Jonathon Gatehouse, a Canadian writing in MacLean’s magazine, diagnoses what is wrong with America. He correctly identifies the deep anti-intellectual strain in American culture, though I think he wrongly believes that it’s a recent development.
Charles Darwin’s signature discovery—first published 155 years ago and validated a million different ways since—long ago ceased to be a matter for serious debate in most of the world. But in the United States, reconciling science and religious belief remains oddly difficult. A national poll, conducted in March for the Associated Press, found that 42 per cent of Americans are “not too” or “not at all” confident that all life on Earth is the product of evolution. Similarly, 51 per cent of people expressed skepticism that the universe started with a “big bang” 13.8 billion years ago, and 36 per cent doubted the Earth has been around for 4.5 billion years.
The American public’s bias against established science doesn’t stop where the Bible leaves off, however. The same poll found that just 53 per cent of respondents were “extremely” or “very confident” that childhood vaccines are safe and effective. (Worldwide, the measles killed 120,000 people in 2012. In the United States, where a vaccine has been available since 1963, the last recorded measles death was in 2003.) When it comes to global warming, only 33 per cent expressed a high degree of confidence that it is “man made,” something the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has declared is all but certain. (The good news, such as it was in the AP poll, was that 69 per cent actually believe in DNA, and 82 per cent now agree that smoking causes cancer.)
If the rise in uninformed opinion was limited to impenetrable subjects that would be one thing, but the scourge seems to be spreading. Everywhere you look these days, America is in a rush to embrace the stupid. Hell-bent on a path that’s not just irrational, but often self-destructive. Common-sense solutions to pressing problems are eschewed in favour of bumper-sticker simplicities and blind faith.
All true, but nothing new. Richard Hofstadter identified this more than 50 years ago in his book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. What has changed is the degree to which such ignorance and preference for simplistic, bumper sticker ideas now translates into political influence and public policy. Today’s Republican party has been pretty much taken over by it.