I’m writing this blog because I saw a story about the climate change “debate” and got ticked off.
According to the World Health Organization, a higher percentage of scientists currently agree that global warming is real and man-made than scientists in the 1980’s agreed that cigarette smoking causes cancer.
The only reason this nonsensical climate change non-debate even exists is anti-intellectualism–which I call the promotion of stupidity.
In America, promoting stupidity has become an art. However, it began as a political tool used to galvanize the mid-western and southern states against the coastal states. The coastal big cities, especially San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York, are admonished as centers of moral depravity and scholastic balderdash.
Nevertheless–putting my “lib” hat on– “anti-intellectualism” as a philosophy isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can simply be the promotion other aspects of the human experiences over intellectual achievement. Both reasonable and valid.
The promotion of stupidity, however, distrusts intelligence and condemns most non-religious thought as self-important erudition or cultural warfare. As a result, we have minimized the importance of education–of thinking for ourselves.
There are two primary reasons this unfortunate state of being has come about: Religious fundamentalism and education.
America is the most religious of the modern nations. Tragically, our political discourse is being overrun by the “Born Again” crowd, the Christian fundamentalists. The direction of our 21st Century, technology-age nation is being determined by the religion of bronze-age farmers.
Christian fundamentalism proclaims the Holy Bible as 100% factually and historically accurate. This is why many adult Christians believe the earth is only 6,000 years old and that humans lived with the dinosaurs. Their piety towards this fairy tale nonsense forces them to distrust facts that contradict their belief–despite what those facts might tell them. It has to. Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to continue to believe.
There’s no point in debating the veracity of these fictions; the Bible doesn’t even meet most scholastic or scientific standards. Of course, it doesn’t need to. It’s a book of faith. From that perspective, the truths of the Bible are equally inarguable.
For most Christians, only their faith is centered around their holy book. For Christian fundamentalists, however, their understanding of natural history is centered around the Bible as well. Many other religious fundamentalists share similar relationships with their holy texts. Challenging that relationship is challenging their faith and then you’re getting to the core of a person. You will not win the argument.
But I don’t think we need to.
What we instead need to do is separate religion as an article of personal faith, which can be a wondrous thing, from religion as a source of governance, which is generally discriminatory–if not outright oppressive–to those who believe differently.
Religion puts otherwise rational people in direct opposition to logic, even facts. Any debate with a religious component can be reduced to “well, that’s just what I believe.” This is perfectly fine if what you believe is determining what you do with your life and your family. But if you are making decisions that affect other people and their lives, well then, you better have some facts to back it up.
The 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and subsequent statements by several Founding Fathers on the topic suggests that they did not intend religion to be the basis by which laws are made. You cannot make a law because the Bible (Or Koran, or Tanakh) says x, y, or z. You have to establish the reason for the law in rational terms, even if your beliefs inform your position.
Plus religion, especially fundamentalism, stifles free thought. It teaches people not to dissent, to be part of the flock, to accept questions that have no real answer as “God” or “God’s Will”. It teaches people not to challenge certain things, but instead to just believe no matter what. These are not traits conducive to stimulating the intellect.
Nonetheless, I am not trying to be anti-religion. I believe religion is a path to redemption for many people…in any sense of the word. And it’s a source of comfort for millions of people.
I also think that anti-intellectualism is more a tool for religious leaders eager to keep their flocks and their funds coming than an actual tenet of any religion.
In fact, all of the major religions have contributed substantially to the history of thought. Monks preserved the knowledge of the ancient world and educated princes. Great and revered leaders advanced civilization by challenging the old ways of thinking, from Jesus Christ, to Harun al-Rashid, to Martin Luther.
This type of thinking needs to be brought back to religion.
Our education system is designed for an industrial workforce. It promotes discipline, hard work, and acquiescence to authority. It supports technical learning and even problem solving. However, it does not advance out-of-the-box, innovative thinking to nearly the same degree. So in a way, even our education system is anti-intellectual.
And now, even that education system is being cut to the bone.
Austerity–reducing government spending–is an easy selling point for simpletons who seem to believe that leading a global economy is akin to balancing their checkbooks. (They also seem ready to believe that tax rates are the driving principle behind the economy.) So we hack and slash at government spending because the numbers are big and big is scary to stupid people.
With American austerity, perpetuated by both major political parties, education is ALWAYS among the first programs to receive cuts. Our education system, once the best in the entire world, is now middling among modern nations. In 2009, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked the United States 18th among the 36 nations it studied. We’ve had even more draconian cuts to education since.
Yet a quality education is not only the best way to ensure equality of opportunity but it also provides an intelligent and informed citizenry. There was a time when higher education was about more than job training. College graduates were considered scholarly, at least to a degree, and held in esteem. They were our thinkers; now they’re just our better trained workers.
Clearly, the proliferation of college graduates has taken some of the luster off of getting a degree. But universities have also been scrutinized for even trying to challenge traditional thoughts and beliefs. K-12 schools largely don’t even try.
This is because the promoters of stupidity desire that no school teach students anything that contradicts what their parent or religious leaders have taught them.
I guess they forgot:
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Of course, education is only responsible for the transmission of our cultural and intellectual advancements, and the preparation of our youth to compete in the global economy, so maybe I’m just over-hyping its importance.
In the end the promotion of stupidity isn’t usually perpetuated by stupid people. More often, intelligent people promote stupidity to both take advantage of people susceptible to that and to create a bigger pool from which they can reap benefits.
The real problem isn’t so much that Americans can’t find their hometown on a globe or explain the theory of relativity. It’s the celebration of that ignorance. Not only are we happy that we don’t know it, we don’t trust the people who do.
Granted, intelligence is by no means a virtue; but neither is the lack of it. The virtue lies in maximizing our potential, whatever our capacities. When Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon, it was the realization of years of work by some of the smartest, most courageous, decent, and (yep) God-fearing people in our nation’s history.
We need to come together like that once again.
And yeah, I suppose there were some dimwits shuffling about during the Apollo 11 moonwalk as well. I mean, someone had to clean the crappers.
I’m sure they were decent, hardy folk.