Monday, November 15, 2010

Ignorance Is U.S.(A.)

Bill Maher has taken heat from some people by calling the United States a stupid nation. On Friday Bill took it one step further, likening Americans to dogs, with short attention spans and only wanting immediate rewards from their masters.

I think that's kind of extreme. Americans are basically good people, and most aren't idiots.....but being a nation of 300 million plus it's clear that we do have a large segment of the nation who will never be confused with MENSA members. I do think there is more ignorance in America than we'd like to admit. Ignorance is not stupidity; the word implies "a state of being uninformed (lack of knowledge)". Stupidity means a person is "lacking ordinary quickness and keenness of mind; (they are) dull".

Many pundits, social critics, and bloggers have pointed to the results of the 2012 midterm elections and asked "Is America that stupid?". They voted into office more of the same people who who advocate the same polices that drove the economy off a cliff in 2008, either believing in the song they are singing, or blissfully unaware of who and what they are voting for.

Yesterday Sue posted a entry called Europeans Are Flabbergasted, a look at what our friends across the pond are saying about the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives, and the "quality" of some of those swept into office. I'm sure every person looking at the results has a different take on why the Republicans made such great gains.....of course there are true GOP believers and those who have lost faith in Democrats to get the economy turned around (after less than two years of control of the Legislative and Executive branches of government).

But I think the underlying truth behind much of the GOP resurgence is that many Americans are gullible, and sadly ignorant about their country, their government, and their world. The Republican message machine exploited that fact.....and they seized a big chunk of power back from the Democrats last week.

Newsweek had a very revealing article recently called America the Ignorant; Dumb Things Americans Believe. These beliefs have little to do with political dogma, just facts that everyone should know.....and too many Americans don't. And you have to wonder "why?".

Consider some of the following.....about one fifth of the population and as many as 46% of Republicans believe President Obama is a Muslim. The first number came from a PEW poll, the second from TIME magazine.

A Gallup Poll said that only 39% of all Americans believe in evolution. The poll was taken February 11, 2009, the 100th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth. It also said 25% don't believe in evolution and 36% had no opinion, or weren't sure.

About three out of four of all Americans believe in some form of the paranormal. Forty-one percent believe in ESP, 32% believe in ghosts...and 21% of all Americans believe that witches exist. See, Christine O'Donnell should have never made that commercial to "refudiate" being a witch. The poll was conducted by Gallup.

A Harris Poll found that 4 in 10 Americans believed what Sarah Palin and others said about "Death Panels" to be formed by this year's heathcare legislation. The results appeared in an article in USA Today last August.

As late as 2007 four out of ten Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks in a Newsweek poll. More poll respondents knew Jordin Sparks won American Idol (18%) than who the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was (John Roberts, 11%).

In a Gallup Poll from 1999, almost 20% of the respondents believed the sun revolved around the earth.

Only 53% of Americans are aware that Judaism is an older religion than Christianity or Islam, this according to a Newsweek poll in September, 2007. That same poll told us that 36% of Americans didn't know the Amazon River is in South America.

A Zogby poll from 2006 showed that three quarters of those polled could name two of The Seven Dwarfs and only 25% could name two Supreme Court Justices.

And the youth shall come forth to lead us.....a Roper Poll conducted by National Geographic among young people (ages 18-24) and released in 2006 told us the following..... six in ten could not locate Iraq on a map. Other findings- following Hurricane Katrina almost one-third couldn't locate Louisiana, and half couldn't find Mississippi. About half couldn't find New York State on a map, and almost 75% couldn't locate Israel. The same poll showed that 90% young people couldn't couldn't find Afghanistan on a map that was of Asia only.

Almost 75% of those asked in an August 2006 Zogby Poll could name Moe, Larry, and Curly as the Three Stooges but about 42% could name the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial as the three branches of the US Government.

I guess you can bottomline these poll results by saying too many people know too little about things they should know, and know too much about marginal stuff. And these people are among the electorate of the United States.

When new arrivals become naturalized citizens they first have to take a citizenship test. When they pass they take an oath of allegiance, and are they receive the same rights as native born citizens....and that's great.

But our native born citizens' education about their world, their nation, and their government seems to have fallen through the cracks. I'm not proposing a test for voting- that's what we had in the Jim Crow South to prevent African Americans from voting by making the test impossible to pass. We do need to start educating our citizens in the things we need to know before we give them a high school diploma and send them out into the world. We should make courses in civics, US History, and World History mandatory in every state, and in every school system.

But that won't happen, because if such a requirement were implemented the Right would call it just more of the boogieman called Big Government stepping on the rights of school systems, and private and charter schools, to educate children as they see fit. And so we'll probably have an alternate history where cavemen rode dinosaurs 5,000 years ago and of a universe created in seven days competing with science and natural history.

The Americans who can't find Louisiana or Israel on a map or name one Supreme Court Justice didn't get dumb by watching Fox News, however Murdoch's gang is a primary source of the "disinforming of America"- but they're not alone.

One of the most telling (and sad) things I have ever witnessed on a news channel was an episode of The Situation Room on CNN a few years ago. Wolf Blitzer had Bill Cosby on as a guest, and the topic was educating America's youth, and quelling the rising rate of high school dropouts in America's inner cities. Halfway through the discussion Blitzer cut Cosby off to go to breaking news from Los Angeles.....

Paris Hilton was surrendering to authorities in LA to begin serving her jail sentence.

The late Walter Cronkite said the purpose of news was to tell people what they need to know. What we see all to often are news organizations telling people what they want to know, even if it is not really news at all, only more heaping helpings of pop culture morsels.

More than twenty years ago in Joseph Campbell; The Power of Myth, Campbell, the great mythologist and teacher, lamented to host Bill Moyers that education of our young people had become more utilitarian and concerned with only making a living in the future. He looked at the classical eduction of the past- what was once called Liberal Arts- as being of intrinsic value because of the broadness and range it covered. Maybe we just educated our young more completely in those days, making them better, informed citizens.

And smarter voters.


Sue said...

well done Hugh! This is so true...

"Americans are gullible, and sadly ignorant about their country, their government, and their world."

Some Americans are so busy in their hectic lives they don't take the time to educate themselves about politics, they don't know how we got into such a mess in this country but just want someone to get us out of it. So if they are not educated on the candidates how can they make the best choice at the polls? They look at the R's and the D's and go from there.

Thanks for the linky love...(this post was so good I had a hard time commenting with intelligence! LOL, sorry, it's a dumb comment :-(

Hugh Jee From Jersey said...

Sue- thanks a lot, and no that wasn't a dumb comment!

I guess what I was getting at is if significant portion of the electorate believes in witches, and that the sun revolves around the earth, and can't find a country we've been fighting in for almost nine years on a map, how can we ever expect them to make an informed decision when they go to vote?

There are the ignorant who want to learn, and hopefully they get the right answers from the right people.

What is scary for the future are the ignorant who are apathetic about their situation, and just don't seem to care. What is even scarier though are those who exploit and enable their ignorance.

Wasn't it The Ghost of Christmas Present who showed Scrooge the two wretched children, the boy named Ignorance and the girl called Want?

"Be leery of both but especially watch out for the Boy," wrote Charles Dickens.

tnlib said...

I wonder what percentage of Born-In-America Americans could pass the citizenship test. Maybe 25%?

I've always said there's a difference between ignorance and stupidity but in these cases I think most of these people are too stupid to know they're stupid.

Hugh Jee From Jersey said...

Leslie- you know, you might have hit on something. Maybe as a part of young Americans' education they should have to take the same test naturalized citizens have to take, and let the corrective and instructive process start there. You can't deny them of their citizenship- and I am in no way suggesting we should, but you can withhold their high school diploma.

Certain things are necessary for all of our citizens to know, and the job just isn't getting done.

There's enough blame to assign for the groundswell of ignorance. But finger pointing won't get it turned around.

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