'Obama is Muslim' is just the tip of the ignorance iceberg

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"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." -- Thomas Jefferson

So now it seems that nearly one in five Americans believe Pres. Obama is a Muslim (FYI, 33 percent of Republican conservatives believe it). This is just the latest evidence that we’re all being sucked down the Drain of Ignorance. It’s not a big secret that Americans are among the least-informed people in the modern, developed world. I don’t believe Americans are any more stupid, as a whole, than citizens of any other country. But stupidity and ignorance are not the same thing, and when it comes to ignorance, we are at, or near, the top of the list. Visitors from other countries have long noted, for instance, how little many Americans know about something as simple as where other countries are located. (Thus, the old joke, "War is God's way of teaching Americans geography.")

Sometimes it’s astonishing how little many of our fellow citizens know about the world, science, history, or even the simplest facts about how their own country works. So, lots of people “believe” Obama’s a Muslim? That makes as much sense as saying, “I believe concrete is chewable” — you can “believe” whatever you want, but facts are pretty hard to get around. Plus, stating your mistaken “beliefs” openly probably won’t help you in the long run. Or will it? Who knows, if enough people are broadly ignorant, maybe not knowing, say, how many branches of government there are (only 40 percent know there are three), could one day be an advantage. Watch the film comedy Idiocracy, and you’ll see what I mean

Americans “believe” all kinds of things that are, at best, myths, but are usually just symptoms of abysmal ignorance. Here are some of the well-known, documented ones:

• Only 1 in 4 Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, but more than half can name at least two members of the Simpsons.

• Nearly 20 percent of Americans don’t know that the Earth revolves around the sun.

• Half of Americans can’t name Genesis as the first book in the Bible.

• Only 25 percent know how long a U.S. senator’s term lasts (6 years).

• Only 20 percent know that there are 100 senators.

• Thirty percent responded in a poll that Yugoslavia, Utah and Utopia are three foreign countries beginning with the letter U.

• Less than half of Americans know that the U.S. is the country that dropped atomic bombs on Japan.

• Nearly 30 percent of Americans think the U.S. fought Russia in World War II.

• Only 30 percent know that DNA is a key to heredity.

• More Americans know who Harry Potter is than who the Prime Minister of Great Britain is.

• Over half of the American adult population never reads another book after finishing their formal education.

In other words, many Americans seem unaffected by their country's rise, during the 20th century, from being an ill-educated backwater to a member of the educated modern world. Millions of Americans “don’t believe” in evolution, but can’t describe what evolution is. Millions of Americans say they’re opposed to homosexuality because it is “unnatural,” but don’t know that humans are part of the animal kingdom or that many other species are homosexual to some extent. And in one of the saddest commentaries we’ve seen on ignorance in America, an ABC report showed that in terms of scientific and math skills, the average Belgian kid scored higher than a skilled, adult American.

Yes, this stuff is funny, but you and I know it’s really not funny at all. It’s a dire situation. We’ll say it again: Americans are no more stupid than any other nation’s citizens, but we are without doubt more ignorant. That’s a failure of our education system, and, moreover, of our culture. It’s not as if Americans can’t get a great education, the equal of any in the world; we can also educate ourselves in lots of different ways. It’s just that most Americans couldn’t be bothered. Hell, we’re kings of the heap, we rule the world, why would we have to actually go to the trouble to know anything? Just pass the chips and remote over here and be quiet so I can hear this special CNN report about Sarah Palin’s latest Tweet.

Make no mistake, those in power, in any country and of any party, often like their citizens ignorant. It makes it easier for them to fool or distract people. There’s a quote I heard during the 2004 presidential campaign that keeps running around in my head. A pundit, I’ve forgotten which, reported that almost half of Americans still believed that Saddam had something to do with 9/11. “I can see it now,” the pundit said, “Bush turning to Cheney and saying, ‘It looks like those education cuts in the Reagan years are starting to pay off for us.’”

If she can make it big, there's hope for America's ignorati
  • If she can make it big, there's hope for America's ignorati

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