Can Americans shift back to reality-based rule?
From its birth in 1776 up through the 1960s, the US population grew constantly better educated. The USA pioneered public education and it proved fabulously successful in lifting the population to a high level of literacy and rationalism. But the social unrest and lunacy of the 1960s seemed to tear the wheels of the school bus. We revised college curricula, dumbing down degree requirements. Touchy feely and Political Correctness often overruled reading, writing and arithmetic as degree requirements. Public schools slowly eroded to the deplorable state they are in today.
The infotainment industry grew in depth, width and breadth. Today, infotainment is a 24-hour-per-day, massive, corporate-managed industry. Reading is at an all time low. What remains of print media is largely owned by the Infotainment corporatists. There is no longer an independent free press outside the Internet. In fact, literacy skills are so low that a disturbing percentage of adult Americans are now functionally illiterate. On the Internet, we have access to the truth, but we must possess the critical thinking skills to filter it out from the tidal wave of misinformation and disinformation that is also available there.
Recent polls have highlighted the problem. Forty percent of Americans now believe that God created humans within the past 10,000 years. This despite huge collections of stone-age artifacts and bones known to date back 50,000 years and skeletal remains of humans 500,000 year old and human-like species dating back as far as 3.2 million years. As critical as understanding our history and civics is to the survival of democracy in America, we are increasingly ill informed on how government works, what the Constitution requires of it, and prohibits it from doing. Polls show that 26% of Americans did not know their nation achieved its independence in a war with Great Britain. You can read the other depressing results in the linked article. Americans are responsive to cries against judicial activism, and increasingly think that unelected judges should not “make decisions” about law. This is demonstrative of a complete lack of understanding of the basic thinking of our Founders, who recognized the need for an independent, unelected judiciary to protect the rights of minorities from the potential tyranny of the majority.
In the glow of President Bush’s first-term election win, Karl Rove, showing clear contempt for “elitist” scholars and intellectuals, typified the losers as people who “believe that solutions emerge from judicious study of discernible reality.” In Rove’s eyes, the Faith-Based community had finally and rightly supplanted the Reality-Based Community.
Fortunately, times do change. In 2008, sick of the ill-advised debacle of the Iraq war and the largely ignored war we had actually needed to win in Afghanistan, and unregulated casino capitalism run amok; Americans began to realize that faith may be a reasonable basis for religious commitment, but it is a lousy substitute for reality when it comes to drafting foreign policy and managing domestic economics.
Is this the beginning of a sea change, or just another ripple in the receding tide of the enlightenment? Can we recover our commitment to the age of reason that gave birth to the American experiment in democracy? How should we work to support that goal?