Jeff Daniels Says Jim Carrey ‘Dumb & Dumber’
And now to our Ebola/election year present… Evangelical control of the right wing has fused with secular stupidity to create a perfect storm of willful ignorance. Our American reaction to the Ebola “crisis” is the actual crisis.
The hysteria surrounding the Ebola “issue” is the perfect lens to look at ourselves through. What we see exposed is the root cause of both our failed religious and secular anti-education “cultures.” What we see is how the glorification of ignorance is being manipulated in this election year.
There have been nine cases of Ebola in the USA, so far. Everyone but one Liberian immigrant is alive. In other words for Americans, Ebola is not a crisis. Yet Ebola is a useful election year tool when foisted on a public that can’t find West Africa on a map.
America is a proudly ignorant country. In fact the very kind of general knowledge education that could mitigate the impact of something like our Ebola hysteria has been attacked.
For instance, thousands of schools responded to the reading and math testing requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind by President Bush by cutting subjects other than math and reading. No more art, history or social studies or geography.
Universities too have dispensed with humanities in favor of more “useful” subjects. Corporate America wants drones and workers, not people educated in the humanities. Colleges are now little more than trade schools.
This has been a mistake. “Useless” general knowledge is like the useless salt marshes that mitigate the effects of tidal surges: when they’re gone coastal cities get swept away.
These days the teach-to-the-test mentality is what our whole culture is about. On the secular side it goes: Forget art. Head for Silicon Valley or Wall Street. On the religious side it goes: Forget science, head for Bible school. Collectively we have as it were, paved over the salt marshes of our minds.
We’re about utilitarian values. Americans don’t “do” knowledge of the world and culture for its own sake. Self-inflicted ignorance is what we’re proud of and have been since the Puritans decided that high art—all that culture and king stuff, say Shakespeare–was of the devil. They ran away from sophisticated court life in Europe and embraced commerce, church and farming instead. Sure they also started Harvard… but as a seminary.
That anti-knowledge prejudice continues. It is now full blown anti-fact prejudice in evangelical circles. As I show in my new book WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace, science is particularity scary to evangelicals. And the far right GOP/Tea Party caters to Christians who fear science, the world and knowledge (say that global warming is real) in general.
Evangelicals live in a parallel culture. Home school, church and Christian college are used as a defense against truth, facts and reality. The publishing houses, TV and radio networks provide a Twilight Zone-style alternate reality in which to feel safe from “the world.” Evangelical leaders like Ken Ham, David Barton and James Dobson have have both created and profited immensely from this subculture.
Ham created “Answers in Genesis,” on the premise that the Bible trumps actual knowledge. His Creation Museum, pits the Bible against what he calls “the fleeting notions of human reason,” in other words truth.
And this “Our Truth” v. their truth mentality has infected all right wing politics, even on secular issues. Our truth says there is no man made global warming. Our truth says Obama isn’t an American. Our truth says gays choose to be “that way…” And now our truth says Ebola is the judgement of God, proof government doesn’t work, Obama’s fault and another reason to close the country to immigration. Franklin Graham even said Ebola is further proof we’re in the “End Times.”
In evangelical home schools by the millions science is treated as toxic. Meanwhile in the secular public schools education has been mugged by corporate utilitarianism.
In the public schools the focus on math and reading only as “education” is like a scene from Huxley’s “Brave New World.” The “Drones” are prepared for a working class life by literally being shocked into hating art and beauty. A desire to know more than what’s needed for work would distract them from mindless servitude.
So too our educational system no longer prepares future drones to do more than take menial jobs at one end of the economic spectrum or head for Silicon Valley startups, at the other end. In either case soul food is out, greed and/or mere survival, is in.
Schools that once offered full curriculum have systematically cut courses including social studies, science and art. The practice is called “narrowing the curriculum.”
This narrowing has also been self-inflicted by us adults on ourselves. It is the flip side of the American education coin of anti-science evangelicals offer.
If Americans, both secular and religious went to the art museum more than to church or the Apple Store, if they read for pleasure and traveled a bit to places other than Disney World or the Creation Museum… here’s some of what they’d know that would put the Ebola “crisis” in proportion:
- Compared to the Plague in Europe the “Black Death” Ebola is nothing. The Black Death was a real pandemic. 75 to 200 million people died in Europe in the years 1346–53. No need to panic. Jesus didn’t come back then, he won’t now, this too shall pass…
- We actually live in relatively peaceful times. ISIS is a blip, war is a constant, read about the Muslim invasion of Europe and the conquests that brought about the collapse of the Sassanid Empire and a great territorial loss for the Byzantine Empire compared to a few terror attacks now… we’re all still here…
- Poetry and art combine to address our constant fear of death… we humans have been there done that for eons, there’s nothing new here, there are no “game changers” just us… plodding on…
- If the British had reacted to Hitler’s bombing of London the way we overacted to 9/11 the entire city of London would be one vast memorial…
- The malaise the set in after 9/11 is nothing. Read about World War I. Read the poems from doomed men when over 16 million deaths and 20 million wounded decimated the male population of Europe… for nothing… now that’s a crisis! As Wilfred Owen wrote in “Anthem for a Doomed Youth”
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
–Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them from prayers or bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,-
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
We don’t have time for poetry in our schools. Instead we entertain ourselves to death with trivial media. And/or we hide from the world in the evangelical subculture. Either way we are focused on “basics.” To the evangelicals those basics are Jesus and biblical “inerrancy.” To the secularists preparing kids for the “jobs market” rather than educating them the basics are bare bones reading and math mitigated by crap entertainment and video games.
We concentrate on economic issues—if it won’t make money what’s the use?—at the expense of art, general knowledge, reading, travel, history, geography and all the rest of what it means to live as if you have a soul. Or we concentrate on the destiny of that soul–heaven or hell–as if the material world is a mere inconvenience.
Enter Ebola hysteria as our rare moment of truth when provable facts go out the window with a big assist from the media and political leaders. Our irrational hysteria is a picture of the future awaiting a country divided between teach-to-the-test slaves to corporate America that just wants workers, and La,La Land evangelicals who think Jesus is on the way back any day now, so who cares about anything else?
The Fox News-style of apocalyptic-fantasy-as-entertainment and political manipulation of a dumbed-down population, is our future. Without the general knowledge of culture and other “useless stuff” there’s no buffer between us and outright lies. Without a dedication to facts above theology on the one hand a a dedication to culture above utilitarian material need on the other we’re in trouble.
When some health care workers heroically traveled to help stem the actual Ebola outbreak, as opposed to our pretend “crisis,” after returning to America some face mandatory quarantine… even if they test negative for the disease. This slap at science, civil liberties and actual heroism was illustrated by what happened to nurse Kaci Hickox. She worked with Doctors Without Borders, in Sierra Leone. Then she was quarantined in Newark… after testing negative. Later, in Maine, there was a state trooper stationed outside the house where she was subsequently incarcerated.
Willful ignorance of the world we live in is exploited by people with elections to win. Meanwhile history, art, art history, music, humanities and other “non-essentials” are cut. Evangelicals fear culture and secular educators are dispensing with education in favor of grooming workers for corporate America.
The reaction to Ebola is just the tip of the iceberg. What lies beneath the surface is the growth of a population–both secular and religious–so cut off from general knowledge that we can barely process actual information.
As I said, the reaction to the Ebola “crisis” is the actual crisis.
We have been warned about what the 24/7 cable news world combined with the idolatry of the Bible and/or material Fortune 500 “values” will do to our willfully ignorant population as we’re misled by opportunistic politicians. They’re counting on our stupidity and perpetual fear.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book —WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace