Tag Archives: Know-Nothings

If I Were A Rich (Wo)Man

Sometimes I fantasize about what I would do if I was really, really rich–Bezos or Musk or Gates rich, or even Bloomberg rich. I’d concentrate on the single most destructive aspect of America’s current malaise: our information environment.

I’d start by buying Fox News, Sinclair and the other propaganda outfits masquerading as “news.” Then I’d set up a foundation with a single goal: revitalizing local news organizations. Real ones, practicing professional, ethical journalism. Bezos had the right idea when he purchased the Washington Post and gave it serious financial resources, but that is only one newspaper, and it’s national.

It’s also not read by the substantial number of Americans who are insulated from reality.

David French is a conservative–one of the dwindling number of sane ones. He has a newsletter, and in the wake of the first January 6 Committee hearing, he explained why so many Republicans remain impervious to the truth, not only of what happened on January 6th, but utterly unaware of the sordid reality of the Trump Presidency.

French isn’t just a conservative and an Evangelical: he explains that he lives in a deep-Red state, and has friends and multiple family members who are devout Trumpers (a term he doesn’t use), and has engaged in numerous conversations with them.

I don’t know how to link to the newsletter, but here is the gist of his explanation.

Let’s put this all together and apply it to ordinary Republican views of January 6. First, they’re going to know a lot less about the Trump team’s misconduct than you might think. Mention the John Eastman memos that urged Vice President Pence to reject Joe Biden’s electoral-vote majority, and many will shake their heads. Never heard of it.

Bring up Trump’s infamous phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and they’re mystified. They simply don’t know that the president threatened Georgia’s top election official with criminal prosecution and demanded that he “find” the votes necessary to change the outcome of the state’s presidential election.

I could go on and on. They don’t know about Trump’s effort to create a slate of shadow electors. They don’t know anything about Steve Bannon’s “Operation Green Bay Sweep,” the plan he developed with Peter Navarro to leverage the objections of more than 100 GOP members of Congress to delay election certification.

It all comes back to information–or in this case, the lack thereof–and the pervasiveness of Rightwing propaganda. I am convinced that without Fox “News,” the cult that is today’s GOP would shrink considerably. Yes, we’d still have White Christian Supremicists and QAnon crazies and the like, but we’d have far few people living in an alternate reality.

So I’d start by cleaning up the information environment.

As important as it is to do something about the unprecedented levels of disinformation being spewed daily by the propaganda mills, however, citizens also need a context–an accurate context–within which to process facts and evidence. So I would also devote a lot of my imaginary money to the nation’s public school systems, and the development of curricula that would facilitate critical thinking–at least, the ability to recognize what constitutes probative evidence and what doesn’t. (And civics, of course!) I’d use my riches to counter those who are bleeding America’s essential public schools in order to send those resources to private–primarily religious–institutions that largely perpetuate tribalism and ignore civic responsibility.

And finally (remember, in my imagination, I would be very, very rich), I would create entertainments intended to influence the culture and reinforce human virtues–television shows depicting people being appreciated for traits like humility and integrity, comic books for young people showcasing admirable behaviors, music extolling friendship, inclusion and community…

Ah, well. A girl can dream…

There’s a line from Tevya’s song in Fiddler on the Roof  that has always seemed to me to be a big part of our problems.  Tevye sings that, if he was rich, all the men in his village would come to him for advice, and it wouldn’t matter if he answered right or wrong, “because when you’re rich, they think you really know” An embarrassing number of people thought Trump must be smart because he was rich, and simply ignored all the evidence to the contrary. Today’s rich–the one-percenters who are calling the shots these days– include both nice and not-so-nice people. Some are truly talented; others are blowhards and entitled know-nothings.

I wish a couple of the good ones would buy Fox “News.”

 

Elevating Ignorance

By now, most people have heard about the twitter storm in the aftermath of NPR’s 4th of July tweeting of the Declaration of Independence. A number of Trump supporters responded angrily to the descriptions of King George as a tyrant; unfamiliar with one of this nation’s founding documents, these “patriots” assumed that the tyrant in question was Trump and unleashed their ire accordingly.

Pretty much everything to be said about that episode has been said, and I don’t intend to belabor yet another example of the lack of basic civic knowledge. (I’ll  even resist the temptation to say “See, I told you so.”)

What is worth thinking about, however, is what has been termed “America’s Cult of Ignorance.” An article addressing that issue began with my favorite Isaac Asimov quote:

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has 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.’”

The linked article is an excerpt from a book the author has written on the subject. He gives several examples of the harms done by widespread ignorance, then gets to the point:

These are dangerous times. Never have so many people had so much access to so much knowledge and yet have been so resistant to learning anything. In the United States and other developed nations, otherwise intelligent people denigrate intellectual achievement and reject the advice of experts. Not only do increasing numbers of lay people lack basic knowledge, they reject fundamental rules of evidence and refuse to learn how to make a logical argument. In doing so, they risk throwing away centuries of accumulated knowledge and undermining the practices and habits that allow us to develop new knowledge.

The author grapples with the phenomenon of “stubborn ignorance”in the midst of the information age, and concludes that “hilarious” as examples may be (see the NPR episode, for example) it is ultimately no laughing matter.

Late-night comedians have made a cottage industry of asking people questions that reveal their ignorance about their own strongly held ideas, their attachment to fads, and their unwillingness to admit their own cluelessness about current events. It’s mostly harmless when people emphatically say, for example, that they’re avoiding gluten and then have to admit that they have no idea what gluten is. And let’s face it: watching people confidently improvise opinions about ludicrous scenarios like whether “Margaret Thatcher’s absence at Coachella is beneficial in terms of North Korea’s decision to launch a nuclear weapon” never gets old.

The problem, as he readily admits, is not that we do not have experts. We do. The problem, he says, is that we use them as technicians, as conveniences. We don’t engage with them.

It is not a dialogue between experts and the larger community, but the use of established knowledge as an off-the-shelf convenience as needed and only so far as desired. Stitch this cut in my leg, but don’t lecture me about my diet. (More than two-thirds of Americans are overweight.) Help me beat this tax problem, but don’t remind me that I should have a will. (Roughly half of Americans with children haven’t bothered to write one.) Keep my country safe, but don’t confuse me with the costs and calculations of national security. (Most U.S. citizens do not have even a remote idea of how much the United States spends on its armed forces.)…

Any assertion of expertise from an actual expert, meanwhile, produces an explosion of anger from certain quarters of the American public, who immediately complain that such claims are nothing more than fallacious “appeals to authority,” sure signs of dreadful “elitism,” and an obvious effort to use credentials to stifle the dialogue required by a “real” democracy. Americans now believe that having equal rights in a political system also means that each person’s opinion about anything must be accepted as equal to anyone else’s.

A society that knows nothing, elects a know-nothing.