Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Accepting Responsibility for Ourselves

Trey Smith

In 2011, Newsweek asked 1,000 Americans to take the standard U.S. Citizenship test, and 38 percent of them failed. One in three couldn't name the vice-president. A 2009 study in the European Journal of Communications looked at how informed citizens of the U.S., UK, Denmark and Finland were of the international news of the day, and the results weren't pretty (PDF).

“Overall,” the scholars wrote, “the Scandinavians emerged as the best informed, averaging 62–67 percent correct responses, the British were relatively close behind with 59 percent, and the Americans lagging in the rear with 40 percent.” We didn't fare much better when it came to domestic stories.

Widespread ignorance of objective reality poses a genuine threat to democracy. The people of the United States have ignorance in abundance.

The way representative democracy is supposed to work is pretty simple: you protect the fundamental rights of the minority (so it doesn't become two wolfs and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner), and then the majority of citizens, acting in their own rational self-interest, elect representatives who will pursue the greatest good for the greatest number of citizens.

That's the theory, but “rational” is a key word in that formulation. What happens when lots of citizens don't have a solid grasp of what's going on in the real world?
~ from Are Americans Too Stupid for Democracy? by Joshua Holland ~
Americans like to blame their ignorance on others. Our government leaders lie, ya know. It's the fault of the mainstream media because they distort the news one way or the other. Our educational system is in shambles. I'm far too busy trying to keep my family's head above water to pay much attention to all that political stuff.

All the above reasons are true, but that doesn't absolve anyone from accepting a measure of responsibility for themselves. There is no question that it can be a definite challenge sifting through the lies and disinformation, but it is something we should be doing as citizens of this country. That's what it means when you read We, the people.

I am continually shocked by the level of nonthinking that is exhibited by my fellow countrymen/women. In local conversations, people parrot talking points provided by the government or media outlets like Faux News. If you challenge their declarations, they keep to the script. If you bring up points that aren't contained in their script, they are easily befuddled and, after flailing around for a moment or two, quickly end the conversation. Rather than take in new information or a different perspective, they run away with their hands over their ears.

Why do so many Americans behave this way? Personally, I think much of the answer has to do with Christianity. Christians -- particularly fundamentalists -- are brainwashed into believing one script and one script only. Anything that deviates from this singular perspective of the world is to be condemned out of hand. Discussion is bad and obedience to authority is good. Thinking for yourself is really, really bad.

When it comes to ignorance of politics or scientific knowledge, fundamentalist Christians score the worst. Several studies have underscored that people who consider Faux News as their number source of information are the LEAST informed about current events.

Europeans typically are better informed that Americans. Europe has moved away from established religion, while the US still clings to it. I think there is a connection there!

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