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The Conspiracy of Ignorance: The Christian Right


John Simkin
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Interesting article by George Monbiot on how the Christian Right took over control of the US government:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/20...ama-bush-mccain

How these gibbering numbskulls came to dominate Washington

How was it allowed to happen? How did politics in the US come to be dominated by people who make a virtue out of ignorance? Was it charity that has permitted mankind's closest living relative to spend two terms as president? How did Sarah Palin, Dan Quayle and other such gibbering numbskulls get to where they are? How could Republican rallies in 2008 be drowned out by screaming ignoramuses insisting that Barack Obama was a Muslim and a terrorist?

Like most people on my side of the Atlantic, I have for many years been mystified by American politics. The US has the world's best universities and attracts the world's finest minds. It dominates discoveries in science and medicine. Its wealth and power depend on the application of knowledge. Yet, uniquely among the developed nations (with the possible exception of Australia), learning is a grave political disadvantage.

There have been exceptions over the past century - Franklin Roosevelt, JF Kennedy and Bill Clinton tempered their intellectualism with the common touch and survived - but Adlai Stevenson, Al Gore and John Kerry were successfully tarred by their opponents as members of a cerebral elite (as if this were not a qualification for the presidency). Perhaps the defining moment in the collapse of intelligent politics was Ronald Reagan's response to Jimmy Carter during the 1980 presidential debate. Carter - stumbling a little, using long words - carefully enumerated the benefits of national health insurance. Reagan smiled and said: "There you go again." His own health programme would have appalled most Americans, had he explained it as carefully as Carter had done, but he had found a formula for avoiding tough political issues and making his opponents look like wonks.

It wasn't always like this. The founding fathers of the republic - Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton and others - were among the greatest thinkers of their age. They felt no need to make a secret of it. How did the project they launched degenerate into George W Bush and Sarah Palin?

On one level, this is easy to answer. Ignorant politicians are elected by ignorant people. US education, like the US health system, is notorious for its failures. In the most powerful nation on earth, one adult in five believes the sun revolves round the earth; only 26% accept that evolution takes place by means of natural selection; two-thirds of young adults are unable to find Iraq on a map; two-thirds of US voters cannot name the three branches of government; the maths skills of 15-year-olds in the US are ranked 24th out of the 29 countries of the OECD. But this merely extends the mystery: how did so many US citizens become so stupid, and so suspicious of intelligence? Susan Jacoby's book The Age of American Unreason provides the fullest explanation I have read so far. She shows that the degradation of US politics results from a series of interlocking tragedies.

One theme is both familiar and clear: religion - in particular fundamentalist religion - makes you stupid. The US is the only rich country in which Christian fundamentalism is vast and growing.

Jacoby shows that there was once a certain logic to its anti-rationalism. During the first few decades after the publication of The Origin of Species, for instance, Americans had good reason to reject the theory of natural selection and to treat public intellectuals with suspicion. From the beginning, Darwin's theory was mixed up in the US with the brutal philosophy - now known as social Darwinism - of the British writer Herbert Spencer. Spencer's doctrine, promoted in the popular press with the help of funding from Andrew Carnegie, John D Rockefeller and Thomas Edison, suggested that millionaires stood at the top of a scala natura established by evolution. By preventing unfit people being weeded out, government intervention weakened the nation. Gross economic inequalities were both justifiable and necessary.

Darwinism, in other words, became indistinguishable from the most bestial form of laissez-faire economics. Many Christians responded with revulsion. It is profoundly ironic that the doctrine rejected a century ago by such prominent fundamentalists as William Jennings Bryan is now central to the economic thinking of the Christian right. Modern fundamentalists reject the science of Darwinian evolution and accept the pseudoscience of social Darwinism.

But there were other, more powerful, reasons for the intellectual isolation of the fundamentalists. The US is peculiar in devolving the control of education to local authorities. Teaching in the southern states was dominated by the views of an ignorant aristocracy of planters, and a great educational gulf opened up. "In the south", Jacoby writes, "what can only be described as an intellectual blockade was imposed in order to keep out any ideas that might threaten the social order."

The Southern Baptist Convention, now the biggest denomination in the US, was to slavery and segregation what the Dutch Reformed Church was to apartheid in South Africa. It has done more than any other force to keep the south stupid. In the 1960s it tried to stave off desegregation by establishing a system of private Christian schools and universities. A student can now progress from kindergarten to a higher degree without any exposure to secular teaching. Southern Baptist beliefs pass intact through the public school system as well. A survey by researchers at the University of Texas in 1998 found that one in four of the state's state school biology teachers believed humans and dinosaurs lived on earth at the same time.

This tragedy has been assisted by the American fetishisation of self-education. Though he greatly regretted his lack of formal teaching, Abraham Lincoln's career is repeatedly cited as evidence that good education, provided by the state, is unnecessary: all that is required to succeed is determination and rugged individualism. This might have served people well when genuine self-education movements, like the one built around the Little Blue Books in the first half of the 20th century, were in vogue. In the age of infotainment, it is a recipe for confusion.

Besides fundamentalist religion, perhaps the most potent reason intellectuals struggle in elections is that intellectualism has been equated with subversion. The brief flirtation of some thinkers with communism a long time ago has been used to create an impression in the public mind that all intellectuals are communists. Almost every day men such as Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly rage against the "liberal elites" destroying America.

The spectre of pointy-headed alien subversives was crucial to the election of Reagan and Bush. A genuine intellectual elite - like the neocons (some of them former communists) surrounding Bush - has managed to pitch the political conflict as a battle between ordinary Americans and an over-educated pinko establishment. Any attempt to challenge the ideas of the rightwing elite has been successfully branded as elitism.

Obama has a lot to offer the US, but none of this will stop if he wins. Until the great failures of the US education system are reversed or religious fundamentalism withers, there will be political opportunities for people, like Bush and Palin, who flaunt their ignorance.

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:lol:
Interesting article by George Monbiot on how the Christian Right took over control of the US government:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/20...ama-bush-mccain

How these gibbering numbskulls came to dominate Washington

How was it allowed to happen? How did politics in the US come to be dominated by people who make a virtue out of ignorance? Was it charity that has permitted mankind's closest living relative to spend two terms as president? How did Sarah Palin, Dan Quayle and other such gibbering numbskulls get to where they are? How could Republican rallies in 2008 be drowned out by screaming ignoramuses insisting that Barack Obama was a Muslim and a terrorist?

Like most people on my side of the Atlantic, I have for many years been mystified by American politics. The US has the world's best universities and attracts the world's finest minds. It dominates discoveries in science and medicine. Its wealth and power depend on the application of knowledge. Yet, uniquely among the developed nations (with the possible exception of Australia), learning is a grave political disadvantage.

There have been exceptions over the past century - Franklin Roosevelt, JF Kennedy and Bill Clinton tempered their intellectualism with the common touch and survived - but Adlai Stevenson, Al Gore and John Kerry were successfully tarred by their opponents as members of a cerebral elite (as if this were not a qualification for the presidency). Perhaps the defining moment in the collapse of intelligent politics was Ronald Reagan's response to Jimmy Carter during the 1980 presidential debate. Carter - stumbling a little, using long words - carefully enumerated the benefits of national health insurance. Reagan smiled and said: "There you go again." His own health programme would have appalled most Americans, had he explained it as carefully as Carter had done, but he had found a formula for avoiding tough political issues and making his opponents look like wonks.

It wasn't always like this. The founding fathers of the republic - Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton and others - were among the greatest thinkers of their age. They felt no need to make a secret of it. How did the project they launched degenerate into George W Bush and Sarah Palin?

On one level, this is easy to answer. Ignorant politicians are elected by ignorant people. US education, like the US health system, is notorious for its failures. In the most powerful nation on earth, one adult in five believes the sun revolves round the earth; only 26% accept that evolution takes place by means of natural selection; two-thirds of young adults are unable to find Iraq on a map; two-thirds of US voters cannot name the three branches of government; the maths skills of 15-year-olds in the US are ranked 24th out of the 29 countries of the OECD. But this merely extends the mystery: how did so many US citizens become so stupid, and so suspicious of intelligence? Susan Jacoby's book The Age of American Unreason provides the fullest explanation I have read so far. She shows that the degradation of US politics results from a series of interlocking tragedies.

One theme is both familiar and clear: religion - in particular fundamentalist religion - makes you stupid. The US is the only rich country in which Christian fundamentalism is vast and growing.

Jacoby shows that there was once a certain logic to its anti-rationalism. During the first few decades after the publication of The Origin of Species, for instance, Americans had good reason to reject the theory of natural selection and to treat public intellectuals with suspicion. From the beginning, Darwin's theory was mixed up in the US with the brutal philosophy - now known as social Darwinism - of the British writer Herbert Spencer. Spencer's doctrine, promoted in the popular press with the help of funding from Andrew Carnegie, John D Rockefeller and Thomas Edison, suggested that millionaires stood at the top of a scala natura established by evolution. By preventing unfit people being weeded out, government intervention weakened the nation. Gross economic inequalities were both justifiable and necessary.

Darwinism, in other words, became indistinguishable from the most bestial form of laissez-faire economics. Many Christians responded with revulsion. It is profoundly ironic that the doctrine rejected a century ago by such prominent fundamentalists as William Jennings Bryan is now central to the economic thinking of the Christian right. Modern fundamentalists reject the science of Darwinian evolution and accept the pseudoscience of social Darwinism.

But there were other, more powerful, reasons for the intellectual isolation of the fundamentalists. The US is peculiar in devolving the control of education to local authorities. Teaching in the southern states was dominated by the views of an ignorant aristocracy of planters, and a great educational gulf opened up. "In the south", Jacoby writes, "what can only be described as an intellectual blockade was imposed in order to keep out any ideas that might threaten the social order."

The Southern Baptist Convention, now the biggest denomination in the US, was to slavery and segregation what the Dutch Reformed Church was to apartheid in South Africa. It has done more than any other force to keep the south stupid. In the 1960s it tried to stave off desegregation by establishing a system of private Christian schools and universities. A student can now progress from kindergarten to a higher degree without any exposure to secular teaching. Southern Baptist beliefs pass intact through the public school system as well. A survey by researchers at the University of Texas in 1998 found that one in four of the state's state school biology teachers believed humans and dinosaurs lived on earth at the same time.

This tragedy has been assisted by the American fetishisation of self-education. Though he greatly regretted his lack of formal teaching, Abraham Lincoln's career is repeatedly cited as evidence that good education, provided by the state, is unnecessary: all that is required to succeed is determination and rugged individualism. This might have served people well when genuine self-education movements, like the one built around the Little Blue Books in the first half of the 20th century, were in vogue. In the age of infotainment, it is a recipe for confusion.

Besides fundamentalist religion, perhaps the most potent reason intellectuals struggle in elections is that intellectualism has been equated with subversion. The brief flirtation of some thinkers with communism a long time ago has been used to create an impression in the public mind that all intellectuals are communists. Almost every day men such as Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly rage against the "liberal elites" destroying America.

The spectre of pointy-headed alien subversives was crucial to the election of Reagan and Bush. A genuine intellectual elite - like the neocons (some of them former communists) surrounding Bush - has managed to pitch the political conflict as a battle between ordinary Americans and an over-educated pinko establishment. Any attempt to challenge the ideas of the rightwing elite has been successfully branded as elitism.

Obama has a lot to offer the US, but none of this will stop if he wins. Until the great failures of the US education system are reversed or religious fundamentalism withers, there will be political opportunities for people, like Bush and Palin, who flaunt their ignorance.

Interesting article and I don't fault what it contains, but it seems to be missing the connection to exactly how rightwing Christian Fundamentalism took over and many other reasons for the 'dumbing-down' of America. Hollywood and TV were part of it. A culture that values someone for what they have in money and things and not in their minds or hearts - nor the ethics of how they came by that money and things. Decades of lowest-common-denominator propaganda, advertising, PR, etc. Being an intellectual in the USA is looked down upon by most - with the exception of other intellectuals [and here I mean those of both natural intellectual curiosity with no formal education, as well as those with lots of formal education. An education system to make good robots for the corporate structures - even highly educated in ONE field - but no broad education in history, philosophy, ethics, nor cultural things - let alone other fields than their own. A society that finds little good about the past, other societies, old age and the wisdom that can bring. A kind of phony group-mind-control mentality, complete with mesmerizing epithets (have a nice day!) and smiles. Manipulation by a hidden [to most] elite who rule by any means possible and have found a dumb and compliant populace most easy to herd for their needs. And other things. There are still many Americans who can think and think clearly - who know history, cuture and think critically - but they are a minority and increasingly so. Perhaps more frightening is how they were once looked-up to, but by fewer and fewer. Americans read less than any other developed nation (and much less literature and history/historic analysis) and watch more TV than any other, by far. Being an 'egghead' [whether via formal training or just autodidactic] is being out of step with the majority. Most feel comfortable with someone as simple in their mentition as they are to be their masters and it is fundamentalist religions which dictate that there are masters and unquestioning followers - no critical thinking allowed and adherance to a pervasive domination paradigm. A very sad state of affairs and I see no abrupt turns ahead - no light at the end of the tunnel. Those outside, follow in the footsteps of the USA at your own peril. How nice that a generally ahistoric and poorly educated population, lacking critical analysis skills are making decisions, throught their leaders and corporations, for most of the rest of the world. Have a nice day!

Though I disagree with some of the article, I agree with Peter. I would add that the dumbing down has an additional

element. I call it DON'T ROCK THE BOAT SYNDROME. This means "go with the flow" or "don't make waves". If one

values one's job and place in society, even if you are highly intelligent and observant, you must ignore obvious

criminal activity or be labeled a KOOK and CONSPIRACY THEORIST. Love of materialism fuels fear that loss of

things or status will happen to boat rockers. This leads to the OSTRICH SYNDROME, in which highly intelligent

people purposely bury their heads in the sand to carefully avoid confrontation and strife of any kind, lest their

dumb, fat and happy lifestyle be disrupted. I have many very intelligent friends who say "Don't tell me that 911

was a government conspiracy; even if it was, I DON'T WANT TO HEAR ABOUT IT!"

Jack

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  • 2 weeks later...

I am afraid that a lot of the people who use my website are not very intelligent. They seem to think that my pages are written by the people or organization that they are about. They therefore use the email on the page to contact them. The craziest people are those who want to contact right-wing individuals or organizations. I had a great one the other day from a woman who thought she was contacting Gordon Liddy claiming that she had evidence that Barack Obama was a Muslim.

However, the most moronic come from the people who think they are contacting the KKK. If they took the time to read the page they would realize that it provides a critical approach to the subject. In fact, I get just as many emails from so-called educators in the Deep South complaining about the fact that I point out that the first Grand Wizard was Nathan Forrest.

The quality of the content of the emails I get from people who think I am from the KKK suggest that they are in fact victims of the American public school system. Most of these emails are attempts to join the KKK. However, I thought you might be interested in reading the one I got today:

I have a qeustion concerning Obama.Will the KKK assassinate him and when.Now of course I realize you may not answer this qeustion but I must ask in order to have any hope.We dont need a nigga in the whitehouse.He will destroy our country because number one hes black number number two hes muslim and number three hes a faggot.How do I join a hate organization where i can correspond by email.How do I determine if Im a racist?Even if Obama was white he is full of empty promises and i should hope he gets assassination before his inaugeration.I should hope the KKK has made plans this is one nigga we dont need especially in the whitehouse.As you can see I have a very big problem with this and just wanted to ask this qeustion.Will KKK assassinate him or will CIA?I should hope someone does soon before its too late for all of us.So please response and be as honest as you can I just need a sense of peace.

Sincerely

Angela

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAkkk.htm

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A couple of years ago I signed up the Human Events (one of America’s leading right wing publications) email list to see how they think. I delete most of the mailings unread but read them when the title is shocking enough. A few days I got one entitled “Islam will conquer Rome”. I agree that radical Islam is a threat but the paranoia displayed reminds me of the people who fulminated about the fluoridation of water and suspected Eisenhower was Soviet agent during the cold war. Perhaps more troubling is the failure to distinguish between radical and moderate Muslims. That hearing "the call to prayer from a Muslim muezzin" is considered a bad thing is intolerance plain and simple. Imagine the reaction if a newspaper read by many leading politicians in a Muslim country wrote so negatively about the prospect of hearing church bells.

Will Europe trade Christianity for Islam?

Dear Fellow Conservative:

Someday soon, you might wake up to the call to prayer from a Muslim muezzin. Millions of Europeans already do.

And liberals will still tell you that "diversity is our strength" -- while Talibanic enforcers cruise our cities burning books and barber shops... the Supreme Court decides sharia law doesn't violate the "separation of church and state" ... and the Hollywood Left gives up gay rights in favor of the much safer charms of polygamy.

If you think this can't happen, you haven't been paying attention, as the hilarious and brilliant Mark Steyn -- the most popular conservative columnist in the English-speaking world -- shows to devastating effect in his New York Times bestseller, America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It.

[…]

As Steyn puts it, "The future belongs to the fecund and the confident. And the Islamists are both, while the West -- wedded to a multiculturalism that undercuts its own confidence, a welfare state that nudges it toward sloth and self-indulgence, and a childlessness that consigns it to oblivion -- is looking ever more like the ruins of a civilization."

Europe, laments Steyn, is almost certainly a goner. The future, if the West has one, belongs to America alone-with maybe its cousins in brave Australia. But America can still survive, prosper, and defend its freedom only if it continues to believe in itself, in the sturdier virtues of self-reliance (not government), in the centrality of family, and in the conviction that our country really is the world's last best hope.

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