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The power of willful ignorance is infinite. It must be because the country is collapsing right under our noses. And we will re-elect 90 percent of those who are allowing it to collapse as a result of gerrymandering, efforts to make voting more difficult and the Supreme Court's decisions to open the flood gates of money into the campaigning process.
All they need to do to keep it this way is to appeal to our faith in what we already believe. Don't think so? Have a five minute conversation with anyone who watches either Fox News or MSNBC exclusively and hear the degree of certitude that comes from having their beliefs continually affirmed. Try using evidence to change their minds.
Economist Paul Krugman's, comment explains what will happen, "When faith meets evidence, evidence doesn't stand a chance."
This can be applied to politics, religion, science, and economics. We have such faith in our beliefs, that no amount of evidence or even a preponderance of facts (sorry David Hume) can change our minds. And that takes willful ignorance because there are seemingly infinite sources of information available to us today. So the choice to stay ignorant is exactly that, willful!
But wait, here's "the rest of the story:" Willful ignorance is a deeply revered American cultural ideal.
As Richard Hofstadter observed in his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1963 book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life: "Intellect in America is resented as a kind of excellence, as a claim to distinction, as a challenge to egalitarianism, as a quality which almost certainly deprives a man or woman of the common touch."
Another way of saying this is, "who needs evidence when we have faith. Evidence is for intellectuals. And we don't like intellectuals. Faith is good enough for us. We vote for egalitarianism of the common man. Evidence can only lead to the facts and if the facts don't support my faith, to hell with evidence."
Admit it! Don't we think of the intellectual as incapable of ordinary common sense decisions? Too dumb to come in out of the rain? The absent-minded professor who can't find his way to his own office in the Ivory Tower?
My first awareness of this cultural value was when Adlai Stevenson II, 31st governor of Illinois, ran for the presidency in 1952. I was 12 years old and remember people saying he was too smart to be elected. We didn't want an intellectual in the White House.
Some segment of the voting public believe we set a new low water mark with Bush the lesser. Don't be fooled. He was nowhere near as intellectually inept as his public image suggested. And when embroiled in some issue that's called on President Obama to take a public stand, why does he offer to have a beer with the common man? To appear intellectual? I don't think so.
Ignorance is a highly regarded American value and is celebrated by the ideal of the "common man." To remain willfully ignorant is a decision that we make, not something that happens to us, not a function of our nature, not a horrible demon that visits us.
We can be born stupid or dumb and we can't help that. We can become crazy not by our choosing. But to remain ignorant takes a decision. That makes it willful. That makes it changeable. That makes us responsible.
Please don't misunderstand my point. I'm not saying that because we become informed we will be able to influence the outcomes in the elections. That ship has sailed long ago and these decisions are now in the hands of the American oligarchs. But at least you can be informed about what's really going on in this great country of ours.
On second thought, ignorance might really be bliss.