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Willful Ignorance

America confuses me. It’s like a country with two different populations. On one hand there are brilliant, innovative, and generally very friendly and interesting people; and on the other hand there are many mindless morons, unthinking, inflexible and unpleasant throwbacks to what would be considered the distant past in most developed nations.

I’m sure it takes little imagination to realise that when I refer to the “mindless morons” I am referring to ultra-conservatives, believers in extreme literal Christianity, and the totally inflexible and bigoted population who are most numerous in the southern states.

Of course politicians realise that there are many of these people who vote and they are a great way to gain power. The Republican Party has been very effective in telling this population what they want to hear to ensure they get their votes. The fact that these strategies rely on simple lies and gross oversimplifications of reality should be no surprise to anyone.

I recently heard an example of these outrageous tactics. In a political platform statement they released for Texas there is a phrase something like this: “We oppose the teaching of higher order thinking skills, critical thinking skills, and similar programs that are simply a re-labelling of outcome based education, which focus on behaviour modification and have the purpose of challenging the students’ fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

Basically they are saying they want students to stop thinking. Of course they do because the modern conservative agenda could only appeal to someone whose thought processes have stopped, or to someone who realises the agenda has no real merit but is just a cynical way to gain power.

Please note that many people with extreme views on any subject and with any political agenda are likely to have stopped thinking and to be relying on a received ideology instead. But it’s never as overt as this. Only this group actively revels in being ignorant. It’s like a badge of honour to them.

What is so appealing about ignorance? Well the truth can be painful. Why would anyone want to accept the truth of evolution when there is the pleasant myth of creation instead? Why would they want to accept the harsh truths of history (such as separation of church and state) when an alternative history suits what they want to believe instead? Why would they want to be forced into accepting the need to move from a petroleum-based energy system to a renewable one when their state produces so much oil?

To these people the facts just aren’t convenient so they prefer to live a fantasy world where their God still exists, where there is unlimited oil with no consequences to its use, and where history agrees with their bigoted opinions.

That is bad enough but they take things a lot further. Not only do they want to remain ignorant themselves but they want to make sure that future generations are as ignorant as they are. So they don’t want evolution, climate change, certain real history, or some other true but inconvenient science taught in schools; and they don’t want students to be encouraged to think for themselves.

That’s why they oppose critical thinking. They think that it will lead to the imposition of a “liberal agenda”. Well if liberal agenda means teaching the truth instead of their brainless fantasy then yes, they are right, because knowing the facts will inevitably lead people away from ultraconservatism. It has nothing to do with liberalism, just accepting reality. If they equate thinking liberally with thinking logically then that is quite a compliment for liberalism, I would say.

Another of their strange beliefs involves morality. Where would they get the idea that morality has anything to do with blind belief in an old book? Some of the most dedicated believers are some of the most intolerant, inflexible, violent, unforgiving, uncaring people around. Do they really think that that is a good source of morality? Actually that question is meaningless because they just don’t think at all.

Ultraconservatives also have some odd thoughts about authoritarianism. They seem to reject it superficially, especially in regard to what they see as too much government control, but they think it’s OK for a church or a parent to act as an unquestionable authority. Apparently they cannot see the flaw in the argument that some things should be open to question but others not. Is it OK to question which things should be open to question?

The world has always changed and it always will. No one can stop the march of progress because as soon as one group stifles positive change someone else will come along and take over. It has happened to many civilisations in the past and it always will. I’m sure the last thing the American Christian Conservative movement wants is to sacrifice their country’s preeminent position in the world. But that’s exactly what they are doing.

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