I’m With Stupid

How could it happen?  How could we have elected a demagogue who threatens our welfare and that of the free world?   A leader who sells our cabinet posts and intends to destroy our system of governance?  The necessary precondition was an anti-intellectual culture.  Outside certain pockets of academia and research (and with apologies to the many educated for whom this does not apply), large sections of our society have immunized themselves from inconvenient critical analysis.

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Raphael – School of Athens

 

For a democratic society to work, the “demos,” the people must themselves be competent to govern or, at the least, be competent to judge the governing of others.   They must be literate, they must understand the basics of scientific method, and they must respect the search for truth.

The concept is not new.  Sir Francis Bacon, a father of modern science, observed:

“If any human being earnestly desire to push on to new discoveries instead of just retaining and using the old;… we invite him as a true son of Science to join our ranks.”
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Sir Francis Bacon

The benefits of our relatively free, industrialized society are the products of educated, motivated people who analysed and improved on the world as they found it.  The Founding Fathers were heirs to a European enlightenment that valued rational thought.  They saw the tyranny of a corrupt monarchy and they crafted a better system, one that allowed the input of a diversity of interests but with checks on the power of  tyrants.  The science of the industrial age brought us clever minds that struggled with nature’s laws, figured out how to generate power, and delved into the biologic laws underlying contagious disease.  Their successes testify to the infinite resourcefulness of the human mind and to the power of accessing truth.   I sit here typing on an amazing laptop.  I can speak in real time in a video chat with my daughter in Turkey.  These advances are the miracles of modern intellect.

So then, the question, how could this disconnect exist?    We benefit daily from the fruits of intellect and modern science.   Our teens walk hunched over their  Iphones.  Yet we seem  to care little for the underlying science.  We watch Kardashians but don’t know our true heritage, or the world beyond our borders.  We know about Tom Brady  – what a comeback! –  but ignore football’s chronic brain injuries.  Politicians pander to religious groups and align themselves with “faith-based” projects while ignoring modern science.  The Bible cited by fundamentalists has literary value, but to believe that the Bible explains how the universe was created or how the natural world works is ignorance.  Allowing any religious dogma to supersede modern scientific thought is simply dangerous.   And the malaise is actually deeper.   Some of the public are defiantly ignorant; they are proud that they don’t know and don’t care.   Yes, it’s more complicated.   And yes, Trump didn’t get a majority of the vote.  But that culture of ignorance got us Mr. Trump.

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