Watch Your Back, Yankovic!

This is by far the best political song parody I’ve seen in quite some time.  The song (and video) was made by a group called JustNew Productions (?) based on Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know.  It’s a pretty well written parody and I think it’s accurate about how a lot–a LOT–of people feel about Barack Obama.

Probably why the video is going viral.

Well, maybe that and the creative body painting.

(BTW, does Weird Al Yankovic still do parodies?  I don’t know.  Anyhow…)

Money out of politics.

Free. Thought.

Advertisements

Celebrating Stupidity: Why So Ignorant?

https://therealkenjones.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/ffact5.gif

It has been alleged that I like calling people stupid.  🙂

I actually don’t.  It’s just an honest observation.  Group think and mob mentality are well documented psychosocial states.  Sometimes it manifests as a trend in the stock market other times as a guy being dragged to death behind a pick-up truck. Of course, stupidity comes in myriad forms.

I am not talking about people with legitimate cognitive disabilities, but rather people who fail (or refuse) to put adequate thought behind their words and deeds.

Like evil, stupidity is a result of behavior.  It stems primarily from speaking or acting from ignorance.  Ignorance is unawareness of–or disregard for–information, logic, reason, and common sense.  So stupidity is nothing more than ignorance in action.  It is learned and reversible.

And it is rampant in the United States of America.

This is mainly because we accept it.  We allow people to espouse unfounded and illogical beliefs without challenge.  We have a media that simply parrots talking points.  We have an education system that is merely prep for standardized tests.  We elect ignorant people to positions of power and allow them to use their ignorance to impact everyone.

So why do we do this?

As is often the case, it goes back to religion (I’m not trying to beat up on it, I’m just noting where things come from).  Our nation has Christian roots.  And what Christianity teaches us is that the sin that has doomed our entire race to suffering and strife is the acquisition of knowledge.  Not envy, or wrath, or greed, not murder or rape, but knowledge.  I’ve considered the Adam and Eve story allegorical for as long as I can remember.  A disappointingly large number of people take it as literal.  Either way, it’s unsurprising that after inculcating, even beating, this story into millions and millions of kids over the course of centuries, we have learned to distrust knowledge.

This distrust is nothing more than willful ignorance.

My all-time favorite sign. 😀

Education, discussion, and exposure to new people and experiences can do away with involuntary ignorance.  Hey, I didn’t know cause I didn’t know.  But with willful ignorance, commonly expressed as, “That’s just what I believe,” this baseless, line-in-the-sand positioning becomes a bulwark against enlightenment.  It is often considered principled, even noble, to hold firm to one’s beliefs regardless of their validity.  Unfortunately, it’s used to hurt people for “honorable” reasons.

But it is not noble or honorable.  It’s hubris.  It’s dangerous.  And it’s antithetical to progress.

Essentially one is saying, I am going to keep believing in something even though I have no reason to believe it other than I want to.  At issue in these instances actually isn’t the belief itself but rather the feeling of safety, security, comfort and stability one gets from believing it.  Ignorance really is bliss.

This is common refuge for religious people.  To some degree I understand the obstinance.  Faith deals with ideas that are often reassuring, unquantifiable, and–most importantly–unfalsifiable.  It feels good to believe it and it can’t be disproved, so there’s little motivation to stop believing it.  Plus, science doesn’t have any better answers in many cases.

While this type of reasoning is actually unsound, there is a pure logic to it that appeases common sense…until you actually think about it.  Pleasant fiction is still fiction.

lvtmmfl19eqfl0cpgxojzw
The above graph clearly illustrates that belief in evolution increases with education level (i.e. greater exposure to information and usage of reasoning skills). It should be noted that as a scientific theory, evolution is to be accepted or rejected, not “believed in.” The framing of the question establishes a theological context.

The troubled waters really begin when this type of thinking spills over into other aspects of life, especially legislation.

When stupidity dictates policy you get Stand Your Ground and Sharia Law bans.  You get our crumbling education system.  You get bigotry, tribalism, and antipathy.

You also get the Texas state GOP rejecting higher thinking skills, including critical thinking, on their official party platform.  Or you get the Louisiana lawmakers who passed a school voucher program allowing people to send their kids to Christian schools pulling their support for the program after people started using those same public funds to send their kids to Muslim schools.  It’s how you get people scoffing at global warming every time  it snows or refuting radiometric dating without an iota of expertise.

Of course, these are right-wing issues.

Note the disclaimers!

On the left, fear of vaccines and other pharmaceutical drugs are built largely on conjecture, unfounded claims, and circumstantial evidence.  Any charlatan with an alphabet soup after their name can write a book and present it to the masses as a breakthrough.  The lay person lacks the acumen to challenge it.  But does that book hold up to the scrutiny of other experts in their field?  The only thing these miracle herbalists and holistic healers need to do is demonstrate–to other experts in the field–that their methods get consistent results–that anyone who follows their processes can duplicate.  That is the standard for the scientific method.

Most of the people I’ve had discussions with could not articulate that standard of proof.  We haven’t been taught to think in those terms.  We believe what we want to believe.

So we do need better education.  But we also need to let go of our own arrogance.  We need to stop presuming that we’re right all the time.  We need to stop thinking that we know and start proving that we know.  We’ve got to stop being scared of challenging our beliefs.

I lean towards skepticism because it makes the fewest presumptions.  It’s mantra is simply that I will believe whatever there is sufficient reason to believe.

It’s a renunciation of absolutes and it’s far from sexy.  For some, it may seem like a cold proposition (of course, that is once again basing one’s beliefs on feelings rather than facts).  Admittedly, the argument that there’s more to life than what you can measure and calculate has merit.  But in terms of what rules we make to live by, we should go by a reality that we can mutually demonstrate.  The standards should rely on independently verifiable evidence.

This means getting past life by je ne sais quoi, and into the realm of the provable, quantifiable, and falsifiable.

That means getting past stupidity, which means letting go of our ignorance, which begins by admitting that we are ignorant.

I know, it doesn’t feel good, but it gets better (I hope! :o).

And  it’s important to remember that the problem is not the lack of knowledge but rather acting on the lack of knowledge.

Changing the culture is a generational thing.  But it’s possible.  And it starts with each of us.

Free. Thought.

Beyond Belief: The Albatross

Ah ! well a-day ! what evil looks
Had I from old and young !
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

–From The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The line between free thought and subjugated thought is thin but absolute and can be determined with a simple question that requires no modification of current beliefs:  If there is no God, if we are all that is, would you want to know?

I believe abjectly that human potential is virtually limitless.  We have just scratched the surface of what we can do and become.  Unfortunately, we are constrained by a fatal flaw in our design (it also happens to be one of our greatest attributes):

Faith.

I’m not just talking about religious faith–although religion is a crucial aspect.  I’m talking about faith as the trust we have that we are correct about what we believe (i.e., hold to be true).  Because of that trust we make presumptions.  We hold some presumptions so dearly that we actually consider questioning them taboo.  But  presumption is simply unfounded belief, no matter how logical it may seem or profoundly we may believe it.  Religion then exalts these unfounded beliefs as the Will or Law of supreme and/or supernatural beings–who are themselves unfounded beliefs.   It uses evidence to justify–rather than evaluate–beliefs and either disregards or denounces contradictory evidence (such as evolution and radiometric dating).

It may seem like I’m calling humankind delusional, but as instinctive and intuitive animals, we are right so much of the time–purely by guessing–that belief has become innate.  Whether it’s navigating through traffic, recognizing whether a door is automated or manual, or realizing that an unattended child is getting into something, we guess right an overwhelming majority of the time.  It verifies our faith. It’s probably why it’s so embarrassing and even unsettling when we’re wrong; we’ve failed in our perception of reality.

Faith was crucial when we were ignorant of the natural world.   But as we have passed from the age of faith, through the age of reason, and into the age of knowledge it has become imperative for us to re-evaluate the principles and processes by which we discern what is true.

We have not only acquired more knowledge–beliefs supported by evidence–we’ve gotten better at acquiring it; knowledge chafes against the limits of faith, religious or otherwise.  Our understanding of the world, once buttressed by faith is becoming increasingly imprisoned by it.  We resist accepting new truths because they may dispel older ones.

It has become untenable.

If we are skeptical–which is to say we presume as little as possible, only accepting beliefs supported by evidence–we can get closer to the reality of existence than we ever could by faith in unfounded beliefs.  Because that faith may be displaced.  Skepticism is the purest search for truth and truth encompasses all possibilities.

So this is not to denounce religious beliefs.  The exploration of a transcendental origin, nature, or purpose for existence is at the very least well-intentioned.  And it may very well be true.  But until it is supported by evidence, it is only a belief in what is possible and therefore should neither be the basis for social law nor the arbiter of morality.

The only way to liberate thought is to prioritize truth.  Science and philosophy which share this mandate with religion, will always trump religion because science and philosophy admit to fallibility.  A core tenet of scientific method is scrutiny through peer review and the first rule of philosophy is that we may be wrong about everything. Meanwhile religion, particularly Christianity, Mormonism, Islam, and Judaism, profess, without evidence, to relay the infallible, yet wildly interpretive, word of God.   None hold up to objective scrutiny.  Their only defense is to restrict investigation, deny contradiction, and denounce skepticism.

It’s been successful.  We have been programmed to avoid intellectual conflict.  Never talk about politics or religion.  By default I would add money to that list.  But these are the core, substantive issues affecting the quality of life on earth.  What better to talk about than money, politics, and religion?  Or should billions suffer and starve so no one has to admit they may be mistaken?

When we are wrong–which is inevitable–failing (or refusing) to re-examine what we hold to be true diminishes our potential.  We deny possibilities for no reason outside our own minds.  It limits our ability to understand, even to question.

Thus faith has become the albatross around the neck of human thought.

We absolutely must free ourselves from the yoke of this superstition.  We must define truth as beliefs justified by–and better, arising out of–evidence and always subject to greater truth.  Only skeptical reason, tempered by compassion, can elevate society beyond unfounded belief and into the realm of knowledge in the noble quest to understand.

Free thought.


Wasn’t Justice First Anyway?

U.S. Army veteran and Representative for Florida's 22nd District, Allen West

You might have heard about how U.S. Representative and incendiary quote factory Allen West–an early candidate for both Fool of the Year and Fool of the Decade honors–followed up his not-so-subtle claim that “78-81” Democratic congressional members are card-carrying members of the Communist Party with the equally untrue assessment that economic justice is un-American.

(There are roughly 78 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC)–all Democrats.  Again, not subtle.)

What you might not have heard is that the supposedly-Communist CPC proposed a budget in March of this year (which they suspiciously named The People’s Budget–Uh-oh!).

Their budget is designed to eliminate the deficit by 2021–in fact, it creates a budget surplus, while preserving Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

This is primarily done by cutting waste in defense spending, applying the Buffet Rule, taxing capital gains as regular income, and eliminating oil subsidies and corporate loopholes from the tax code.  Their budget enacts a public option for healthcare.  It fixes–REPEAT–fixes Social Security’s insolvency.  It invests US$1.45 trillion in job creation, education, clean energy, housing, and broadband infrastructure.  It promotes energy independence.  It eliminates emergency war funding which will help prevent presidents from going to war without congressional consent (as mandated by that pesky U.S. Constitution).

In short, this is a budget that is not only balanced, but saves money by reducing spending overall, eliminating waste, and moving us closer to a flat tax rate (for all but the very poor). It might sound made up but it’s not.  I got all this directly out of the actual budget proposal (which you can read here).

The CPC budget stands in stark contrast to the budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan which devastates social programs, imbalances the tax code even more in favor of the rich and large corporations, and in the end INCREASES the deficit by more than US$3 trillion.  Despite being denounced by religious leaders as “immoral” and “irresponsible,” the Republican majority in the House passed the Ryan Budget on March 29, 2012.

The CPC budget proposal was voted down the very same day, 78-346.  It barely managed a ripple in the national media.  And Allen West called them communists for proposing it.

(A bipartisan budget proposal incorporating ideas from both sides also went down in flames that day.)

West has been one of the louder voices in the cacophony denouncing social justice as socialism, communism, Marxism, Leninism, Maoism, hell, syllogism, and whatever other ism they think will get a rise out of people.

Much as socialism and capitalism have been locked hand-in-hand by our Constitution, so has liberty and justice (I’m pretty sure I heard that somewhere).   Before the Founders even got started with the particulars of how our newly formed nation would work, they made their intentions clear:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

My glasses might be smudgy but I think justice is first.  Now obviously this isn’t a prioritized list but justice seems to at least be equally important as  the other things.  I hear so much talk of liberty being an American value.  Yet when many people say that they only mean economic liberty.  Oddly, many of these same people don’t interpret justice to include economic justice.

Communism dictates that an engineer and a janitor should earn the same income.  It’s ridiculous.  I’d be willing to bet that less than 0.01% of Americans believe anything remotely close to that.  What I believe, and I think many other Americans believe, is that a janitor should be able to put food on his family’s table and a roof over their heads.  That his kids should have access to a college education.  That no children should starve. That no one should die of untreated illnesses or exposure to the elements.

These are not radical assaults on American liberty.  They are American values that simply place a higher priority on justice.  There’s actually a reasonable argument to be made that economic justice  increases liberty because it allows more people the freedom to enjoy it.

Allen West’s type of partisan name-calling is usually just a means of deflection.  Unfortunately, so are the calls for a “change in the tone” of political discourse.  I disagree.  Our lives, our freedoms, our futures–and our children’s futures–are at stake.  We should be passionate about these things, so long as that passion doesn’t supersede truth and reason.

So it goes with liberty and justice, too.

Allen West--technically--violates U.S. federal law by putting Ol' Glory in water--on flag day. (I know, I know, but I just couldn't help myself. :))

Celebrating Stupidity in America: The Cold Hard Facts

Is the Moonlite Bunny Ranch a breeding ground for Satan's acolytes or just a rational solution to a very real social problem?

Prostitution should be legal.

In my opinion, what two consenting adults privately agree to is their own business.  I don’t see a whole lot of difference between prostitution and meeting some random person at a club, throwing a hundred bucks worth of food and alcohol into them,  and dragging them back to the crib for a hook-up.  And it’s no different at all from pornography–save for a camera and some contortion.

This is a point I made during a classroom discussion on the topic a while back.  It won no new adherents.

Of course, others in the discussion had moral objections, which I kind of understand.  The problem was, from a rational standpoint, the students opposed to legalizing prostitution seemed incapable of incorporating new information into their schema.

This isn't the only way to legalize prostitution.

They were stuck on the idea that this would legalize child prostitution and sex slavery.  Some argued, independent of facts, that it would create a viral epidemic.  No matter how many times we argued that we were only talking about consenting adults, or that statistics demonstrated comparatively lower STD rates, that it reduced the necessity for pimps, and that prostitution was already going on without legal protections or regulations, they persistently displayed no ability whatsoever to understand anything other than what they already believed.

Needless to say, it was not an intellectually stimulating debate.   One side was trying to make factually accurate points; the other side simply argued their feelings and disregarded anything contradictory.  (BTW,  fellow blogger Warm Southern Breeze has a great post on the topic of willful ignorance)

It was a little frustrating (but still kinda fun).

I’ve since come to the–seemingly–narcissistic realization that half the class was…well..stupid.  At the very least they were ignorant and bad at thinking critically.  (Actually, it may have been more than half the class because not everyone on our side of the issue was making their case factually and they certainly weren’t being challenged in that arena by the other side.)

So, roughly half of the students in an NCA accredited college class proved themselves incapable of knowledge integration.  America’s shameless celebration of stupidity, currently in the formative stages of  it’s 2nd generational run, was at work before my very eyes.

The powers that be have exalted ignorance to the point of a cultural virtue with the insidious aim of manipulating uninformed consumers and voting blocks against their own best interests.  And we’ve bought into it hook, line, and sinker.  Ask any Republican who makes less than $250,000 a year.  Ask any civil rights advocate who supports Barack Obama.

But this is not a political issue; it’s an American issue.  With almost unlimited information at our fingertips we’re less informed now than ever.  This is partly due to propaganda and misinformation campaigns by partisan groups (Hiya, Fox News!) but it’s also due to our inability to evaluate data.

This is the information age.  We need to start acting like it.  Information is as powerful a tool/weapon as there is.  Yet we seem unable to make proper use of it.  (Okay, saying “we” is over-generalizing.  Not all Americans are ignorant, but way, way, waaayy too many of us are.  It’s the atrophial majority.)

This is not to say that most people are incapable of analytical thought; but critical thinking is a skill that must be honed.  And this is not done by parroting political talking points or long stretches of “vegging out”.  It requires the continual development of skills in data-collection, evaluation, moral prioritizing, skepticism, and reasoning.  Pragmatism plays a part, but the key ingredient is humility, the ability to acknowledge that you may be wrong, understand when you are, and accept it–which ain’t easy.  The rest is just making sure your opinion doesn’t get in the way of the truth.

Politically, our number one priority is getting money out of politics.  Socially, it’s to get smarter–better informed and better at analysis and assimilation.

Until we do both, we will not be able to deal with the issues we face.  We’re just trying to climb to great heights with no limbs.

Oh, and here’s Bill Maher with a little more context:

And for the punishment gluttons, more American ignorance (remember, it’s not about what you don’t know, it’s about being unwilling to learn):

From http:  Alternet.org

  • Less than 50% of Americans know that Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court.
  • Going into the First Gulf War, just 15% could identify Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or Dick Cheney, then secretary of defense.
  • In 2007, in the fifth year of the Iraq War, only 21% could name the secretary of defense, Robert Gates.
  • Most Americans cannot name their own member of Congress or their senators (You can find out here).
  • How many people know that the Social Security is running a surplus? And that this surplus — some $150 billion a year — is actually quite substantial, even by Washington standards? And how many know that the system has been in surplus since 1983?  During all the years the surpluses were building, the Democrats in Congress pretended the money was theirs to be spent, as if it were the same as all the other tax dollars collected by the government. And spend it they did, whenever they had the chance, with no hint that they were perhaps disbursing funds that actually should be held in reserve for later use.

From the Daily Beast:

  • A Jan. 25 CNN poll, meanwhile, discovered that even though 71 percent of voters want smaller government, vast majorities oppose cuts to Medicare (81 percent), Social Security (78 percent), and Medicaid (70 percent). Instead, they prefer to slash waste—a category that, in their fantasy world, seems to include 50 percent of spending, according to a 2009 Gallup poll.

From 2006 Roper Poll conducted for National Geographic:

  • One-third of respondents couldn’t pinpoint Louisiana on a map.
  •  48 percent were unable to locate Mississippi.
  • Less than 30% think it important to know the locations of countries in the news and just 14% believe speaking another language is a necessary skill.
  • 60% could not find Iraq on a map of the Middle east.
  • While the outsourcing of jobs to India has been a major U.S. business story, 47% could not find the Indian subcontinent on a map of Asia.
  • 75% were unable to locate Israel on a map of the Middle East.
  • Nearly 75% incorrectly named English as the most widely spoken native language (Spanish).
  • 30% thought the most heavily fortified border in the world was between the United States and Mexico (It’s actually the border between North and South Korea).

I was gonna keep going, but now I’m depressed.  The good news is that we can always get better at learning–and thinking.  We just have to put in the time and effort.

The Education Fix

I come from a family of educators.  My mother, aunt, both uncles, and my grandmother have all been teachers in some fashion.   My youngest brother is currently studying to become an educator.

Being familiar with education, my family has never been supportive of the testing craze currently dominating our education system.  It stresses a limited range of skills and specific types of learning.  And in the end, all we’re really doing is teaching our students how to take a test.

Education is the way by which Americans will compete in the increasingly global economy.  It is also how we can understand the world in which we live, our place in history, and our responsibility to it.  Unfortunately, we are falling further and further behind in this regard.

I really don’t understand why education isn’t a higher priority–actually, I do.  It’s this austerity bullshit our politicians are trying to force down our throats.  They want to gut education to justify tax breaks for billionaires. 

I honestly believe the Republican party–and to a lesser extent the democratic party–has a long term goal of creating a 3rd world economy here in the United States, with a super-rich, elite ruling class, and a docile, ignorant, working class majority that has limited opportunities outside of whatever jobs the elites make available at whatever wages they deem acceptable.

They want no mandatory health care programs, no collective bargaining rights for workers, no Social Security, no Medicare, no minimum wage, no child labor laws, no government regulation of business, and enough education for workers to perform skilled tasks, but not enough to think critically.  They want a flock corralled by religion, conditioned to endure hardship, and never question authority.

The best, most effective way for us to recapture control of our future is with a broad, robust education system; one designed to maximize the potential in each and every student–not meet standardized testing requirements.

If history has taught us anything, it’s that powerful nations crumble from within long before they are conquered from the outside.  Approaching education with the same attitude we have about our military–that we will be the best no matter what it takes–would take us a lot farther toward ensuring our security than we could in building another squadron of fighter jets or ballistic missile platform.

We have an outdated, industrial-age education system that promotes discipline, routine, and rote memory.  Yet we have an information-and-technology-based economy that stresses initiative, critical thinking, and problem solving.  We need a system that to develops the ability to manage, evaluate, and understand information–especially with the myriad ways information comes to us.  But more than that, we need a system that fully develops whatever abilities a student may possess.

In this we are failing ourselves and future generations.  But it doesn’t have to be this way:

So do not buy into the Republican voucher program talking point–the voucher will not be enough to send your kid to a good school.  Do not support politicians who want to cut education funding, including college grants.   Then let’s call for an education revolution.  Tear it all down like the Romans did Carthage, “leave not one stone upon another.” Get away from the testing mania.  Begin rebuilding with evidence-based (i.e., proven teaching method) pilot programs that integrate technology and stress active learning (as opposed to passive learning in which students sit and listen to a teacher lecture) to find the most effective teaching methods.  Dramatically increase teacher pay, especially for grades K-5.  Make it a more prestigious position to attract even better candidates.   Then we’ll be ready to start building a 21st century education system.

Our future literally and critically depends on it.

P.S. thanks to my mom for help with refining the technical jargon and conceptual whodjamawhatsit.  You can visit her blog here.

Celebrating Stupidity in America (Redux)

This reminds me of my previous blog on stupidity in America.

There are innumerable non-political examples of stupidity, but news and current events is one of those casual, everyday circumstances where regular people kind of have to know some stuff.  Morons routinely get exposed.  Case in point:

Apparently 2/3 of Alabama’s and Mississippi’s Republican voters are hopelessly ignorant.  But it’s more than simple ignorance: They’re morons.

It’s not like Barack Obama’s religious inclinations weren’t laid out spread-eagle all over the front pages of every major media outlet during the 2008 presidential campaign.  The truth has been out there for quite some time.

We can demonstrate evolution in a petri dish, by the way.

It absolutely baffles me that people can hear independently verifiable statistics and data or direct-source confirmation, and be unmoved in their understanding of an issue.  It’s because they don’t know how to think critically.

Besides, if you are too stupid to bother with facts–much less comprehend them–the understanding that might be gained from said facts is lost on you anyway.

And these are the people the politicians keep calling the “real America”.

If that’s true, we’re doomed.

Celebrating Stupidity In America

Idiots desecrate Reagan's memory for their own shortsighted purposes. Idiots do things like this a lot.

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.

1. FUNDAMENTALISM.

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.

2. EDUCATION.

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.”

-1 Peter1:6-7

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.

CONCLUSION.

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.