I came across two interesting articles that tied in to the Charleston shooting and related gun control
debates discussions endless non-starters currently in the news. Both articles made valid points, and at the same time seemed to me to be missing one key ingredient that would really drive their message home.
The first article, David Niose’s Anti-Intellectualism is killing America in Psychology Today, does a great job of describing the root causes of hate, racism, violence and other social dysfunctions on a cultural “embrace and exaltation of ignorance.”
“In a country where a sitting congressman told a crowd that evolution and the Big Bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell,” where the chairman of a Senate environmental panel brought a snowball into the chamber as evidence that climate change is a hoax, where almost one in three citizens can’t name the vice president, it is beyond dispute that critical thinking has been abandoned as a cultural value. Our failure as a society to connect the dots, to see that such anti-intellectualism comes with a huge price, could eventually be our downfall.”
Niose’s article was compelling in itself. But following after it was Ravi Chandra M.D.’s rebuttal, also in Psychology Today: No, Self-Centeredness Is Killing America. Ravi argues that racism, hatred, etc, are effects of an even deeper cause: We are very, very self-centered and therefore we believe our own snuff.
“Evolutionarily speaking, as biologist E.O. Wilson has pointed out, we think in terms of in-group and out-group. As long as we are defensive with our group affiliations (racial, religious, national, gender), hatred will be inevitable. Defensiveness occurs on the individual, synaptic level (the amygdala’s reactions to threat), but is propagated and reinforced by sociocultural forces that surround us—from movies and pop culture to neighborhoods to, yes, social media.”
Both articles are worth a full read. But as I read them, one common thread among these arguments quickly occurred to me: That the elements Niose and Chandra are highlighting—anti-intellectualism, self-centeredness—just happen to be exactly the opposite of the key elements that were originally considered the heart and soul of our emerging country.
The tenets of American democracy were founded on an intellectual method of establishing fair and malleable laws, created by learned individuals based on their knowledge of their constituents, and ratified by the votes of an informed public. And America itself was founded on the concept that all men were created equal, and that all Americans would work together to sustain a nation Of the People, By the People and For the People. United we stand, Divided we fall was the mantra of our United States of America.
And according to Niose and Chandra, we have completely abandoned the intellect and togetherness that founded this country, and have instead come to embrace intentional ignorance and selfishness. Americans have abandoned what it means to be American.
It’s pretty hard to argue the point. Today this country is controlled by an incredibly rich and powerful few, who buy, bribe and order around politicians to keep themselves in power and wealth, no matter the consequences to the country… and control media and commercial venues to promote their point of view, obscure opposing points, and provide endless distractions to keep most Americans from thinking about them in the first place. They outright encourage ignorance and self-centeredness, because nothing works so well to keep them in power but lack of knowledge of what they are doing and lack of organization to challenge them. Meaningful debates get broken down into catchy but meaningless sound bites that generate constantly-circular arguments, guaranteeing indecision on the street and inaction in official circles while the powerful control their agenda and make their profits behind closed doors. (You wonder why we’re still debating gun control in America? Or why we’re still powering our country with oil and not fighting tooth and nail to reverse climate change? Boom.)
And the collateral damage is seen on the news every day: Ideology-based murders, lack of needed supplies for emergencies, under-financed government departments, lack of affordable healthcare, under-equipped and over-expensive schools, deadlocked governments, global warming, disinformation in the news, bread and circuses in the media, and the latest scheme to hand our hard-earned dollars into their banks to make more money for them.
Is this the inevitable result of the American experiment: Creating a nation that functions only when people use their brains and work together… then giving them ample opportunities to do neither? Will we recover from this anti-intellectualism and self-centeredness in time to recover our country?
Or is the Manifest Destiny of the United States to be taken over by some other country that steps up, grabs the reins and tells us: “You had your fun. Now it’s time for responsible people to drive.”
Well, if that is what happens, don’t fret. Chances are, we won’t actually notice for years.