Asimov image: https://karsh.org/isaac-asimov/
Sagan image: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0755981/
Topics: Civics, Civil Rights, Civilization, Climate Change, Democracy, Existentialism
Note: The Nobel Prize will be awarded starting Monday in Physiology, then Physics (my admitted favorite), Chemistry, Literature, Peace, and Economics the following Monday. Thus, the concentration of the postings will be Nobel as they post. I will be “nerding out.”
“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding [its way] through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
This is an often-used quote for memes from a longer essay by Isaac Asimov, who was at the time a professor of biochemistry at Boston University and the author of 212 books of science and science fiction (an interesting “side hustle”). I provided the link above and below, highlighted with his name. Dr. Asimov had much to say about the state of affairs as he saw it during my freshman year at North Carolina A&T State University in 1980. It was also the year the New York Times reported more black males in college than in the prison industrial complex. It was an election year and the year for the inaugural of 24-hour news media in Ted Turner’s Cable News Network (CNN), which birthed copycats Fox and MSNBC in 1996. It’s hard to imagine that before Ted’s innovation, television wasn’t a profit-making enterprise as much as a public service. Pundits didn’t wear their party affiliations on their sleeves or give “opinions” on the “news.” Mostly, they did not lie to their audiences to goose ratings either.
Asimov’s poignant observation of the phrase “Don’t trust anyone over 30” had to morph to “Don’t trust the experts” since Neverland never existed. The Second Law of Thermodynamics (the “arrow of time”) does, and did, meaning that those who gave that warning eventually would be untrustworthy after the “big 3-0.” Therefore, “Don’t trust the experts” became the foundation for railing against elites, which means anyone who goes to a library, pursues an education up to a terminal degree, or reads a book.
Experts created the Internet. Experts like “Hidden Figures” Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan enabled the United States to get to the Moon (there would be no “SpaceX” without them). Experts like Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett were one of many who helped to create the mRNA technology for the vaccines used to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
But “Don’t trust the experts,” a vapid slogan or talking point if there ever was one.
Sloganeering in the Cambridge Dictionary has a succinct and to-the-point definition: “trying to persuade people by repeating phrases instead of explaining your ideas.” It means the absence of an argument. Thus, there is a deliberate absence and avoidance of thinking or outlining to formulate a cogent framework, relying on volume and repetition so that others will begin following your “lead” from the sheer exhaustion of gaslighting.
“I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time -- when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…
The dumbing down of Americans is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.”
― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
Dr. Sagan published these words in 1995. Both authors’ works are still available years after their deaths.
Celebrating ignorance invariably leads to a cult of ignorance.
It is a cult of ignorance when expertise is assailed as bullying.
It is a cult of ignorance when your side can’t admit to losing the Civil War or a presidential election.
It is a cult of ignorance when Dr. Fauci, Senator Romney, the FBI, the CDC, elected officials, and VOLUNTEER election workers must shell out dollars to protect their families from raving lunatics who believe every conspiracy tall tale printed, uttered, tweeted, or truth-ed.
Source material: Cult of Ignorance
Climate scientists are experts, yet they cannot be believed if the stupefying mantra is to be obeyed. The war against experts has always baffled me. No couple during Braxton Hicks contractions wants an Appalachian folk medicine doctor like Granny from the “Beverly Hillbillies” applying moonshine and a hacksaw or Norm, the mailman from the sitcom “Cheers” to start spitballing and wing it through the full delivery.
But, “it’s the weather,” following the “Don’t trust the experts” mantra, despite new Hurricane Katrinas repeated since 2005 across the globe, fire seasons in California and Canada, and women never having complications from ectopic pregnancies, high blood pressure, depression, stillbirths that need intervention by what is now illegal in most neo-confederate states (“conservative” they are not) because of the “sanctity of life” until the children are old enough to be lead-sprayed by psychopaths. Because in terms of climate, some wish to induce the apocalypse, and because in terms of bodily autonomy, the stork brings all babies alive and well as requested to cisgender parents, and no “others.”
I contend that the slogan “America’s right to know” is [a] meaningless one when we have an ignorant population and that the function of a free press is virtually zero when hardly anyone can read.
What shall we do about it?
We might begin by asking ourselves whether ignorance is so wonderful after all and whether it makes sense to denounce “elitism.”
I believe that every human being with a physically normal brain can learn a great deal and be surprisingly intellectual. I believe that what we badly need is [a] social approval of learning and social rewards for learning.
We can all be members of the intellectual elite, and then, will a phrase like “America’s right to know” and, indeed, any true concept of democracy have any meaning.