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.

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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

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.