Isaac Asimov made the following statement: “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.'” We are currently seeing an epidemic of the embrace of ignorance where facts simply do not matter or, if they cut against the agenda of the current occupant of the White House, they are labeled as "lies" and news stories that point out the dishonesty of Der Trumpenführer and many of his fellow Republicans, then they are "fake news." Such ignorance resonates most strongly with so-called conservative. In the political realm, this means Republicans intent on prostituting themselves to the Christofascist element in the GOP base.
So what is the drive force behind this phenomenon? I would argue, the Christofascists themselves who reject anything that questions their childish, myth based religious beliefs. Science and education are enemies of Christofascist belief. By tying themselves to the Christofascists, Republicans now increasingly reject knowledge, science and true experts. The result? The views and opinions of the ignorant are given the same stature as those of experts and the educated and society as a whole is the loser. We have seen this before in history and then, as now, Christianity (at least in America) is the culprit. The learning and knowledge of ancient Rome that did not support the Christian myth in its infancy was subsequently rooted out and books were destroyed. Those who failed to conform to Church dogma were heretics to be literally killed. The end result? The Dark Ages. A piece in The Daily Beast looks at the cult of ignorance that now dominates much of the political and social right wing. Here are excerpts:
In 2014, the Washington Post polled Americans about whether the United States should engage in military intervention in the wake of the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine. The United States and Russia are former Cold War adversaries, each armed with hundreds of long-range nuclear weapons. A military conflict in the center of Europe, right on the Russian border, carries a risk of igniting World War III, with potentially catastrophic consequences. And yet only one in six Americans—and fewer than one in four college graduates—could identify Ukraine on a map. Ukraine is the largest country entirely in Europe, but the median respondent was still off by about 1,800 miles.
Map tests are easy to fail. Far more unsettling is that this lack of knowledge did not stop respondents from expressing fairly pointed views about the matter. Actually, this is an understatement: the public not only expressed strong views, but respondents actually showed enthusiasm for military intervention in Ukraine in direct proportion to their lack of knowledge about Ukraine. Put another way, people who thought Ukraine was located in Latin America or Australia were the most enthusiastic about the use of U.S. military force.
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.
Attacks on established knowledge and the subsequent rash of poor information in the general public are sometimes amusing. Sometimes they’re even hilarious. . . . . When life and death are involved, however, it’s a lot less funny. The antics of clownish anti-vaccine crusaders like actors Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy undeniably make for great television or for a fun afternoon of reading on Twitter. But when they and other uninformed celebrities and public figures seize on myths and misinformation about the dangers of vaccines, millions of people could once again be in serious danger from preventable afflictions like measles and whooping cough.
The growth of this kind of stubborn ignorance in the midst of the Information Age cannot be explained away as merely the result of rank ignorance. Many of the people who campaign against established knowledge are otherwise adept and successful in their daily lives. In some ways, it is all worse than ignorance: it is unfounded arrogance, the outrage of an increasingly narcissistic culture that cannot endure even the slightest hint of inequality of any kind.
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. This is the credo of a fair number of people despite being obvious nonsense. It is a flat assertion of actual equality that is always illogical, sometimes funny, and often dangerous. This book, then, is about expertise.
[T]he result has not been a greater respect for knowledge, but the growth of an irrational conviction among Americans that everyone is as smart as everyone else. This is the opposite of education, which should aim to make people, no matter how smart or accomplished they are, learners for the rest of their lives. Rather, we now live in a society where the acquisition of even a little learning is the endpoint, rather than the beginning, of education. And this is a dangerous thing.