Monday, December 01, 2008

The ignorance if frightening

If you have watched The Tonight Show with Jay Leno very often you have probably seen the segment called “jaywalking”. In this segment, Leno interviews people on the street, the objective of which is to find humor in showing how ignorant people are. The questions Leno ask his subjects may be something like, “What two countries fought in the Spanish-American war?” or, “What does Bush 43 mean?” It is quite funny. Few people have the self-confidence, or whatever it takes, to say “I don’t know.” Most people take a guess or make something up. (If you would like to view some jaywalking segments, click here: Jaywalking.)

I have laughed along with the audience and enjoyed it but found myself amazed that people could be so ignorant. I have wondered if the producers did not have to shoot hours and hours of footage to be able to compile five minutes of dumb answers that they could show on TV. I know I don’t personally know anyone as ignorant as the people you see on jaywalking.

Occasionally however, I run into people who will spout some pretty ignorant stuff. Once I was at a family gathering and said something about a recent trip my wife and I taken to Spain and a distant in-law asked me if we drove or we flew to Spain. She was a teenager and I assume she was of normal intelligence. Occasionally, I will encounter people who I suspect are probably really dumb but I really don’t know if for a fact. Sometimes someone will make a comment that is a generalization about a country or ethnic group that displays a bigotry that I assume is rooted in ignorance. I will also occasionally hear someone say something about the age of the earth or something about geography or history that will show his or her ignorance.

The press release from Intercollegiate Studies Institute posted below is really disturbing. I am astonished that less than half of the people surveyed can name all three branches of the government. I would expect every person of normal intelligence to know that.

We live in an era when it has never been easier to be informed. We have the world at our fingertips. Cable TV has cultural and educational programs carried on channels like The History Channel and The Learning Channel and there are several stations carrying news and commentary twenty-four hours a day.

I watch a lot of Book TV. On Book TV, every weekend you can watch scholars discuss their research and expound on the topic of which they are expert. I watch CSPAN and am often impressed at the brilliants of some of our representatives. I remember watching the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominees and felt like I was sitting in the presence of very wise men. Even those men and women with whom I disagree, when they questioned the nominee I felt like they were asking meaningful questions and showing a depth of knowledge. They were not merely playing “gotcha.” they were probing to discover fine philosophical nuances. We can sit in the presence of greatness every day if we wish. We have opportunities they were once reserved for the very few.

With the availability of the Internet, the knowledge that in the past could only be acquired by sitting in a university classroom or spending hours in a major library can now be obtained in minutes wherever you may be, whenever you wish. We have never in the history of mankind had as much information available so cheaply and easily. And yet, I wonder if the average person is any better educated than their great grandparents.

The lack of knowledge and understanding of basic economics, history, and civics is frightening. It is worrisome to think that the fate of our country and our freedom is in the hands of people who cannot name even one right or freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment. It is scary to think that these people vote. Not only do they vote, they get elected to public office. Given the ignorance of such a large segment of the public, I wonder how long we can remain free.

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  1. Learn to think for yourself. Otherwise, someone else will do your thinking for you.

    In turn, you will simply become a cog in the machine, and you'll be used by others, in one way or another.

  2. Great post, Rod. And to think that a lot of these people get to wade into a voting booth and pull a lever. Woe is us.

  3. Great post. Sadly, I have to say I've heard Obama himself say some ridiculous things.

    When asked about privatizing Social Security, he said something like this: "You can't expect people to invest their money in stocks--what if they wake up one morning and the stock market is down several hundred points."

    That's not an exact quote, but you get the idea.

    Is that what he thinks private investing is? Putting money in random stocks? Doesn't he know that most balanced investing plans will make 12% a year? I was just appalled at his argument.

    OK, rant is over.

  4. What really worries me about Obama is that he thinks William Ayers is the go to guy for improving education in Chicago!