Monday, September 3, 2012

The Great Power of Ignorance

In America today, the declining Empire of the 21st century, we have an extremely polarized electorate. There are only two viable political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, which harbor opposite views on a number of key issues. Some samples:

(A) Christian creationism is as plausible an explanation as evolution (R: Yes, D: No)

(B) The scientific consensus that global warming is primarily human-caused is part of a “liberal conspiracy” (R: Yes, D: No)

(C) Abortion should be outlawed even in the case of rape or incest (R: Yes, D: No)

(D) Cutting taxes on the wealthy will help us all (R: Yes, D: No)

(E) Everyone should have affordable healthcare guaranteed through the government (R: No, D: Yes)

(F) Government programs that help the poor and needy should be shrunk down or eliminated (R: Yes, D: No)

There isn’t a lot of room for compromise and it seems that, in terms of many specific issues, one party is right and the other party is wrong. The media often portray both parties as equally to blame and equally dysfunctional. But it seems likely that one of the two is especially problematic and a threat to sane discourse itself.

If this is so, what are the implications? It means tens of millions of Americans are mired in ignorance and stubbornly in denial about it. They fight fiercely and talk mightily, framing specious arguments or more often blasting out supercharged rhetoric; but no matter how certain they are, or convincing to many, or how ardently they portray their cause, they are perpetrating harm to our moral progress as a nation, and undermining reasonable argument as a tool of debate.

Sadly, history tells us this is a common condition. Humans are susceptible to mass prejudice that not only promotes cruelty, inequality and injustice but which also stands impervious to logic. Today in the USA, we are caught in this psychological trap.

It is probably already clear which side I think is the purveyor of ignorance--and yet which denies its own internal sickness, blaming the “lazy” poor for their own suffering and even death (40,000 Americans die each year due to lack of health insurance, according to a Harvard study).

The Republicans have long been masters of demagoguery, harnessing the unconscious (and sometimes conscious) racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia of their constituency.

Here is Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winner on the subject:

For decades the G.O.P. has won elections by appealing to social and racial divisions, only to turn after each victory to deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy — a process that reached its epitome when George W. Bush won re-election by posing as America’s defender against gay married terrorists, then announced that he had a mandate to privatize Social Security. (“Severe Conservative Syndrome”)

A careful or even casual look at GOP policies reveals that they serve to further the power of the wealthy by harnessing the anger of their target group, which is primarily white (and overwhelming male in leadership). This skullduggery has led to the wealthy becoming much wealthier (and hence more influential) while the rest of America has stagnated or sunk. There has been a lot of such sinking, too, as the middle class dwindles away.

I’m out of time, so I’ll end with this quote from an article by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein in the Washington Post:

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. (“The Republicans are the Problem”)

I’m very much afraid for the future of reason. Whatever foothold it has made in our society is slipping away under the assault of a powerful propaganda machine. The Republican-controlled Supreme Court recently legalized unlimited campaign donations for TV ads. A crucial victory for Avarice, and its dark minion Ignorance, over the light of intellect.


1 comment:

  1. Watching from across the sea, I'm always worried about US politics. it makes UK politics seem almost sane