MyMPN/the-coming-war-on-intellectuals-under-donald-trump/ Accessed: December 9, 2016.
[viii] LaCapria, Kim. ‘Professor Watchlist’ Monitors ‘Anti-American,’ ‘Leftist’ Educators. (2016). Snopes.com. URL: http://www.snopes.com/2016/11/22/professor-watchlist-monitors-anti-american-leftist-educators/ Accessed: December 9, 2016.