This quote below by the late cosmologist Carl Sagan (1934-1996) encapsulates what’s currently wrong with America.
We’ve increasingly become a sound-bite nation, interested in the mindless but exciting quip while being lazily uninterested in the deeper, essential meaning and consequences of the ideas we embrace and repeat. Understanding, alas, takes effort and focused thought.
Sagan characterized this spasm of national unseriousness as a “dumbing down” of the populace and “a kind of celebration of ignorance.” And he observed the decline some years ago, even before it plummeted down a really slippery slope.
Indeed, the national ethos of glorified know-nothingism begins at the top with a president who is strikingly incurious about the world and has said he doesn’t trust others’ knowledge
“They’re making a mistake, because I have a gut and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me,” President Trump told the Washington Post in 2016, complaining that the Federal Reserve was not adjusting interest rates to his liking at the time.
In other words, he trusts his instincts over expert opinion, which derives from material knowledge obtained over long years of practical learning about complex topics, such as national economic dynamics.
Such instictualism is the equivalent of a fundamentalist Christian who claims to experience the presence of God despite zero irrefutable proof having ever been presented that such beings exist — and despite a lot of common-sense evidence that they don’t.
It is a subcategory of anti-intellectualism, the same ideological impulse that ultimately resulted in the slaughter of millions of Cambodians by doctrinaire Communists, specifically the educated but reviled elite. The same elite-loathing bias is now infecting America, where Right Wing conservatives don’t want to hear about how society is organically evolving, about growing acceptance of same-sex marriage and transgendering, for example, because it either instinctively disgusts them or they believe it is denounced by God in the Bible. The don’t want to thoughtfully discuss the merits and demerits of a difficult issue, instead choosing, for instance, to watch talking-head bigots Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson rage against the “others” on inherently biased Fox News.
But it’s a “tell” that he didn’t say “working class” instead of “poorly educated.” He believes poorly educated people rely on their instincts, on their gut feelings about the world as he does, not knowledge learned in books. He sees them as kindred spirits — but dumber ones he can manipulate and control.
“I love the poorly educated,” Trump said in 2016, lauding working-class-voter support after his presidentiual election victory.
In fact, the president doesn’t want people to use their heads too rigorously, because they might then immediately see through the gauzy tissue of lies and false inuendo that completely overlays his administration.
This kind of insensibility to reality, to facts and evidence, is the danger that Sagan was warning about those years ago — “the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media … credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstitions.”
And bald-faced lies presented as unassailable truth by the leaders of our country.
Supernatural religious institutions and influence exist because people use their hearts, not their heads, to “think” — and their hearts tell them that an omnipotent being out there loves them and is orchestrating their lives in the best way possible. No need for actual thought; everything’s already been predetermined.
Except it hasn’t, as anyone who has every made an ignorant mistake knows.
So, tomorrow, read the whole story in your newspaper or on a reputable online news or views site, almost anywhere but Fox. Learn the details of an issue, the nuances, the important elements that make thoughtful, well-considered choices and decisions difficult but also supportable and realistic.
Listen to what fair-minded people think who disagree with your views. Try to comprehend varied points of view, to celebrate the primacy of useful knowledge over divisive, ill-considered instinct.
Learn that ignorance is your mortal enemy, not your friend.
As you watch and listen to the president, note that everything he does and says proves he holds the opposite view. In fact, your ignorance is his best friend.