We need smarter people.

20 11 2009

I am allergic to stupidity. There’s an awful lot of it around these days, which makes going out and engaging with the world a hazardous thing to do for me. Nevertheless, I keep trying. At the moment, the greatest threat to my personal health, with regard to this allergy, is Sarah Palin. In the world of public stupidity, Sarah Palin is Ebola.

Reviews of her book have been consistently unfavorable, including this one from NPR. For the record, I don’t have a problem with Sarah Palin because she’s a Republican, because she’s conservative, because she likes guns or hockey, or because she says things I don’t like. As a moderate, I tend to agree with some of almost everyone’s views. I do have a problem with her because she is after jobs for which she has demonstrated near total incompetency, and because she seems to believe that we are all as utterly stupid as she’d like to think we are (Re: Winking during a vice presidential debate. This is not a Nancy Drew mystery, Sarah. Get some Visine and knock-off the sideshow act). But I’m actually grateful she’s around. See, here’s the great thing about Sarah Palin: She shows conservatives, liberals and moderates how much we all have in common, and she helps us find the fringe element, because they’re the angry ones who scream about what an awesome leader she is. She’s like a portable nutball detector.

Ultimately, though, the power to do much of anything rests not with politicians but with the people, right where it belongs. Sarah Palin is not important. The people who rave about her are. And this is where things get scary: Many of the people are too stupid to understand either the choices before them or the stakes.

In the last few months, even Republicans who once favored Palin have begun to distance themselves from her increasingly erratic behavior and ever-narrowing viewpoint. So why is she still around? Who are the people still howling about the rest of the world “drinking the Kool-Aid” and following the “liberal media” and running from the power of Sarah Palin’s righteous message? Well, to be honest, it’s mostly the dumb ones. I allow that there are some thoughtful, intelligent people flocking to her banner, but I’m going to chalk those people up to them sharing some of her exclusive attitudes (unequal rights, codifying her personal beliefs as law, etc). They know she’s nuts, but they like where she’s driving, so they’re content to ride along. For now.

But how about the rest of them? Most often I think you’ll find these people are the under-educated, over-worked “average” American looking up to her. Note, now, that I’m not taking a cheap shot at people without a college education. This is not a put-down of blue-collar life. There are loads of very smart working class people. But more education leads to a more powerful, less easily-led population, and that’s not the group that likes Palin. She seems, on the surface, to be so plain-spoken and up front about everything, they can’t help but look up to her and feel like finally, here is someone who looks, speaks and thinks like us, despite what everyone else says. If someone like her (read that “unqualified”) can rise to take a shot at the vice presidency, than surely someone ringing the register can become store manager some day, so goes the thought process.

The sad part is one skill our schools (and society) have failed to teach or value over the last 30+ years is critical thinking. It appears that many Americans just don’t know how to think critically. They accept what they’re handed, and the only time they are critical is when someone tells them to feel critical. They love to latch onto to large, simple, brightly-colored phrases like “the liberal media” and “Washington insiders” and “keep drinking the Kool-Aid” (which is historically inaccurate, by the way. It was Flavor-Aid). Not that there aren’t real examples of liberal media bias or insider politics. But not ALL politics are inside, not ALL politicians are corrupt,  and not ALL media lean left. Kind of like infants, they look at whoever jumps up and down the most and screams the loudest. So tantrum-throwers like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck get the spotlight and adoration of these people. And Palin.

And while we’re on that topic:

Fox News is an oxymoron of the first order. Fox news presents largely conservative political and social views in all of its programming, often to extremes. Witness Glenn Beck, Bill O’ Reilly, etc. As a moderate with persistently open and accepting views of things, I tend to disagree with, on average, 99%+ of the conclusions drawn on Fox. But differing opinions are allowed in my world. Moreover, as a trained journalist, they’re necessary. Without differing opinions there can be no open, robust public debate, and without that debate, there can be no democracy. This is not my problem with Fox.

My problem is that they do a shoddy job. The main focus of Fox News is pundit-based shows like Glenn Beck and his ilk. Beck, O’Reilly, CNN’s Nancy Grace, et al., are entertainers, nothing more. They are Howard Stern without nudity. Their popularity is based on two least-common denominator principles. First, take extreme points of view that upset most people and juice up the fringe element. Second, scream. A lot. All the time. That’s it. That’s their only contribution to the discussion.

In another shining example of how the media continue to tarnish their own image, and simultaneously showcasing Fox as the reigning “Worst of the Worst”, here’s a nice piece on them using year-old footage to suggest millions of people lining up for a Palin book event.

So what’s the solution here? The same solution to drug use, teen pregnancy, overcrowded prisons, much crime, and more. It’s also the one thing we are least likely to use public funds to pay for and the same thing we are most likely to pay most dearly for in the private market.

Education.

Smarter people see through statistics, ignore sound bites, listen carefully, and think critically. They take things seriously when they understand the stakes, and they take time to find out what the stakes are. Smarter people are not necessarily people who go to college, either. There are plenty of people in colleges right now who don’t belong there. They lack the motivation, the interest, the ability, to make use of the opportunity. Smarter people can happen without everyone going to college. Schools should be fully funded, teachers better paid, and attending and excelling in school should be the priority of every parent in every family everywhere in our country. High school coursework could, should and once upon a time was equivalent to the sort of thing people learn in their first two semesters of college. Most important, though, is an individual commitment to think, act, and be smarter. With all the information available to us in American in 2009, the greatest obstacle to us becoming a smarter society is our own internal lack of motivation.

If we returned to that commitment to quality and attention, we would make smarter people. Smarter people would have and raise smarter children. And smarter children would think critically, ask questions, do rigorous mental work, and put entertainers on news networks out of business, send Sarah Palin back to her seat, and make better choices. Like teaching their children to be smart.

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3 responses

20 11 2009
Christine

The pants in this post are deafeningly silent. :o)

Oh so well said. I’d like to clap a little bit.

We can no longer rely on schools to teach our children to ask and demand answers, to stand up for injustice and absurdity. Could we ever actually? As parents we must, simply must, teach our children to question everything, to listen longer, to take your time to decide and most importantly.. that it is perfectly okay to say “I am not sure yet.” or “I do not have all the facts” when asked a question about something. Especially things involving politics.

We need to teach the next generation that there is wisdom in not knowing.

24 11 2009
Brian

Matt Taibbi explains Sarah Palin better than any pundit I’ve read:
http://trueslant.com/matttaibbi/2009/11/23/yes-sarah-there-is-a-media-conspiracy/

28 11 2009
will4words

His take on the situation is a good read, and I like the insider slant he’s got. All in all I like it. The only points I have to deduct are for letting Palin off too easy. I’ll consent to all the points he makes in there about the media’s behavior. However, even Bush was smart enough to know that he had to appear like he knew what he was talking about/doing. Palin actually revels in being obviously out of her depth, and every time she gives a wink and an “awe shucks, did I just refer to the Indian ambassador as a darky?” her minions lap it up.

At least Cheney knew to cringe and shake his head when Bush said the word “crusade.”

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