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Fight Back Against Anti-Intellectualism

June 20, 2015

This is something I feel to be very true and stated in the perfect way.  Over and over I have called attention to the strains of anti-intellectualism that runs deeper and deeper in our nation.  We need to be mindful of it, call it out when he see it, and work to defeat it in elections.  I saw anti-intellectualism surge nationally when President Bush (43) was in office and truly boil over the top in my state when Governor Scott Walker was sworn into office.  It is startling to see how small minds and limited thoughts can damage a state or the nation.

America is killing itself through its embrace and exaltation of ignorance, and the evidence is all around us. Dylann Roof, the Charleston shooter who used race as a basis for hate and mass murder, is just the latest horrific example. Many will correctly blame Roof’s actions on America’s culture of racism and gun violence, but it’s time to realize that such phenomena are directly tied to the nation’s culture of ignorance. 

In a country where a sitting congressman told a crowd that evolution and the Big Bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell,” (link is external) where the chairman of a Senate environmental panel brought a snowball (link is external) into the chamber as evidence that climate change is a hoax, where almost one in three citizens can’t name the vice president (link is external), it is beyond dispute that critical thinking has been abandoned as a cultural value. Our failure as a society to connect the dots, to see that such anti-intellectualism comes with a huge price, could eventually be our downfall.  

In considering the senseless loss of nine lives in Charleston, of course racism jumps out as the main issue. But isn’t ignorance at the root of racism? And it’s true that the bloodshed is a reflection of America’s violent, gun-crazed culture, but it is only our aversion to reason as a society that has allowed violence to define the culture. Rational public policy, including policies that allow reasonable restraints on gun access, simply isn’t possible without an informed, engaged, and rationally thinking public.

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What Americans rarely acknowledge is that many of their social problems are rooted in the rejection of critical thinking or, conversely, the glorification of the emotional and irrational. What else could explain the hyper-patriotism (link is external) that has many accepting an outlandish notion that America is far superior to the rest of the world? Love of one’s country is fine, but many Americans seem to honestly believe that their country both invented and perfected the idea of freedom, that the quality of life here far surpasses everywhere else in the world.

But it doesn’t. International quality of life rankings (link is external) place America barely in the top ten. America’s rates of murder (link is external) and other violent crime dwarf most of the rest of the developed world, as does its incarceration rate (link is external), while its rates of education and scientific literacy are embarrassingly low (link is external). American schools, claiming to uphold “traditional values,” avoid fact-based sex education, and thus we have the highest rates of teen pregnancy (link is external) in the industrialized world. And those rates are notably highest where so-called “biblical values” are prominent. Go outside the Bible belt, and the rates generally trend downward (link is external).

As this suggests, the impact of fundamentalist religion in driving American anti-intellectualism has been, and continues to be, immense. Old-fashioned notions of sex education may seem like a relatively minor issue to many, but taking old-time religion too seriously can be extremely dangerous in the modern era. High-ranking individuals, even in the military (link is external), see a confrontation between good and evil as biblically predicted and therefore inevitable. They relish the thought of being a righteous part of the final days.

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