Thursday, October 06, 2016

Idiocracy - In the Flesh

Democracy cannot withstand mass idiocy. It can't and we're seeing the proof of it right now south of our border. The Guardian addressed America's civic illiteracy three weeks ago. Chris Hedges wrote a powerful lament on the subject in 2008.

Now Max Boot has penned an ode to what he calls a "confederacy of dunces."

The longer this election season goes on, the more evidence we are seeing of the cost of the shocking ignorance inculcated by our system of schooling. Late-night comedians have made a running joke out of this civic illiteracy with their “man on the street” interviews with people who cannot, for example, identifypictures of John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, or Jimmy Carter. Surveys show that such ignorance is not out of the norm.

As Sol Stern of the Manhattan Institute notes in the Daily Beast: “By the end of the 1990s, two thirds of high school seniors were unable to identify the 50-year period in which the Civil War was fought; half didn’t know in which half century World War I took place. More than half could not name the three branches of government. A majority had no idea what the Gettysburg address was all about. Fifty two percent chose Germany, Japan or Italy as ‘U.S. allies’ in World War II.” It gets worse: “Several years ago Newsweek asked a sample of 1000 voters to take the same test that new immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship must pass. One third of the respondents couldn’t name the vice president and half didn’t know that the first 10 amendments to the Constitution are called the Bill of Rights. Only one third knew that the Constitution is considered the nation’s highest law.”

...This lack of basic knowledge about national and world affairs poses a real danger to the future of our democracy. Elections presuppose that voters have some intellectual apparatus to distinguish between the choices they are offered. If that’s no longer the case, American democracy will fall prey to demagogues — and if not to Trump, then to someone else. This is precisely what our Founding Fathers feared. As Federalist No. 10warned: “Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people.” (For the benefit of today’s voters, the Federalist Papers were a series of 85 essays published in 1787-1788 by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay promoting the Constitution. You may have heard of Hamilton — he’s a rapper with a Broadway show.)

For those who imagine this descent into intellectual oblivion is inadvertent, think again.


Anonymous said...

None of this is original. Like Churchill said, "The best case against democracy is to spend 5 minutes talking with the average person about the issues."

What's worse than the 'shocking ignorance' of the masses is the willful ignorance of the educated who look the other way on corruption from politicians who are taking promissory bribes paid post public service in speaking fees, consulting fees and token board positions.

Are these corrupt 'public servants' people of factious tempers, local prejudices or sinister designs? Whatever public images they manufacture, they are clearly betraying the interests of the people. The people have received little representation in government over the past 35 years, since the dawn of the Friedmanian neoliberal era. That's because of modern 'democratic innovation' techniques which have auctioned off democratic representation to the highest bidder.

This corruption has not only turned democracy into a de facto plutocracy, it has put civilization on the verge of collapse into fascist revolutions and world war repeating the history of the 1920s and 30s.

The fact is the people don't need to be informed about a lot of things going into an election. Just like a jury doesn't need to be informed going into a trial. What is needed is regulations that ensure the electorate gets jury-quality information delivered to them so they can make an informed decision.

Of course, the reason why we have sanity governing juries and absurdity governing elections is to suppress democracy. Whatever kind of noise generated during a campaign, the establishment media can punch through and condition the public with messaging and memes that foster their agendas.

In short: don't blame the people for the present miserable state of democracy. Blame the miscreants in high places for liquidating the public trust and democracy itself for ill-gotten wealth.

Anonymous said...

Agreed; nothing new here.
We should perhaps look for the reasons of this wilful ignorance.
Could it be that the masses both youth and adults are so deep in debt that they think of little else than meeting their financial obligations?
Debt is the easiest form of slavery to enforce.
When and if the modern voter goes to the polls he or she is likely to vote depending upon the perceived condition of his or her purse with little concern for anything else.


Dana said...

There ya go, voters aren't responsible for the actions of those they elect.

You heard it from the horse's ass.

Troy said...

You know, I suspect much of this ignorance is self-inflicted by the USA. White middle class people, back in the sixties and seventies, didn't want their children attending school with working class Black people. And the way their tax system determines how education funding is spent in many states helped to foster a system where many would lose just so a few students wouldn't have to attend school with the Others in their society.

It would honestly take a generation or four to repair the damage this has done to the society of the USA. It would take serious tax reform, from top to bottom, to even begin making a dent in what has happened.

Education in the USA, especially in some of the Southern states rivals that of third world countries.

The Mound of Sound said...

Thank you all for your thoughts. It's good to hear from those who take this seriously.

Anonymous said...

"There ya go, voters aren't responsible for the actions of those they elect."

Talk about willful ignorance. Are you blaming Americans for electing Obomba? He ran on hope and change and delivered neither. In fact, he expanded the number of Muslim countries the US is bombing.

One could blame the people if they elected someone on a bad platform which they followed through on. Like how baby boomers kicked off the neoliberal era voting for tax cuts by electing Reagan and Mulroney.

But blaming the people for the corruption of politicians is just ignorance piled on top of ignorance.

The Mound of Sound said...

Anon, you missed my point entirely. I won't address your tangential argument for it's irrelevant to this post. Hope you enjoyed venting.

Anonymous said...

"Anon, you missed my point entirely."

You're point couldn't be more obvious and simplistic, not to mention misguided. The "idiocy" of the masses is not growing out of control. It's the same as it's always been. The only thing growing out of control is the arrogance of smug pretend liberals as their era of corruption comes to a close.

Your point is that democracy is a bad idea. I guess you imagine the jury system is a bad idea too. My point (which clearly went over your head) is that democracy would be much better if the same kind of rules that govern a jury were applied to the electorate. (That is CONTRARY to your position. Certainly not tangential.)

You're the one venting with your rants against democracy. Blaming the people and democracy for what's transpired over the past 35 years is ridiculous. So too is expecting the people to suffer more of it.

Lorne said...

there is a letter in today's Star, Mound, which does not appear to be yet online, from a retired teachers who states that the high graduation rates of high school students is a bit of a scam, given the 'special measures' employed to guarantee student success. The argument he advances makes a fitting complement to your post. If it appears online, I will send you the link.

Stig said...

Let us not forget about the MSM's profit driven role to un-inform the voter.

Northern PoV said...

Our low rate of voter turnout is not so bad: the people staying home have no opinion or BOK to form them. A long term problem as other mentioned.

On the other hand....
"willful ignorance of the educated"

At least two of the commenters have zeroed in on the real malaise the world has blundered into.

In 1984, Big Brother installed the surveillance cams - today we happily pay for our own.

Pamela Mac Neil said...

The intellectual bankruptcy of US culture is rooted in the severing of philosophical ideas of which political ideas are based. This has been replaced primarily with Christian Fundamentalist beliefs inculcated into the GOP via the Tea Party.

In the 21st century, we have a political party.the GOP offering Christian fundamentalism when describing their social, moral and ethical policies, as a reason to vote for them. Combine these dogmatic beliefs with the dogma of Neoliberalism and you have a recipe for instituting faith, not reason as a tool for people to obey,not think.

Anyone who discusses ideas seriously is either ignored by the MSM or shut down by the anti-intellectual hordes called the American Government, because, when ideas, especially political ideas are brought forth, truth becomes part of the discussion.

The US government does not communicate with the American public, it manipulates them with propaganda. In order for people to accept this propaganda, they must shut down their minds and trust that their government is telling them the truth. They can only accept this propaganda as truth on faith. Thinking people cannot be manipulated, so it is very important that the thinkers never have a say in American politics.

Along with the propaganda, it is very important for the US government to offer myths about who as Americans they really are. The voices coming from "the city on the hill" tell the unthinking Americans, that they are living in the "land of the free and home of the brave", that they are the good guys in white hats, that those who wish to destroy them are jealous of America's freedom and prosperity and must be stopped, that America is the benevolent benefactor who brings democracy to those countries whose oppression is ruled by a ruthless dictator, who the US sets out to remove.

Who needs an intellect when you can wear a white hat and extol the virtues of truth, justice and the American way and feel exceptional, because you're living in the greatest country on earth.

Your description of the mass idiocy now dominating American culture is right on the money.
The acquisition of knowledge is the foundation that drives any civilization. Once that is abandoned so too goes the civilization.

The US Empire is more than ever driven by faith and force, a lethal combination that will end in its own destruction. Our own government is supporting the US governments wholesale propaganda, deception and lies, both domestically and globally and along with that the Canadian governments is supporting the global violence the US is exerting on much of the world. I guess like all bullies, the bully of the planet, the US, needs the backing of a group. Bullies never operate alone. Canada has joined in and in its foreign policy is now acting as the US's lapdog having embraced all of the subservient behaviour necessary to being a lapdog.

Canada's foreign policy requires very little if any thought. Obedience is the order of the day and our Canadian government has rushed to comply.

The Mound of Sound said...

Anon, I'm not going to rise to the bait every time you set up a straw man. Surely you can find someplace else to troll.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ TB - sorry I missed your comment. Yes, debt is a powerful tool. It's been many years since I sat my last university exam and I remained relatively oblivious to the changes since then. Recently a friend who put one child through engineering and has another now studying law in England floored me with horror stories of modern tuition fees and the debts any student can expect to amass, especially if their path entails undergrad and graduate schools. I was pretty much able to pay my own way, largely thanks to modest tuitions underwritten by the taxpaying public. I never forgot how much of my education and the career benefits it provided came from the public purse. That deterred me from the endless tax shelters and schemes so many of my former income bracket hopped aboard. It was obvious that every dollar in tax I avoided had to be made up by someone less advantaged and denied the unearned benefit of these legal but unethical dodges.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Troy, I share your suspicion that this spreading ignorance is the product of deliberate conditioning aimed at producing an electorate incapable of pursuing their own best interests.

I've repeatedly made the argument to those who naively believe electoral reform is the magic wand to democratic restoration that it doesn't matter the way you cast your ballot if someone has already manipulated your decision.

The Mound of Sound said...

Lorne, I heard a similar tale recently from a visiting friend, a pioneer in the development of the electron microscope and former educator. When asked about the astonishingly high grade point averages required for admission to university today, he admitted that our secondary school system grades accordingly. He added that, based on his actual grades back in the early 70s and today's entrance thresholds, he would have been rejected everywhere.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ NPov, "the real malaise"? Where do you start, where do you end? The real malaise is as deep as it is broad. Would that we might point a finger at one or two things and say, "there's your problem." If only.

The Mound of Sound said...

Pamela, you might find the 2014 Gilens and Page (Princeton and Northwestern) study interesting.

Their extensive research demonstrates how America slipped from democracy into oligarchy almost unnoticed.

Pamela Mac Neil said...

Thx Mound.

Anonymous said...

Anon, I'm not going to rise to the bait every time you set up a straw man. Surely you can find someplace else to troll.

You disappoint me.
I see on other 'progressive' sites comments rejected because they did not meet the blogs 'standards'

Back to education.
I have seen within the First Nations community a move to discourage students from higher achievement.
Fortunately , here in Nanaimo, we have have acting Chief Doug White who challenges the status quo.
Keeping the electorate uninformed can be by accident or by design.
By design , to me, would predominately be by religious schools.
Failure within the public school system is often by a teaching faculty more interested in self preservation than education.
Depending upon your age we cannot discount the influence of equally uneducated and uninterested parents.