This is the root cause of the current crisis in America, and the primary reason I do not think an absolute, violent collapse into political and social chaos is impossible.
The collapse of common-sense ethics is also related to this. The worst of the neo-confederates, corporate grifters, and patriarchal fundamentalists simply do not believe that facts matter. The Civil War was about “a tariff,” lower taxes encourage investment, the Founders were Christian theocrats. All of these easily refuted notions would be laughed out of the public arena if more people applied reason and logic or even believed that reason and logic were important. Instead we see them repeated ad nauseum and millions eagerly lap them up until they are major factors in public policy.
The tragedy in Charleston last week will no doubt lead to more discussion of several important and recurring issues in American culture—particularly racism and gun violence—but these dialogues are unlikely to bear much fruit until the nation undertakes a serious self-examination. Decrying racism and gun violence is fine, but for too long America’s social dysfunction has continued to intensify as the nation has ignored a key underlying pathology: anti-intellectualism.
America is killing itself through its embrace and exaltation of ignorance, and the evidence is all around us. Dylann Roof, the Charleston shooter who used race as a basis for hate and mass murder, is just the latest horrific example. Many will correctly blame Roof’s actions on America’s culture of racism and gun violence, but it’s time to realize that such phenomena are directly tied to the nation’s culture 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,” (link is external) where the chairman of a Senate environmental panel brought a snowball (link is external) into the chamber as evidence that climate change is a hoax, where almost one in three citizens can’t name the vice president (link is external), 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.
In considering the senseless loss of nine lives in Charleston, of course racism jumps out as the main issue.But isn’t ignorance at the root of racism? And it’s true that the bloodshed is a reflection of America’s violent, gun-crazed culture, but it is only our aversion to reason as a society that has allowed violence to define the culture. Rational public policy, including policies that allow reasonable restraints on gun access, simply isn’t possible without an informed, engaged, and rationally thinking public.