SHAME

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.

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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.
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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.
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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.

23 thoughts on “SHAME”

  • Part of it is that the collective "They" don't actually realize just how much scorn is being heaped on them by the rest of the country. Run of the mill moderates are saying "this is fucking stupid," and a lot of mainstream Republicans are too, though you'd never know it by the lack of condemnation from their elected officials. I think part of it is that they live in echo chambers of their own creation. Liberals, especially on the interwebs, but also those who don't pay much attention to the netroots, are fairly aware of what Rush Limbaugh is saying, what Fox News is saying, etc. So many of us turn those things on for pure entertainment value, just to gawk. But I'd argue that the average Fox News Glenn Beck acolyte doesn't have a damn clue who Rachel Maddow is beyond "she's that dyke on the MSNBC lie'brul news station, let's make funna her cause she's gay!"

    It happens on a regional level, too. I live in Augusta, GA (for the moment, which is a moment too long), and you would not believe the white privilege, wingnut hysteria that happens among those who would consider themselves the upper crust! The most known "journalist" in the city is a dick who wants to be the next Rush Limbaugh, and he freely admits that he dropped out of college, and plays the "I'm not that smart, so maybe you BIG SMART LIBERALS can teach me something!" card on a daily basis. Of course, it has the desired effect, with those who admire him clucking like the batshit fowl they are in agreement with him, against those "liberal elitists." This is a man who, the very day before Mark Sanford announced to the nation that he was, in the paraphrased words of one of the Wonkettes, "fingering millions of ladies in South America, THE VERY DAY BEFORE, published a slobbering column entitled "Mark Sanford for President!", wherein he argued that it was a testament to Mark Sanford's utter control of the state of South Carolina that he was able to duck out without telling anyone to hike the Appalachian Trail. The liberals in Augusta (all five of us) had a good laugh watching him put his foot in his mouth and twist it around that day, but did the columnist learn a fucking thing? Hell, no!

    Anyway. Welcome to fucking Georgia.

  • "I don’t mean to idealize the past," — but ironically, it is the anti-intelligentsia who are doing just that. Back in the pre-Watergate/Vietnam era, we trusted the bright boys, who unfortunately were directed by a bunch of powerful, un-bright boys. Trust was lost. What's good for GM is good for America — no longer. They miss trusting other people to do their thinking for them.

    "…why aren’t people ashamed of being uneducated or flat-out stupid anymore?" There are two problems at work here: the stupid people have realized that being intelligent doesn't make you moral OR ethical, and therefore think that intelligent people are not capable of being either; and the smart people, who know they are smart and therefore don't need to prove themselves to be moral, ethical, OR intelligent to the populace. Democracy is the only fair option, but it is still a popularity contest among people of ALL levels of intelligence. Education is the only way to resolve this problem, I think.

    I agree about the TMI, but the current populace can't even be troubled to educate themselves to the point of being able to vote for people who can make their decisions for them.

    As you have read Brave New World, let me point out one thing: 1984 falls apart because oppressed people rebel; BMW works because people can't say 'no' to pleasure and ease — including letting other people make their decisions for them. It's so much easier than thinking, self-education, and discernment — none of which is essential to survival anymore.

  • Ladiesbane, you cite the exact reason why I always found BNW much scarier (and more believable, electro-bumble-puppy and all) than 1984. I had some students read it last year, and I think that perhaaaaps they were Not Ready For That Jelly, as most of them seemed to think Soma was AN AWESOME IDEA OMG.

    siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh.

  • If only stupidity and geography were so tightly linked, there might be some hope for containment. However, here in reliably Democratic Maryland we have the jaw-dropping example of the Harford County school system declining to air the speech on the grounds that "it might not fit in well with the curriculum." Yeah, I bet not.

  • There's some truth to all this; however, I think Ladies' has hit the nail on the thumb with his comments. People like being told what to do and how to think. It's so much easier than doing the hard work. Thinking (like writing) is harder than it seems – all those choices and decisions. When you're tired and scared, being told what to believe is a huge relief. That way you don't have to do the evidence-sifting and reasoning that (for example) our last President found to be such hard work. "God said it, I believe it, that settles it" becomes not just a creed for religious beliefs, but basically everything in life. God says that Muslims are evil and should be destroyed? OK. Allah says that Christians are evil and should be destroyed? OK. God says that the Scary Black Socialist-Fascist Anti-Christ False-President intends to destroy our country? OK. God says that the Anti-Democratic Party is basically well-meaning and reasonable? OK. Eventually, nothing is too far-fetched to be taken on authority: [God] says that the Jews brought down the Twin Towers? [God] says that Aliens are abducting our neighbors and mutilating our cattle? OK.. Even simple choices are so much easier when one is pre-chosen for you. Being confronted with claims backed by evidence becomes incredibly threatening – you're going to take my security away and throw me into the stormy ocean of uncertainty!
    I don't think it's stupidity so much as immaturity. We all get older, but many of us never actually grow up.

  • I find it interesting how the conservative and liberal roles keep flip flopping over time – if President Eisenhower had decided to give this speech to school children, the conservatives would have been hollering from the roof tops about how anyone who didn't want to watch it was a communist.

  • Ed –

    I'm pretty much in agreement with everything you said. but it strikes me that there is something deeper, more insidious and more evil going on. I don't have a name for it, or even a particular concept in mind. I feel like we're living in a horror movie, and just about to find out what the monster is like.

    JohnR –

    Yup. Read the first 35 pages of "THE CONSERVATIVE MIND" by Russell Kirk. He is proud (!) that conservatism is built on ignorance and prejudice,

    Mark –

    I was just thinking that never before, since the invention of television, has there been a time when an address to schoolchildren by the president would have any kind of negative backlash.

    This is all so frightening.

  • I feel like we’re living in a horror movie, and just about to find out what the monster is like.

    This is probably not what you were thinking, but I find a lot of the "not my president" style backlash this time around to be highly driven by racism, specifically the "but my best friend is black" kind.

    If Obama was white there would still be this type of backlash, but I feel his race is playing a very strong role in the extremeness of what's going on. Clinton never had it this bad.

    It's like the combination of bad economic times, a black president, a liberal president, and Rush Limbaugh has caused some sort of Moronic Wingnut Planetary Alignment needed to give us the circa 2009 wingnuttia teabag faux outrage we are experiencing right now.

  • I think one of the saddest parts about this is how disrespectful it is to the office of the president. I have to imagine that most kids think it is exciting to hear the president speak (whether or not it's boring after 5 minutes). Just the idea of sitting quietly and listening to what the president has to say is a lesson in itself for small children.

    I had the misfortune of seeing a few mintues of FOX News this weekend – it was shameful. After seeing that, it makes complete sense how this kind of thing happens – people whipped into a frenzy without really thinking about what they are doing.

  • Hasn't there always been a steady strand of anti-intellectualism in the mental life of America? Isn't an (unfounded) skepticism of knowledge and rationality a near-constant in American history? It may have come from the early Protestant, indeed Calvinist roots of its founders — the pilgrims, not the Founding Daddies of the Age of Reason. Christian wahhabists are distinguished by a mistrust in the higher faculties, the powers of the mind. If sola fides, faith alone will save you, what good is knowledge? He of slow wit but pure heart is more likely to go to heaven than the egghead of wobbly virtue.

    Put more bluntly, the real problem is not the rise of ignorance, but the persistence of religion, the mother of all superstitions — including the notion that knowledge doesn't matter.

  • Hey, just to come to the defense of "1984" –yes, people can easily give up their autonomy and control if provided enough pleasure, but consider the state we're in now – thousands upon thousands of people losing their jobs and homes is not a Utopia – and when people get scared, and were ignorant to begin with, they can easily be persuaded to hate – for two minutes or for however long Beck's show is- some straw man. You can confuse them by twisting facts around because they are can't really keep things straight – Eurasia, Eastasia, what's the diff, as long as I have someone besides myself to blame. And manipulate words until they are meaningless – or until they have been completely eradicated from existence (right now, "freedom" is what teabaggers think they are fighting for, but in "1984" it was a word – and concept – on its way out. )

    And, per a commenter above, forget Eisenhower – if George W. Bush had ever decided to address schoolkids to talk about "freedom" and stuff, it probably would have been a violation of the Patriot Act to not allow your kids to listen.

  • I guess it rather depends on what you mean by too much information, but to me the issue has several strands, one of which is the greater authoritarianism in the culture present today. The one I think I will highlight though is popular culture and advertising. When I was a on the plains of South Dakota 35-40 years ago, I don't remember much advertising was aimed at children and teens, further there weren't many TV shows and movies aimed at the "youth's" version of being young. Today our popular culture is aimed at centered around being and remaining immature or at least young. As such the peer pressure of teenhood never really goes away. Because of this non-conformity to the established teen poles of behavior. Few of these lowest common denominator poles really include anything about intelligence, while many (particularly the advertising heavy areas) value ignorance.

  • They wrap their stupidity in patriotism, when it is really all about RACISM, RACISM and then some MORE RACISM. They are stupid, angry, toothless, shotgun-toting hillbillies who are raising the next generation of same. If they bother to vote at all, they vote for corprate ass-kissing scum who have nothing but contempt for them and who will not hesitate to screw them up the ass at every opportunity. BUT….the corporate ass-kissing scum are WHITE and MALE…and that's about as far as the morons can see. As long as they tell them they can keep their FREEDOM, their GUNS and the MONEY that they imagine they have, well that thar's a righteous dude.

  • Teabagger: "Well like I said, there is no problem with the message it's the lessons plans that encourages students to reveal personal information about themselves by participating in the lessons that the teachers are putting forth for them and that's illegal…. When the teachers ask in a questionnaires or they encourage the students to reveal information about their goals that delves into the psyche of the children and under code 34 of the federal regulations that's illegal." Interviewer: "You must be kidding me. Do you not want kids to be talking about what they want to be when they grow up?" ~ Instaputz.

    It's the depth of stupidity and the vapid lack of self-awareness that's horrifying.

  • Agree totally with Ed's Sister. There's an increasingly disturbing trend to avoid giving the office of the President it's due respect. It may have started with President Clinton's downfall and rolled forward with President Bush's stupidity, but all in all, the highest-office-in-the-land's title (and due respect) gets left out of the conversation more and more as time goes on. Every single time I hear some pundit say "Obama" instead of President Obama, I cringe. Love him or hate him, the majority of us voted for him. Can't we give him credit for that much and call him the title that was beside his name on the ballot? Back in the day, my parents required us to watch ANY presidential speech, regardless of party, if for nothing else, to press us into thinking about what he said and how it affected us.

    Not that I'd ever wrap myself in some kind of patriotic flag, but he's our President, we should ALL be listening, regardless. Perhaps respect has simply disappeared altogether. I

  • displaced capitalist says:

    Kiki: They're not toothless hillbillies, they're your neighbors. They live everywhere and fit most every income bracket. Only requirement for them is that they gotta be White. Yes, even in California or Massachusetts.

  • but it strikes me that there is something deeper, more insidious and more evil going on. I don’t have a name for it, or even a particular concept in mind. I feel like we’re living in a horror movie, and just about to find out what the monster is like.

    It's called "fascism".

  • displaced capitalist: I understand that stupidity comes dressed in many different disguises. But underneath the three piece suit is still the toothless hillbilly….it's the mentality, not the physical appearance.

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