It’s Not Enough to Render People Stupid

You must also convince them that they are the smartest people ever.  This is not easy, but much success has been achieved:

Media Ignorance Is Becoming A Serious Problem. Ya think? While I here on this blog tend to concentrate on how the media presents science (Science!) what this article is addressing is less subtle and perhaps more dangerous: people like Mr. Carter can become, at age 31,  a *Senior* Political Economy Reporter with a national audience without knowing anything about Political Economy, and not be at all ashamed or apologetic, let alone silenced, when this ignorance is brought to his attention.  Nor does he lose his job, which goes without saying.

This phenomenon is not limited to “journalists” and talking heads, unfortunately. I almost always stay out of any combox wars where it is instantly apparent that the interlocutors are are completely uninterested in any history or logic or science, which eliminates almost all of combox discussions above room temperature. We can include, therefore, at least a good percentage of combox warriors here.  And, unfortunately, that’s not the end of it by any means, insofar as anecdotal information can be extrapolated to the population as a whole: that combination of humility and curiosity that is the hallmark of real scholars and engaged civilians alike has all but vanished from the earth.

Chimpanzee in thought

So, this Wealth of Nations is, like, a book? Wow. Who reads books?

But how did we reach this sorry state? In the case of the Mr. Carters of the world, the option, when faced with their obvious ignorance would to recognize themselves as ignorant fools – and that’s not very appealing, especially when one is being well compensated to be a *senior* expert in exactly that field. The better response is to simply denigrate what you do not know and any foolish enough to bring it up. Easy-peasy.

In fifth grade, I won the Merit Pin: given to the best student as determined by the highest GPA each semester in each grade at St. Mary’s of the Assumption in Whittier. This would have been around 1968 – dark times! (I was then as I am now a terrible student – Mary Beth Hughes, who was an ideal student, always won it, but that semester she was evidently in a transitional phase out of little girl to not so little girl – whatever, she had an off semester right when I hit my academic peak. It’s not my fault!)  But that was about the beginning of the end of awarding excellence in school. Over the next few decades, we started in with awards both more plentiful and general, peaking in awards for just showing up or completing 4th grade. In the 70s, my youngest brother’s basketball team won some tournament – each kid on the team got a trophy. Not that any team I was on ever won anything (we will presumptively dismiss discussions, no matter how well-founded, on any causal relationships here), but teams that did win tended to get *a* trophy *for the team*, which the school put into a display case. Well, at least my brother’s team did actually win, and the other teams in the tournament didn’t get trophies for having lost – clearly, the event was run by barbarians!

Now? I’d be shocked if grade school tournaments don’t give something to everybody. Better, just stop keeping score – winning and losing is just so arbitrary anyway.  That kids, especially boys, actually like to compete, is only a sign of their unevolved consciousnesses. Or something.

About 20 years ago, a story came out about a high school basketball player who was impenetrably convinced that he should be playing in the NBA (that’s the highest level of professional basketball for those of you lacking the sports gene). So, he declared for the NBA draft (meaning, he threw his name in the hat to be claimed by NBA teams – at the time, doing so meant surrendering your eligibility for a college sports scholarship). No matter how many people told him he wasn’t remotely good enough and no NBA team was ever going to select him – he wasn’t even the best player on his high school team – he refused to listen.

His self-esteem was very high.

Today, that poor kid’s name is Legion. The only problem for the rest of us is that, in certain professions, there’s no winnowing process based on anything objective. Thus, Carter above could land a job without knowing anything deeper than a coat of paint about the field in which he’s supposed to be an expert.  We better be careful – the way things are going, we could end up with somebody like that running the country, surrounded by people who, like every teacher and coach he’s ever had, keep telling him how wonderful he is, until no mere fact is allowed past the armor plating of self esteem.

That could be bad.

The hard part is telling where the smug ignorance ends and the willful deceit begins. Sure, reporters, not, in general, being the sharpest cutlery in the kitchen, may almost as a group be innocent of any active deceit – they really do believe they are, like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way. This leads them to consider anything they don’t know as ipso facto unimportant, any views they don’t hold as necessarily the result of ignorance and superstition. That this represents the death of reporting – you will never see anything that can’t exist in your world – seems to likewise be lost on them.*

I wish it were hard to believe a Rachel Maddow, who I know only by reputation and a couple brief things she’s written, could be just a mindless sycophant, given her elite education and obvious native wit – but she seems to be. A Maureen Dowd, on the other hand, shows no evidence of ever having had a thought (I read her regularly a few years ago, back when the NYT was free (almost worth the price) and my main source of news). Maybe she had one since the Times started charging, who knows.

Were things ever any different? I don’t know. I’ve only known one newsman more than superficially – Marvin Arrowsmith, AP Washington Bureau chief during the 60s and 70s, may he rest in peace. He retired to Santa Fe when I lived there, and we attended the same Catholic church. Very nice man, high integrity. Was the reporting out of Washington better back then, with people like Marvin in charge? I’d like to think so.

*Once, years ago, I attended a party where I was one of only three people there not in the news media. It seemed I was one of only two people there who did not think Democrats were obviously smarter and more virtuous than Republicans. (Then as now, I tend to not vote party line when I vote, though its been a while since I’ve found a Democrat I could vote for. Back then, it happened often enough.) Struck up a conversation with a nice, if somewhat mousy, young woman reporter, wherein I asked her what she liked about her job. Casting down the mighty from their high places. Putting 2 and 2 together, which mighty are likely to get her attention?

I’ve been to better parties.

On the willful deceit side, we have the leaders who, for 150 years and more, have been working to get the schools to output just such intellectual ciphers. When Woodrow Wilson says that vast bulk of people must forego a liberal education and instead be fitted for particular manual jobs, what he and his buddies wanted at the time were docile factory workers. Since then, the needs have changed somewhat, but the methods – especially making sure people don’t get a liberal education – haven’t. We teach children in a million ways to despise the past, to believe that everything is better now in every way than it used to be, to believe in their hearts that all those old guys have been superseded and need not concern us any more. If a kid were able to go a few honest rounds with Plato, for example, his world would change – so, we can’t have that happen. Turns out to be more effective and less of a red flag if you work on the ‘honest’ part. Let them read Plato, in the unlikely event such a thing we ever occur to them. Just make sure they lack the intellectual tools to understand him.

It’s not just or even mostly the ignorance itself that is the chief and most evil output of our school, although it is bad enough. It’s the inoculation against thought. The right questions are in the study guide; the right answers are in the back of the book. And we’re all practically perfect in every way.

We live in a country where many people – not most, I don’t think, but many, and almost all you’re likely to read in the news or see on TV – have gotten their jobs by, as Fichte’s put it, being unable to think anything their betters don’t want them to think.

Once you don’t love the truth, you quickly become unable to love anything at all. What you call love becomes a kind of rage.

 

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8 thoughts on “It’s Not Enough to Render People Stupid

    • Right! If we only remove history entirely and predigest the subject matter down to its constituent quarks before force-feeding it to drugged up blank slates, and then test like hell to make sure they can puke it up on command, how could our kids fail to meet the stellar standards set by our media experts?

      I have been comforted, however slightly, that Common Core tipped the hand far enough that even a few normal people seemed to notice. I’d let my kids roam the streets all day before I’d allow them to be subjected them to Common Core.

  1. Pingback: C. S. Lewis’s Introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation « Yard Sale of the Mind

  2. Indeed, great post. Though on a totally random note:

    “In fifth grade, I won the Merit Pin: given to the best student as determined by the highest GPA each semester in each grade at St. Mary’s of the Assumption in Whittier.”

    In one of those odd small world moments: this was my Dad’s parish growing up (though he would have been ten years ahead of you at the school), and the one my grandparents went to until they died. So if you ever ran into the Hodge family, that was them.

    • Wow. Well, I’ll ask my next 4 older siblings, at least 3 of whom would have been your dad’s contemporaries at St. Mary’s.

      And thanks for reading. Really enjoy your posts on WWI, an area of near-complete ignorance for me.

      • Heh. Thanks.

        I’m never sure if I’ve hit the point of saturation and am boring people with the WW1 stuff, but it’s most of what I read at the moment, so it’s what ends up coming.

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