Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Making Ignorance Chic & Some Fact-Based History

IMAGE: Trever, Albuquerque Journal
I've always had mixed feelings about columnist Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, believing that some times she was spot on, at others that she was so far out in the ozone that I wondered how she kept such prime real estate in the Times. Of course, anyone that writes regularly hopefully generates similar emotions in their readers as even negative reactions are a sign that there is some depth and energy to what is written. Her most recent column illustrates very well the problem with the current teabag belief in the need to be "just like you" and the reality of the history of our country.

In the Oct. 19, 2010 issue of the Times, Dowd writes of the change in our society as we seem to appreciate ignorance over education. Using Marilyn Monroe as an example, the comparison to Sarah Palin and other teabags is made, noting of Sarah Palin that:
"She says she believes in American exceptionalism. But when it comes to the people running the country, exceptionalism is suspect; leaders should be — as Palin, O’Donnell and Angle keep saying — just like you."
As Dowd notes, Marilyn was an intelligent woman posing as a dumb blond while reading Dostoyevsky and Proust (Russian and French authors respectively). She suffered from a disconnect between her public and private self, caused by a deeply self-reflective personality that she tried to self-medicate leading, ultimately, to her death.

I agree with Dowd that teabags, particularly Sarah Palin, trumpet their ignorance, a bizarre behavior for a woman constantly talking about "American exceptionalism." As I watch these people in action, Palin complains that Obama refuses to acknowledge this exceptionalism as he "kowtows" to foreign leaders. I am constantly puzzled at someone who is so proud of her ignorance yet demands that we maintain this position as the world leader and as we are, she says, better than anyone else. Never mind that it is exactly this attitude that adds to the negative image of America that we have enjoyed since Watergate days.

IMAGE: Dhonig,
Exceptionalism requires that we be exceptional. We cannot just say it, we need to be it. Just as the teabags seem unable to define their proposed agenda, other than to decimate the Constitution, they are also seemingly unable to define just what are the factors that are important to them that make us exceptional. Palin et al sneer at "elites" which includes anyone from an ivy league school (except Joe Miller), disregarding the fact that President Obama is a classic example of the American dream. He may have attended an elite school, but it is our life in total - particularly the early days - that shapes our character and defines who we are.

I'm not sure how we have come to the point where ignorance is embraced and someone who is "just like you" is our best choice for high office. Certainly our government is designed on a foundation of citizen politicians, but I doubt that the current teabags understand that the citizen representatives in the days they claim to want to return to were not "just like you." People who were able to travel to Washington to serve in Congress were not ignorant. Education was valued and people who had the privilege of learning studied philosophy and literature, science as it was known at the time, and maintained a close connection with their European counterparts. Ignorance was not a value prized by the Founders.

In a time when only white, landowning men could run for office, sons were tutored at home, typically studying, in addition to math and reading and writing, science, Greek, Latin, geography, and history. Even this list is incomplete. In addition to this daylong, thorough education, boys frequently attended boarding school in England, and after completion, often trained as doctors or lawyers prior to returning to America to run their estates. Even then, there was an understanding of the complexity of our world, and the complexity of a democracy made up of a society that included people from varied backgrounds learning to come together. A reading of any early document shows clearly that education was highly valued by our founders. Just the complexity of the language used and the knowledge of law, philosophy, and history are clearly illustrated in the development of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

I understand the disconnect that many people feel during these difficult times when those in Washington seem more and more enclosed in a bubble. When one has lost a job, a home, or is at risk of those losses, when you watch your neighbors experiencing the same, and all around you your world is changing in a direction that frightens you, it is easy to allow yourself to be manipulated by others who claim to have all the answers. We tend to believe people who are like us, so teabag candidates bend over backward trying to demonstrate how like "the people" they are. The phenomenal GOP public relations efforts of the past 40 years has done an excellent job of creating sound bites and buzzwords that appeal to our instant information culture. Conditioned to absorb information in 30-second ads and to understand an entire story in 46-minutes, people who are afraid are vulnerable to others with no moral compass. An attractive, charismatic women such as Sarah Palin turns her lack of intelligence, her ignorance, and her moral  vacuum into a positive as she appeals to peoples' fears.

As Dowd said, back then, it "was cool to be smart." I believe that our Democratic leadership needs to come our of their bubble and understand that the teabags and others in the GOP have filled this need for reassurance in our country by taking the social problems in our country and making them positive campaign talking points, a truly remarkable feat.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.
The History of Education in America
Education in the Thirteen Colonies
American Education

No comments:

Post a Comment