Although not a writing about the contrast between “elites” and “non-elites”, it is an excellent piece about the lack of intellectual prowess in a majority of citizens in this country. Many adults whose income is a major driving factor in our economy are those whose votes are the principal targets of campaign messages.
Many of these are those who have forgotten or were never adequately taught – among other things – critical thinking skills and a pride in intellectual curiosity..
We live in two Americas.
One America, now the minority, functions in a print-based, literate world. It can cope with complexity and has the intellectual tools to separate illusion from truth. The other America, which constitutes the majority, exists in a non-reality-based belief system.
This America, dependent on skillfully manipulated images for information, has severed itself from the literate, print-based culture. It cannot differentiate between lies and truth. It is informed by simplistic, childish narratives and clichés. It is thrown into confusion by ambiguity, nuance and self-reflection.
This divide, more than race, class or gender, more than rural or urban, believer or nonbeliever, red state or blue state, has split the country into radically distinct, unbridgeable and antagonistic entities.
What’s wrong with avoiding intellectual curiosity as if it were a social disease?
Nearly a third of the nation’s population is illiterate or barely literate.
… even those who are supposedly literate retreat in huge numbers into this image-based existence.
A third of high school graduates, along with 42 percent of college graduates, never read a book after they finish school. Eighty percent of the families in the United States last year did not buy a book.
What gets interesting about this lack of intellectual desire is the apparent contentment with the immediate satisfaction of fast-food entertainment. This is what the corporate media-marketing machine is aimed at. These folks are an ever-increasing across-the-social-spectrum majority of easily distracted minds.
Like it or not, the “fundamentals” of our economy, the infrastructure of cash flow, investment and accumulation is based on emphasis marketing that targets the more incurious – the simple-minded consumer and voter base.
The illiterate rarely vote, and when they do vote they do so without the ability to make decisions based on textual information. American political campaigns, which have learned to speak in the comforting epistemology of images, eschew real ideas and policy for cheap slogans and reassuring personal narratives.
Could we not make the case that the Trump victory, with all of its negative potential for the country, was the result of a campaign in which his team had to run its strategy in this context of mental illiteracy?
The President’s “Maga-ite” support base, was created by the following strategy that Hedges described ten years ago.
… ignite pseudo-religious feelings of euphoria, empowerment and collective salvation … manipulate fickle public moods, emotions and impulses, many of which are subliminal.
In order to encourage many in the direction of helping themselves the Trump team had to create “a public ecstasy that annuls individuality and fosters a state of mindlessness” and to “cater to a nation that now lives in a state of permanent amnesia?”
We are talking about supporters who live in the world of life-long self-inflicted illiteracy of thought. Such persons truly are
“those who should know better,” and who “blindly cast ballots for slogans, smiles, the cheerful family tableaux, narratives and the perceived sincerity and the attractiveness of candidates.”
Hedges declares that we confuse how we feel with knowledge.
Furthermore, today there are post-election reports of how the Christian Right delivered for Trump in an appalling way.
If we are to live in a society where God has a permanent active place in our national political process, it must not be the God of right wing absolute fundamentalism – the God-talk that is always in the news promoting its “anti” agenda.
That anti agenda is in fact the foundation of a Taliban society. It is that same intellectual and spiritual illiteracy that seeks immediate emotional gratification taken in directly from someone else’s spoon-feeding rather than using one’s own personal utensil of discernment.
Be curious … ask yourselves what sort of mental exercise we finally completed last Tuesday. Here in a Hedges nutshell is a form of prophecy regarding what plagues us today, both nationally and locally:
The ability to magnify these simple and childish lies, to repeat them and have surrogates repeat them in endless loops of news cycles, gives these lies the aura of an uncontested truth.
We are repeatedly fed words or phrases like yes we can, maverick, change, pro-life, hope or war on terror.
It feels good not to think. All we have to do is visualize what we want, believe in ourselves and summon those hidden inner resources, whether divine or national, that make the world conform to our desires.
Reality is never an impediment
The Princeton Review analyzed the transcripts of the Gore-Bush debates, the Clinton-Bush-Perot debates of 1992, the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960 and the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858.
… In short, today’s political rhetoric is designed to be comprehensible to a 10-year-old child or an adult with a sixth-grade reading level. It is fitted to this level of comprehension because most Americans speak, think and are entertained at this level.
We of the baby boomer generation opened the flood gates for the sort of world in which our children find themselves. We were the first post-WWII targets of what might have been a less-sophisticated but still powerful focus on message management as a means of social manipulation.
Then, as we grew older, when religious evangelical fundamentalists were offered vocal help from political talk jocks, things got worse. Those who knew all about building dumbed-down anger before building dumbed-down majorities set about a conversion of the society of rebellious thinking children of the sixties. Their goal has been to change us into the gullible parents and grandparents of the next two generations for whom critical thinking skills has not been a priority.
What is the significance of critical thinking and a sufficient degree of intellectual sophistication in the civic life of this nation? Well, for one think, the mental presidential dimwit, reacting to the revelations of Abu Ghraib, denied the news; declaring that such were not “America’s core values.”
America’s core values? Hedges says it very well.
The core values of our open society,
the ability to think for oneself,
to draw independent conclusions,
to express dissent when judgment and common sense indicate something is wrong,
to be self-critical,
to challenge authority,
to understand historical facts,
to separate truth from lies,
to advocate for change and to acknowledge that there are other views, different ways of being, that are morally and socially acceptable,