People that read here know I am frustrated with many American people, mostly my redneck brethren in the SE USA. Of course, anyone that appears as dumb as the followers of McCain and especially Palin… anyone willing and ready to fall for their pretended knowledge on subjects when every indication and utterance from their mouths betrays any such perceived intelligence, is lacking somehow. But what is it?
I have constantly said it was brainwashing, but after reading the article that Chris Hedges wrote at TruthDig and presented at AlterNet, I may need to change my rationale (at least the basis of it). This, too, fits with BuelahLady’s estimation that I am not your regular Joe who gets the TV sound bites and that I spend most of my day reading and studying the subjects that I believe are the most prescient issues facing us today (while most people are seemingly oblivious to those issues).
This explains so much to me. It causes great concern, but also gives me hope.
We live in two Americas. One America, now the minority, functions in a print-based, literate world. It can cope with complexity and has the intellectual tools to separate illusion from truth. The other America, which constitutes the majority, exists in a non-reality-based belief system. This America, dependent on skillfully manipulated images for information, has severed itself from the literate, print-based culture. It cannot differentiate between lies and truth. It is informed by simplistic, childish narratives and cliches. It is thrown into confusion by ambiguity, nuance and self-reflection. This divide, more than race, class or gender, more than rural or urban, believer or nonbeliever, red state or blue state, has split the country into radically distinct, unbridgeable and antagonistic entities.
I can tell this has merit in my everyday interactions with people, many who are a whole lot smarter and more “educated” (book smarts) than I. However, upon retrospection, very few of my everyday encounters are with people who are well-read or have a focus of knowledge that is much wider than their area of expertise (Specialists, as it were).
But, in the overall scheme of things in political life of the USA, there just aren’t too many people who have a wide array of study and they seem to become the ones most interested in the “sound-bite” political world that permeates us today. I ask myself why and Chris provides some interesting information that may well answer the question.
There are over 42 million American adults, 20 percent of whom hold high school diplomas, who cannot read, as well as the 50 million who read at a fourth- or fifth-grade level. Nearly a third of the nation’s population is illiterate or barely literate. And their numbers are growing by an estimated 2 million a year. But even those who are supposedly literate retreat in huge numbers into this image-based existence. A third of high school graduates, along with 42 percent of college graduates, never read a book after they finish school. Eighty percent of the families in the United States last year did not buy a book.
But it wasn’t always this way, so I must wonder what happened? Is it intentional? Are we “stupider”? Are we brainwashed? Are we less caring about history or truth? Are we so complacent in our fast-food world that we don’t care to know the truth about the candidates or are willing to accept the fast paced TV world as truth, when it is so easily shown to be bullshit in most cases?
The fact is that before the MSM and especially TV, we were a smarter group involved in politics. It is evident in historical speeches read today. What has happened, it seems, is that the more Americans that vote, by and large, the less well-read (or even illiterate) we are. This is obvious where I live (SW TN) since I have heard so many make claims about Obama being a Muslim, a terrorist, etc, etc.
No basis in fact and only heard from the ultra right-wing fools in media.
The Princeton Review analyzed the transcripts of the Gore-Bush debates, the Clinton-Bush-Perot debates of 1992, the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960 and the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. It reviewed these transcripts using a standard vocabulary test that indicates the minimum educational standard needed for a reader to grasp the text. During the 2000 debates George W. Bush spoke at a sixth-grade level (6.7) and Al Gore at a seventh-grade level (7.6). In the 1992 debates Bill Clinton spoke at a seventh-grade level (7.6), while George H.W. Bush spoke at a sixth-grade level (6.8), as did H. Ross Perot (6.3). In the debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon the candidates spoke in language used by 10th-graders. In the debates of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas the scores were respectively 11.2 and 12.0. In short, today’s political rhetoric is designed to be comprehensible to a 10-year-old child or an adult with a sixth-grade reading level. It is fitted to this level of comprehension because most Americans speak, think and are entertained at this level. This is why serious film and theater and other serious artistic expression, as well as newspapers and books, are being pushed to the margins of American society. Voltaire was the most famous man of the 18th century. Today the most famous “person” is Mickey Mouse.
I had an encounter with my next door neighbor recently, where he pulled out some highschool books and started to tell me how smart he was and how well he did in school (he is in his early twenties, no job, twins and no insurance). As I was following along in his description of knowledge, it occurred to me that “this guy don’t know shit”. He showed me his Spanish book and workbook and his “good grades”. I asked him to speak Spanish with me (I am very limited… I took French in HS) and the guy could not even read the sentences he had written.
Sorry, but truth hurts. He didn’t “learn” a damned thing about Spanish. Hell, it is damn near forty years since I took French and I remember more than he does.
And of course I didn’t say what I was thinking because I was trying desperately to understand why he thought he was so smart… so educated… yet couldn’t speak a sentence in Spanish to me and it has only been a couple of years since he took an entire year of Spanish.
As we descend into a devastating economic crisis, one that Barack Obama cannot halt, there will be tens of millions of Americans who will be ruthlessly thrust aside. As their houses are foreclosed, as their jobs are lost, as they are forced to declare bankruptcy and watch their communities collapse, they will retreat even further into irrational fantasy. They will be led toward glittering and self-destructive illusions by our modern Pied Pipers–our corporate advertisers, our charlatan preachers, our television news celebrities, our self-help gurus, our entertainment industry and our political demagogues — who will offer increasingly absurd forms of escapism.
The core values of our open society, the ability to think for oneself, to draw independent conclusions, to express dissent when judgment and common sense indicate something is wrong, to be self-critical, to challenge authority, to understand historical facts, to separate truth from lies, to advocate for change and to acknowledge that there are other views, different ways of being, that are morally and socially acceptable, are dying. Obama used hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign funds to appeal to and manipulate this illiteracy and irrationalism to his advantage, but these forces will prove to be his most deadly nemesis once they collide with the awful reality that awaits us.