Uninformed Americans

July 28, 2006 By: erik Category: Media, Politics, USA, Voting 1,294 views

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I found the following two articles interesting.

Polls Show Many Americans are Simply Dumber Than Bush
by Paul Craig Roberts, Jan 29, 2006

The American People Are Pretty Sharp (And Other Leading Myths of Democracy)
The Daily Howler, Jul 26, 2006

Thanks to Jake for pointing me to the first one. Once you get to “Part 2” of the second one, you can stop if you want. The author gets kind of ranty.

What we have here is a major crack forming in the keystone of democracy. People are sheep, whether we like it or not. Everyone feels more comfortable when they are doing what everyone else is doing, wearing what everyone else is wearing, and walking like everyone else is walking. It’s in our nature. It’s an invaluable evolutionary strategy to not stand out from the herd.

As young children, we question everything. “Why is grass green?” “Why do I have to go to bed?” After attempting to answer a few of these, depending on the patience of the parent, eventually the child arrives at “Because it just is!” and “Because I said so!” This is completely natural. It’d be inefficient to seek a full answer to every little “I wonder” thought that occurs to a developing child. And so, in the interest in gaining more knowledge more quickly, a child has to accept some things as true.

Throughout school and church, children are fed information that they are told to process as the authoritative truth. Asking too many questions or pointing out contradictions is frowned upon and ridiculed. We are taught not to question authority. Not only that, but the line between fact and myth is horribly blurred. How many American children (and adults for that matter) believe that the Pilgrims actually sat down at a long table and had a feast with some Native Americans or that George Washington really cut down a cherry tree? Facts are interspersed with myths, all coming out of the teacher’s mouth.

Once you reach adulthood and you have a job and children of your own, not only are you so used to assimilating what you hear as fact, but you don’t have the free time to check up on what you hear. If the nightly news anchorman says that there are WMD in Iraq and that Saddam has elaborate secret plans to annihilate your country, and then you hear the same thing over and over again on other news channels, the radio, the newspaper, etc., you’re going to accept that as fact. We have a blind faith that the journalists are doing their research and reporting facts accurately. And this faith is necessary if we are to believe anything at all about the world, because we have no other sources of information.

I think that the blame the current state of political America and, through its actions, the entire Muslim world, rests almost entirely on the shoulders of the journalists. It’s one thing for the rest of us to act like sheep and accept information given to us as fact, but it’s the journalists’ job to do the investigating for us! We’re too busy making money so we can buy their newspapers and the products advertised during their broadcasts to pay them. How can we be expected to elect a decent leader if all the journalists just parrot each other without checking facts or interviewing Constitutional experts that will explain to us why these “anti-terrorism” laws are bad for us?

A democracy is only as good as the information its people are given.

  • Paul

    I don’t want to exonerate the journalists, but I think you are putting too much on their shoulders. Accepting things you hear over and over again as factual is tempting. Only critical thinking skills combat this. What happened to American critical thinking?

    Fundamentalist regligion didn’t help. Many a 10 year old has been told “You are asking too many questions. Eventually, you just have to decide if you believe or you don’t.” It turns out that true faith requires abandoning critical thinking.

    I remember when “truth in advertising” was law. TV commercials could no longer tell you things that couldn’t be supported by facts. My guess is that few Americans know there is no truth in advertising law anymore. I wouldn’t be surprised if a poll showed that 35% of Americans think that geico lizards can talk.

    A democracy is only as good as the critical thinking skills of its people.

  • I posted this blog entry as a story on kuro5hin.org. It got voted down, but while the voting was taking place, I got some interesting comments. The best, of which, was this one by a fellow that apparently using carriage returns to separate sentences rather than periods. I will reproduce the content of the comment here:

    ever hear of yellow journalism?
    by circletimessquare on Fri Jul 28, 2006 at 03:43:40 PM CET

    this is from the mid 1850s

    it’s exactly like today

    you have historical myopia if you think things are “getting worse”

    no: media bias is not getting worse, and media bias is not getting better. it just IS! it’s static across all time, all nations, all cultures, and won’t ever go away

    the war of 1898 was started when the uss maine was sunk in havana under dubious conditions, and newspapers in new york basically manufactured nationalist outrage to declare war on spain

    i’m certain some media scholar could find an example of something just like this in the 1700s, the 1600s, the 1500s, etc…

    in every country

    in every era

    i fully expect my great grandchildren to be reading in the year 2152 about the dastardly deeds of vanuatu and why palau should declare war on them… and it’s all horseshit mind manipulation

    dude: none of this shit is new, welcome to the human condition

    it’s not depressing, it’s just reality

    are you depressed you have to sit on a porcelain throne every day and create feces?

    i am, it sucks

    do i get depressed about it? no, it’s just reality, what is my emotional reaction supposed to result in?

    so don’t be depressed!

    it’s not like this shit doesn’t have an antidote: deal with it by fighting for people’s hearts and minds as you see they should be fought for, just as partisans always have

    i am a partisan

    so are you

    admit your own lack of impartiality, set yourself free of the contraints that you somehow fight for “The Truth” ™

    bullshit! you have your beliefs, fight for them! don’t depend upon some magic impartial media to fight for your beliefs for you!

    don’t depend upon some mirage of media impartiality that never was and never will be

    and don’t think you yourself are beyond taint

    none of us are

    fight for your beliefs, and don’t depend upon fantasies of some impartial arbiter of truth out there, espcieally not something that would come from a governmental body! (where else would this “impartial” arbiter of media “neutrality” come from?)

    you don’t even realize it, but what oyu are arguing for is something like china, or iran, where governmental bodies created to preserve media “impartialty” exist

    and you KNOW what that really is!

    it’s called censorship

    humankind is a big shit pile of random voices

    the way to arrive at a better world is to let all of it speak, unimpeded and unhindered

    a giant darwinistic competition of ideas

    that is how “truth” is arrived at