You may have seen segments on late-night TV where hosts go out on public streets and ask passersby questions like, “What’s the capital of Italy?” Or “In what continent is Australia?” Later, when given the correct answer, the responder says, “Wait, you mean Australia is a continent?” The audience roars with laughter. Is this funny or embarrassing? Our ignorance is mind boggling. How can we have the so-called best education system in the world and yet have so many uninformed people?
And things are getting worse. Now we see people proud of their ignorance openly castigating experts in their fields. The number of anti-vaxers during the height of the pandemic was astounding. After millions of Americans were vaccinated, they still doubted the experts, refused to protect themselves, and put others in danger.
Early election returns have Sarah Palin ahead for the Alaska congressional seat vacated by Representative Don Young (R) who died earlier this year. This is the case even though she was unable to name a single newspaper that she read when she was ran for vice president on the GOP ticket with John McCain. Her lack of foreign affairs knowledge during the debates was beyond frightening. Enter Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) who speaks of “Peachtree dishes” and “Gazpacho police.”
This is a particularly frightening phenomenon given that public officials, who are supposed to consult experts and determine appropriate laws, are incapable or resistant to making informed thoughtful decisions.
And then there are those policy makers who have Ivy League educations but refute facts and create alternative realities to explain away truths when the facts present themselves. Ted Cruz (R-TX, Princeton, and Harvard Law) said guns were not the problem in the recent school shootings in Uvalde. Instead, he suggested that shooters can be stopped by locking all but one door and posting guards at schools. Immediately after the January 6 insurrection, fist-pumping Josh Hawley (R-MO, Stanford, and Yale Law) voted not to certify Biden’s election, even after no election fraud was detected. Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL, Yale, and Harvard Law) stirred up a big brouhaha about critical race theory, all the while knowing that it was not a big issue in Florida schools’ curriculums. So why did these three take such positions knowing that the facts did not substantiate their points of view? To play to their base—saying what they knew their base wanted to hear, taking calculated positions to ensure their reelections.
Many young people today do not read newspapers or watch any news programs. They get their information from the Internet, social media, Facebook, TikTok and various chat rooms. Many of them do not read substantive books. When they pick up a book, it is some fantasy escape or manga cartoon.
This social media obsession has created an environment where Americans skim the surface of critical issues, develop uninformed opinions and then mock experts who explain in detail the various permutations of different subjects. (Just remember the hatred the masses had for Dr. Fauci.) We have now reached a point where we are proud of our ignorance and refer to those who have done the “deep dive” on particular subject as “elitists.”
This is a dangerous situation. America seeks to be entertained rather than informed. The inane premises of some recent TV shows are depressing. A new TV show premiering on ABC is called The Final Straw where apparently four teams of contestants pull items from towers of kitchen appliances and basketballs. The winning team is the one whose tower stands the longest. Seriously? Also, speaking of inane TV, on The Masked Singer, Palin was disguised as a bear and Giuliani was a Jack-in-the-Box.
We live in a world of increasing complexity. We must trust scientists, engineers, doctors, who are experts in their various fields. Do these experts sometimes get it wrong? Absolutely. But, at the end of the day, do they know more than average citizens about the issues at hand? Yes. It is the height of ignorance to celebrate ignorance and mock intellectualism. When you do not believe in climate change, even when presented with indisputable facts (Death Valley, CA reached a record high of 130 degrees.) When you continue to believe the election was stolen, even when recount after recount proves otherwise. When you believe lies scripted by QAnon about secret Satanic child-sex trafficking rings or Marjorie Taylor Greene’s false claims that more votes were cast than there were voters in Pennsylvania. Or that straight people face extinction. Or Paul Gosar’s (R-AZ) claim that the Texas shooter was a “transsexual illegal alien,” let us admit that we have issues.
Yes, some may laugh at the insanity of these comments. But we are heading to a seriously bad place, and the rest of the world is watching.
To quote Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov, “Above all, do not lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect, he ceases to love.”
How close are we to that exact situation today? Please, America take heed.
Maria Grant was principal-in-charge of a federal human capital practice at an international consulting firm. While on the Eastern Shore, she focuses on writing, reading, piano, gardening, and nature.