The Triumph of Ignorance

In your own language

Eduardo del Buey
Foto: Reuters
La Jornada Maya

Martes 18 de julio, 2017


In 1980, the late scientist and author Isaac Asimov said that, “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."

Today, that cult of ignorance is being celebrated in different ways by a large minority of Americans; (1) those who voted for Trump, those who adhere to his ideas (whatever they may be at any given time) and who attack experts and revere those who expound ideas and narratives clearly wrong but fitting into a pre-conceived vision of the world that rejects scientific facts and believes that the past was paradise and can be reproduced, and (2) those who have allowed themselves to abstain from participating in the political process and didn’t exercise their democratic right to vote.

That Trump expounds ignorance and celebrates the fact that he “loves the undereducated” is a sad fact of life. That he sees his mission as that of sustaining and promoting ignorance rather than giving people the tools to educate themselves and develop as human beings and citizens, is pathetic.

Sadder still are those politicians and pundits who defend his views, legitimize his lies and preach them in the media and on the political stage. People like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell should know better. People like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who were belittled by Trump, and who criticized Trump’s lack of policies and reason not too long ago, should not be defending him now.

Saddest of all is that the Republican political class, who once viewed Trump as anathema to its values, now trip over each other to justify the man’s ridiculous tweets, baseless attacks, and nefarious accusations. They support his lies, legitimize his ignorance, and propagate a vision of the United States that ill serves Americans or the world.

Enabling lies is not political leadership. Fomenting ignorance is not the role of the serious politician, journalist, or media outlet.

Policies must be based on facts, not references to scriptures or the rantings of fools. Issues such as climate change and foreign policy are too important to be left in the hands of those with little knowledge or wisdom. Lying by political leaders and media pundits must be condemned, not glorified.

The media have their responsibility as well in legitimizing ignorance.

CNN and others, often perceived as the voices of reason, should not give platforms to such Trump shills as Kayleigh McEnany, Jeffrey Lord, and Kellyanne Conway. They should not be on panels with such eminent US thinkers as Carl Bernstein and Allan Dershowitz unless they are held to account for their false statements. Their presence on these panels legitimizes ignorance and puts it on par with intelligence and knowledge. It makes their ignorance the equivalent of other people’s proven expertise and wisdom – a sad reflection of the level to which the US political and media class have sunk and continue to sink.

Many will say legitimizing and enabling ignorance is an unfortunate by-product of our 24/7 news cycle, and of the need to fill the airways with noise and to increase revenues through higher ratings. Yet one watches BBC news, CTV and CBC News in Canada, TV5 in France, TVE in Spain, and others, and one sees that, in many cases, media can be and are more careful to separate the wheat of intelligence from the chaff of lies and ignorance.

Forward looking education policies can reduce the level and impact of ignorance on society and help to create an intelligent and well-informed electorate. This takes leadership with vision and commitment to produce an intelligent electorate. The appointment of Betsy De Vos as Education Secretary does not bode well in this regard.

For the media to play to the lowest common denominator to increase revenue is an insult to professional and independent journalism.

For political leaders to encourage ignorance among voters and create and implement policies based on ignorance may well be a recipe for disaster in the next elections, especially if educated, moderate thinking voters, of which many did not vote last time, don’t turn up to vote yet again this next time.

[email protected]