2013 – USA Verge of Stupidity_1.1

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“Roving thoughts and provocations”

Age of Ignorance by: Charles Simic

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Fairgoers cheer for Sarah Palin while she appears on the Sean Hannity Show at the Iowa State Fair, August 12, 2011
Widespread ignorance bordering on idiocy is our new national goal. It’s no use pretending otherwise and telling us, as Thomas Friedman did in the Times a few days ago, that educated people are the nation’s most valuable resources. Sure, they are, but do we still want them? It doesn’t look to me as if we do. The ideal citizen of a politically corrupt state, such as the one we now have, is a gullible dolt unable to tell truth from bullshit.

An educated, well-informed population, the kind that a functioning democracy requires, would be difficult to lie to, and could not be led by the nose by the various vested interests running amok in this country. Most of our politicians and their political advisers and lobbyists would find themselves unemployed, and so would the gasbags who pass themselves off as our opinion makers. Luckily for them, nothing so catastrophic, even though perfectly well-deserved and widely-welcome, has a remote chance of occurring any time soon. For starters, there’s more money to be made from the ignorant than the enlightened, and deceiving Americans is one of the few growing home industries we still have in this country. A truly educated populace would be bad, both for politicians and for business.

It took years of indifference and stupidity to make us as ignorant as we are today. Anyone who has taught college over the last forty years, as I have, can tell you how much less students coming out of high school know every year. At first it was shocking, but it no longer surprises any college instructor that the nice and eager young people enrolled in your classes have no ability to grasp most of the material being taught. Teaching American literature, as I have been doing, has become harder and harder in recent years, since the students read little literature before coming to college and often lack the most basic historical information about the period in which the novel or the poem was written, including what important ideas and issues occupied thinking people at the time.

Even regional history has gotten a short shrift. Students who come from old New England mill towns, as I have discovered, have never been told about the famous strikes in their communities in which workers were shot in cold blood and the perpetrators got away scot-free. I wasn’t surprised that their high schools were wary of bringing up the subject, but it astonished me that their parents and grandparents, and whoever else they came in contact with while they were growing up, never mentioned these examples of gross injustice. Either their families never talked about the past, or their children were not paying attention when they did. Whatever it was, one is confronted with the problem of how to remedy their vast ignorance about things they should have already been familiar with as the generations of students before them were.

If this lack of knowledge is the result of the years of dumbing down of high school curriculum and of families that don’t talk to their children about the past, there’s another more pernicious kind of ignorance we confront today. It is the product of years of ideological and political polarization and the deliberate effort by the most fanatical and intolerant parties in that conflict to manufacture more ignorance by lying about many aspects of our history and even our recent past. I recall being stunned some years back when I read that a majority of Americans told pollsters that Saddam Hussein was behind September 11 terrorist attacks. It struck me as a propaganda feat unsurpassed by the worst authoritarian regimes of the past—many of which had to resort to labor camps and firing squads to force their people to believe some untruth, without comparable success.
No doubt, the Internet and cable television have allowed various political and corporate interests to spread disinformation on a scale that was not possible before, but to have it believed requires a badly educated population unaccustomed to verifying things they are being told. Where else on earth would a president who rescued big banks from bankruptcy with taxpayers’ money and allowed the rest of us to lose $12 trillion in investment, retirement, and home values be called a socialist?

In the past, if someone knew nothing and talked nonsense, no one paid any attention to him. No more. Now such people are courted and flattered by conservative politicians and ideologues as “Real Americans” defending their country against big government and educated liberal elites. The press interviews them and reports their opinions seriously without pointing out the imbecility of what they believe. The hucksters, who manipulate them for the powerful financial interests, know that they can be made to believe anything, because, to the ignorant and the bigoted, lies always sound better than truth:
Christians are persecuted in this country.
The government is coming to get your guns.
Obama is a Muslim.
Global Warming is a hoax.
The president is forcing open homosexuality on the military.
Schools push a left-wing agenda.
Social Security is an entitlement, no different from welfare.
Obama hates white people.
The life on earth is 10,000 years old and so is the universe.
The safety net contributes to poverty.
The government is taking money from you and giving it to sex-crazed college women to pay for their birth control.
One could easily list many more such commonplace delusions believed by Americans. They are kept in circulation by hundreds of right-wing political and religious media outlets whose function is to fabricate an alternate reality for their viewers and their listeners. “Stupidity is sometimes the greatest of historical forces,” Sidney Hook said once. No doubt. What we have in this country is the rebellion of dull minds against the intellect. That’s why they love politicians who rail against teachers indoctrinating children against their parents’ values and resent the ones who show ability to think seriously and independently. Despite their bravado, these fools can always be counted on to vote against their self-interest. And that, as far as I’m concerned, is why millions are being spent to keep my fellow citizens ignorant.

March 20, 2012, 10:55 a.m.

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=====20131230tko=========

ur views to just the Conservative politicians. They are all paid actors putting on a show for the ignorant.
22 0

BigRedEO
2 years ago

What’s most sad about this article is that the people who really need to understand this, will not.
74 0

Guest
2 years ago

I am all in favor of condemning other people and while I do largely agree with you — we have a poorly-educated populace —  I wonder if you are offering up similar drool?

For example, you state that “there’s more money to be made from the ignorant than the enlightened…” and I suggest that that’s an attractive but unfounded statement. Where’d you get the idea? In simple terms of buying power, it’s educated people who are the bigger market.

History — any era — belies “In the past, if someone knew nothing and talked nonsense, no one paid any attention to him.” Consider any of the idiots of the past such as the bad McCarthy of the 1950s or the Salem witch hunts of the 17th century. People have believed stupid things for a long, long time.

You are on the right track but hurt yourself with hyperbole. 

27 1

Doc_Who Guest
2 years ago

A fool and his money are soon parted.

That’s probably where the author got the idea that there is more money to be made from the ignorant than from the enlightened.

Educated people tend to be a lot less wealthy than you imagine. 

That, and the fact that there are so many fools and so few wise men.
2 0

css
2 years ago

As a fellow college educator, I can tell you it really is sad what these kids know (or don’t know) coming out of high school.  It’s not simply that they’re not taught basic American or European history, it’s that they lack the basic skills to understand what they are being taught.  I was no Einstein coming out of high school, but I damn sure knew how to recognize themes and metaphors. 

To give a short example, after a first batch of awful papers in an introductory history course last Fall, my TA and I scrapped an entire lecture and had to go through how to write a paper with a clear, argumentative thesis, a body and a conclusion.  The amount of questions and misunderstanding there was with even this BASIC method of writing a paper was disheartening to say the least. 
It’s so sad.  Though this is my first teaching position and it’s in the South, I can only be optimistic that its better elsewhere…?
24 0

amandamore
2 years ago

Yea,blame the victim.  Two choices:  1) Stay Upbeat.  To do that one has to either bury one’s head in the sand or be brought along in a sea of ignorance but at least you have company 2) Know our political choice is Candidate A or candidate B like choosing between General Electric and General Motors.  
>>>So, this is our new reality.  When the situation is hopeless then as per usual, blame the victim.
6 0

auralee
2 years ago

Knowledge is power.
— Sir Francis Bacon, Religious Meditations, Of Heresies, 1597 A modern economic system demands mass production of students who are not educated and have been rendered incapable of thinking.
– U.N.E.F. Strasbourg, On the Poverty of Student Life (1966).

Cui bono (To whose benefit)?– attributed by Marcus Tullius Cicero to Lucius Cassius Longina Ravilla, ca. 125 B.C.Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.– H.G. Wells, The Outline of History, vol. 2, chapter 41, p. 594 (1921)

It was too late to prevent the great Fall, but it was still possible, at least, to cut short the intermediate period of chaos.
– Isaac Asimov, Second Foundation, P. 87 (ed. Bantam June, 2004; first published 1953)
4 0

friendlier999
2 years ago

The polar bears are in fact dying out. Although deniers of global warming try to claim that the polar bear population can adapt to climate change because they have in the distant past, many scientists consider these theories to be naive. The International Union for Conservation of Nature recently wrote: “Polar
bears exhibit low reproductive rates with long generational spans. These
factors make facultative adaptation by polar bears to significantly
reduced ice coverage scenarios unlikely. Polar bears did adapt to warmer
climate periods of the past. Due to their long generation time and the
current greater speed of climate change, it seems unlikely that polar
bear will be able to adapt to the current warming trend in the Arctic.
If climatic trends continue polar bears may become extirpated from most
of their range within 100 years.”
1 0

johncdvorak
2 years ago

It’s a shame that in his list of memes Simic only shows right wing memes as if the left wingers have none. You know, like the Polar bears are all dying. The Republicans are the party of NO. The Bush tax cut was a tax cut for the rich (and presumably nobody else benefited). Mitt Romney gets his shoes shined on airport tarmacks. George Bush is an idiot. All Republicans are idiots, for that matter. I could go on.

Very unbalanced article. The theme is correct though.
15 2

Kooz johncdvorak
2 years ago

There’s no doubt the Republican party is anti-science (in membership, not mission). Jon Huntsman never stood a chance in his Presidential bid due, at least in part, to his honest approach to science.
19 0

Andrew Jones johncdvorak
2 years ago

tell me the name of a national office holding Republican who admits that climate change is man made, and an imminent problem.
35 0

Armidalm
2 years ago

Judging by many of the moronic and resentful comments posted here, it seems Mr. Simic hurt some thin egos.

The earth is flat, why such a belief makes me into an idiot? Oh wait, I am being persecuted by my beleifs!
25 0

TK6i
2 years ago

If one questioned Mr. Simic’s premise as too harsh an evaluation of our country today, one only need read the comments. It is easy enough to search for “Obama bank bailout” to find that President Obama did propose legislation to bailout the banks. As to ignorance on both sides, I believe that is implied by his discussion of the poor education of the children of the liberal elite that he teaches. Of course the most flagrant examples are on the right, since the Republican Party is the default party of choice for the ignorant. When Sarah Plain replaces Jeane Kirkpatrick and Newt Gingrich replaces Ken Waltz as representatives of your party, you have to expect your reputation to suffer. A key reason for our ignorance as a country is the fact both those on the left and right are consumed by the desire to prove the other side wrong, while those who truly run the country continue doing exactly as they please without concern for the best interests of the citizens of the US.
15 0

ThomHartmannRules
2 years ago

One wonders what plans Santorum, who says college is for snobs, has for Americans who wear glasses. 
13 0

Dustin Lee
2 years ago

“In the past, if someone knew nothing and talked nonsense, no one paid any attention to him.”

While I agree with the general thrust of this article–that our unchallenging curricula are producing uncritical thinkers–it is obtuse statements like the one quoted above that harm his argument. The first image that came to mind after reading this laughable statement was McCarthy, a bullshit factory so full of paranoia and loathing that he made Palin look like a carnival barker. America–indeed, human history–is full of these characters who prey to their advantage on the ignorant masses, and we do ourselves a disservice by ignoring this fact. Otherwise, good rant.
14 0

Jjom
2 years ago

The problem is not only in the US both seems to have spread accross all of the west civilization. The real question is how come we let this happen. Blaming it on technology is not the answer as tehnology is only a new way of dealing with knowledge.
3 0

Dbc3
2 years ago

With the notable exception of the egregious errors in the examples proffered, the article is spot-on. It IS absurd to call Obama a socialist, but that is not the proof of the absurdity. “Entitlement” HAS been turned into a pejorative. Had he only submitted the article for peer review I expect those would have been remedied. I am willing to commend him with a recommendation for  revision, for a well-thought and well-said (but poorly edited) commentary on the sad state of affairs we face with the systematic intentional dumbing down of the populace.
7 0

GM52246
2 years ago

There is no religious right for an employer to deny an employee not of that a religion a benefit because the employer disagrees with it. If your boss is a Christian Scientist, he cannot forbid you from going to the doctor, or prevent you from using medical insurance to pay for the doctor’s appointment. If you are injured in a car accident, and need a blood transfusion, and your boss is a Jehovah’s Witness, your boss does *not* have the right to prevent you from getting that transfusion. 

Catholic hospitals do not have the right to prevent their employees, many of whom are non-Catholic, from getting birth control–which insurance companies are perfectly happy to cover, because it’s cheaper than pregnancy–because the Catholic church doesn’t like it, any more than your Jehovah’s Witness boss has the right to stop your insurance company from giving you a life-saving blood transfusion. There’s no religious right to interfere in other, non-religious-people’s benefits. Your right to swing your fist ends where my face begins.
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28 0

Early David Ehlinger GM52246
2 years ago

“Your right to swing your fists ends where my face begins” is true in
both directions.

While it is certainly true that the Catholic church doesn’t have the right to prevent its employees from getting contraceptives, it is also true that employees of the Catholic church do not have the right to *force* the church to provide contraceptives to them.  It is further true that they do not have the right to delegate the use of force to the State, any more than the Catholic church can use the State to force you to attend mass, wherein you get ill from the overpowering stench of burning incense (true story: I just about threw up during mass while attending a Catholic high school).

Employees of the Catholic church have every right to purchase contraceptives on their own ($20-$50/month, or less than a typical cable TV subscription) while seeking employment with a like-minded employer.
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3 1

jeff
2 years ago

Bottom line is that there’s never been a Democratic candidate anywhere near as stupid as Santorum or Romney or Bush.
22 0

Kooz jeff
2 years ago

Santorum is an ignorant bigot, but Romney strikes me as more out of touch than stupid.
8 0

Iggyandj
2 years ago

Simic cuts through the chase like no other commentator today. Sadly, he can’t change the course of the current trend of intellectual degeneration. Too many are satisfied and benefit from this trend, and they control the dialog.
5 0

beleck3
2 years ago

social security is a trust fund workers pay into, not an entitlement. Gosh what is with you people? don’t facts matter? obviously, not.  and i bet you don’t know you only pay social security on the first $106, 000.00 dollars you earn.

if this is the REAL America, well. lol. it’s sad. to think Americans bought the lies for the last 40 years and still refuse to see their own suicide. talk about responsibility. own up to your own responsibility for the state of the country. though it is too late now. to think our children will inherit the wind sown by their parents.

sow the wind, reap the whirlwind. appropriate for the American who have been willingly destroyed this country.
glad i am not young anymore. too much hatred of the “other”.

sucking sound you hear is the money going into the Elites’ bank accounts, not yours or mine. Zombies 

but maybe this is a little too harsh for the REAL Americans who want to believe what they are told instead of finding out the REAL facts. so enjoy what you have done to yourself and this country.
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3 0

Avanti Sempre
2 years ago

Yee-gads — the author is almost as ignorant as the people about whom he complains. How else to explain the ignorance that underlies this absurd statement in his screed?

“Where else on earth would a president who rescued big banks from
bankruptcy with taxpayers’ money and allowed the rest of us to lose $12
trillion in investment, retirement, and home values be called a
socialist?”

Yowzer — TARP was passed by Congress at the request for President George W Bush several months before Barack Obama became president. And how preposterous is it to say that Barack Obama “allowed” the rest of us to lose $12T in investment?? You really think that President Obama set those forces in motion?? The author’s ignorance is almost as concerning as that of the ignorance displayed by the right wing . .  
27 0

ThomHartmannRules Avanti Sempre
2 years ago

Obama probably voted for the TARP and has allowed the Fed to give free money to the big banks for the past 3 years so they could charge 4% -30% interest on American consumers.  Obama also appointed Wall Streeters as his main economic advisors. ie Geithner let Wall St go wild under the Bush term.  
6 0

Bobd04 Avanti Sempre
2 years ago

 TARP was started under Bush and continued under Obama. There is also the matter of some $16 trillion made available to the largest banks under both administrations.

Bush put us in this situation, for sure. Obama had no problem keeping us here. Likewise the Bush era attacks on our constitutional rights, which have been kept in place and in many cases expanded under Obama.
6 0

Ponyjon Avanti Sempre
2 years ago

 You’re right, I agree with the author generally but that was a colossal misstatement of facts.  Thanks for pointing it out.
2 0

Max Avanti Sempre
2 years ago

Avanti – you completely missed the point. The author was pointing out how stupid people believe the statement you quoted. That was obvious…

I think you just made the author’s point of how people do not think.
8 0

B1kfd
2 years ago

Charles Simic is disseminating the selfsame propaganda he rails against. This article appears to have been written by either a supremely ignorant person, or one with an overwhelming political bias. 
12 0

Monty Johnston
2 years ago

While I share your flabbergastion, I see that America moving into the present, as it constantly tends to do, puts almost half our citizens these days almost over the edge. Thus the preposterous things they’re persuaded to believe. When we’re that upset we tend to get ourselves into several years of intensive psychotherapy, but the macho ethic rebels against seeing one’s own problems as one’s own problems. Also, review, please, wrongness; that in addition to stupidity, it can come from lying, ignorance, insanity, carelessness, gullibility, exaggeration, thinking of the black and white all or nothing variety, or from kidding and playing dumb. Most of these center on wanting to be wrong. Refer back to intensive psychotherapy. Or perhaps addictions recovery.
Best,
Monty Johnston 
1 0

rwordplay
2 years ago

Mr. Simic is a fine poet and one I deeply admire—in fact, I have MASTER OF DISGUISES on my desk at this moment. However his essay adds little new to discussion. It’s no stretch to admit that what made Hearst in his day, or Murdock, or even the Sulzbergers, in ours is a human propensity for simplicity.

Simic’s list is a poor one, a talking memo from any desk at MSNBC. The ignorance that prevails in America resides in the left  and right hemispheres of both the right and the left on the political spectrum and it is contagious. 

Last week, my wife and I had dinner with a Professor teaching at one of America’s ten-elite schools. The man all but wept at the ignorant and indifference of his student. Everyone privileged with a lifetime of opportunity, all who came to him with a their portfolios of Straight As and top Test Scores. All who had their resume padded with the most extraordinary extracurricular activities, enjoyed from the Arctic Circle to the Antarctic. Few possessed an original notion in their head. And yet no one of them could be said to subscribe to the items listed by Simic above.

They do hold to their own myths and false comparisons, just as Simic makes above concerning rates of incarceration and health care.  My friend’s student’s are not more clever than the children Simic condemns, just as Simic’s complaints make him a perfect complement to the stupid whom he condemns.

My unsolicited advice: Charles, your wisdom resides in your poems, leave prose to others.
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12 0

splicernyc
2 years ago

I will often if not always confront people who claim that the news media has a “liberal bias” by simply asking them to point out the bias they mention and to give me an example of how that story should have been framed to be more fair in their eyes. It is not surprising that I’m usually left standing with no answer.
43 0

jb splicernyc
2 years ago

 I’m also quite amused by how Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are never considered part of the Mainstream media, when they both have the highest ratings in their mediums.
10 0

MarkInOhio splicernyc
2 years ago

That’s the same result I get when I ask right-wingers to specify even ONE of the many “freedoms and liberties that Obama has taken away”. I have never gotten an answer to this, aside from “he’s going to take all our guns”.

I am amazed at how dull, slow-witted, and stupid (not to mention gigantically fat) most Americans are these days. We are now in the process of setting up the government such a populace deserves – a right-wing corporate fascist dictatorship.
11 0
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