As we hear wingnuts on the fringes of sanity explode in a predictable pant-shitting rage over the President's address to American school children today, I am filled with two emotions: pity and shame. I feel pity for children who are being raised by these parents, as they have almost no hope of growing up to be useful members of our society, and I feel shame for the parents because they are so clearly incapable of feeling ashamed of themselves.
There was a time in our nation's history at which adults were ashamed of being ignorant or uneducated. Not universally, of course – there is and always has been a devoted following for the No Fancy Book Learnin' ideology. But social mores are funny things. While fifty years ago one might have beaten one's children in public without a second thought or smacked the wife around the house without so much as a disapproving look from the neighbors, making a complete idiot out of oneself in a public forum was a major social faux pas. Standing up at church or at a town hall meeting and saying something ridiculous made one look like an ass. Today it's both expected and condoned, encouraged by call-in radio and anonymous internet soapboxes. In America v.2009 we (almost) universally condemn spousal or child abuse, but the right to be an uneducated embarrassment to society is inviolate. There was a time at which "Stay in school so you don't end up a goddamn retard making minimum wage to clean out grease traps" might have been an uncontroversial or perhaps even welcome message from an elected official. Today is not that time.
I don't mean to idealize the past, but why aren't people ashamed of being uneducated or flat-out stupid anymore? Why did we spend two centuries begging, cajoling, and threatening parents into sending their children to school only to turn around and glorify a "movement" advocating the legalized child abuse under the guise of homeschooling? Why do we applaud people for having the courage to stand up at town hall meetings and yell histrionic nonsense at the top of their lungs? Why do people so confidently interject in discussions of issues about which they know nothing? Why aren't we humiliated to have the neighbors think we are completely ignorant of facts and unable to piece together a coherent argument in the same way we're humiliated to have them think we're poor?
As usual I return to my Brave New World argument; the problem is too much information. Too much information produces idiots. When reality and the truth are buried in a daily tsunami of bullshit, informing oneself becomes a crapshoot. We have news networks reporting news that isn't true or is horribly distorted. We have unlimited access to primary source information, but that is counterproductive as often as not, giving us gullible loners who think watching YouTube videos of 9/11 makes them experts who have done a lot of "research" and vapid celebrities who read Wikipedia or quack websites to become authorities on autism. In other words, people aren't ashamed of being idiots because they don't think they are. They consider themselves terribly well informed, and they are. They are chock full of facts that aren't true, biased interpretations of reality, and information they are unable to understand correctly or put in context.
We think we are getting smarter as we're getting dumber. We're so dumb as a nation that stupid people don't even stand out anymore, and stupidity is so widespread that we don't even remember what it sounds like to hear something intelligent. Like the protagonist in a moralistic fable, we've become too stupid to realize how stupid we are.