The Things That Pass For Knowledge


“People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction.”

-Author James Baldwin

“We risk being the first people in history to have been able to make their illusions so vivid, so persuasive, so ‘realistic’ that they can live in them. We are the most illusioned people on earth”

-Daniel Boorstin, American Historian and Former Librarian of Congress

There is something eating at the soul of the American nation, as it becomes increasingly polarized politically, and unable to make public policy that is based on one common set of facts about objective reality. Perhaps it began with the interview of a top Bush official with David Suskind when that official indicated the people of the United States and the world may be reality based but that George Bush and Company made their own reality and acted upon that. Something of the illusion manufactured by the Bush Administration could be seen in the disastrous decision to invade and occupy Iraq and in the refusal of that government to acknowledge even the possibility that a host of scientists around the world were warning of the dangers of global warming.

American popular culture embraces ignorance and rejects science and reason. Now that infection has spread to the nation’s news media, and political leaders. And what is commonly laid out in the mass media and via the nation’s leadership filters down to the general populace with the speed of a raging flood. The polarization of the nation politically has been greatly aided by the inability of any two Americans of different political doctrines to have an intelligent conversation with each other. If you’ve had that seemingly impossible argument with someone from the other side of the political spectrum recently, where the two of you are arguing the same position but using different sets of facts about objective reality you have experienced this problem.

Benjamin R. Barber, a Rutgers University professor, has written
cogently in the 29 November 2010 issue of The Nation magazine about what he calls an “epistemological deficit that is putting democracy at risk.”

Americans are not only among the most ignorant of peoples on the face of the earth, but their institutions are no longer employing a common set of agreed upon objective facts to solve social, economic, and political problems in the Twenty-first Century. This not only exposes the United States to making absolutely horrible and counterproductive policy decisions on a host of issues, but makes the entire world a more dangerous place.

The 2010 Mid Term Elections and the entire Tea Party led run up to them has demonstrated these dangers in full. This movement has merged with the Republican Party and has featured a goodly number of candidates who were and remain ill-qualified for positions of national leadership and whose most defining characteristic is their inability to wrestle with the body of objective fact that is awaiting them.

In the 1950’s Illinois Senator Everet Dirksen and Congressman Lyndon Baines Johnson could engage in heated discussions and yet socialize with one another after work because they both worked from a common base of knowledge based on objective reality. In America, we no longer do that. It would be good to do what most Americans do all the time and blame both political factions, Conservative Republicans and Democratic Liberals and Progressives equally, but that is in itself not objective reality.

The fact is that conservative cable television and radio dominate the airwaves and tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of conservatives, many of them senior political leadership, use this information base to argue policy. Democrats and political progressives are many things, and some of them undoubtedly harmful to the future of the nation, but they have largely yet to abandon objective reality in their argument of public policy and decision-making. When that runs up against someone who relies faithfully on Fox News and both Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh to educate them politically the disconnect is both laughable and frightening to witness. It comes out as a body of lies spewed by these conservatives, but it is impossible to tell if they themselves know they are lying at any given point or that they simply do not have the objective facts on which to make an intelligent decision about some public issue.

And Americans are increasingly demonstrating that they do not want to be bothered by facts and deductive reasoning at all. Anyone with the facts and who attempts to confront them with them, if they are at all educated, is quickly branded an elitist or Struggles For Justice long-time favorite, “a pointy-headed liberal.”

The Christian Bible refers to the benefits of the Holy Spirit as “that which passeth all human understanding.” The clear and unmistakable bent of conservatives to manufacture their own facts, ignore the real ones, and construct a new reality, certainly is of that character.

This growing predilection for abandoning knowledge and human reason for a separate reality if not curbed soon will destroy the United States as we know it. Perhaps that is what we’ve been witnessing since very early in the Bush years and with growing force in the most recent election campaign. In any case, it is very dangerous and counterproductive to the common good.

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2 thoughts on “The Things That Pass For Knowledge

  1. So true! So sad! It makes one wonder how the U.S. can survive with this Triumph of the Ignorants. Just read a recent column on AlterNet list the 16 Dumbest Things Americans Believe. Check it out here: http://www.alternet.org/story/148826/16_of_the_dumbest_things_americans_believe_–_and_the_right-wing_lies_behind_them
    Sadly, so many people have adopted the credo that brainy people — the socalled elites — have screwed up the system. The true elites, however, are the big business types, the corporations and the wealthy who are behind this giant con game aimed at stupefying America. Let’s hope they do not succeed.

  2. Thanks Ken for a great source to highlight an aspect of this. Even working class Americans who have decent educations but who are socially and politically alive are often accused of being an elite. It is true that the real elites are big business CEO’s and the corporations that roam the globe exploting people in a hundred different ways.

    And thanks for commenting too.

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