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“Some of these stories are closer to my own life than others are, but not one of them is as close as people seem to think.” Alice Murno, from the intro to Moons of Jupiter

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see." Arthur Schopenhauer

“Why does everything you know, and everything you’ve learned, confirm you in what you believed before? Whereas in my case, what I grew up with, and what I thought I believed, is chipped away a little and a little, a fragment then a piece and then a piece more. With every month that passes, the corners are knocked off the certainties of this world: and the next world too. Show me where it says, in the Bible, ‘Purgatory.’ Show me where it says ‘relics, monks, nuns.’ Show me where it says ‘Pope.’” –Thomas Cromwell imagines asking Thomas More—Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

My favorite posts to get started: The Self-Righteousness Instinct, Sabbath Says, Encounters, Inc., and What Makes "Wolf Hall" so Great?.

Friday, November 19, 2010

We the Ignorant: The Caveman Conservatives Strike Back

It always annoys me when soon-to-be House Leader John Boehner, or Mitch McConnell, or even Monica Crowley begins a statement by saying, “The American people want,” and then proceeds to finish the statement with republican boilerplate. “The American people don’t want this huge government program.” The obvious objection is that American people are too diverse in their opinions to be treated as a single block—which brings us to another objection, that when it comes to politics far too many Americans are about as smart as one.

Under President Obama, middle-class taxes have been cut, the economy has been growing for the past five consecutive quarters, the number of illegal immigrants has dropped by almost a million (though we need to keep in mind immigration helps, yes, helps local economies), and most of the money from the TARP loans has been paid back, with the rest on schedule to be returned, with interest, to the US Treasury. The Democrats have also, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, passed a healthcare reform bill that will lower the deficit.

But a Bloomberg poll conducted in the run-up to the recent midterm elections found that nearly two-thirds of likely voters believed the exact opposite about middle-class taxes and the current direction of the economy, and the same number had no idea that TARP loans were now being or would ever be paid back. The American people on average may be saying no to big government. Unfortunately, the American people on average aren’t well enough informed—or they’re Fox-informed—to realize they’re saying no to a straw man built by conservatives.

And of course everyone who pays attention to the news knows about the manufactrovercy called Climategate, but everyone is blissfully ignorant of the entire industry that has sprung up to deny the science of climate change.

The network news shows are too afraid of being called partisan—and other outlets simply are too partisan—to report on the single biggest scandal in American politics: that most Americans are too ignorant or too misinformed to contribute anything of substance to any debate on policy. Our education system is a failure. Our media is a failure. Our entertainment industry is a catastrophic distraction. The American people want to hear dumbed-down stories with good guys and bad guys, believe in Braveheart, believe they are Braveheart, and not have to do anything on Sundays so they can watch football.

Our leaders are supposed to represent us, but since there are too few of them to represent all of us, don’t we want them to represent the most knowledgeable and best informed of us? But instead of acknowledging our ignorance is a problem, a threat to our democracy, our leaders pander to our stupidity. Fearful of being labeled elitist, they avoid at all cost making the obvious rebuttal to Americans-want statements: I’m sorry but the American people don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sagan's Foreboding

"I have a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time--when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness."
Carl Sagan, Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, 1996