Commitment To Ignorance?

More than a few times in the past few months/years, I have thought that the biggest hurdle to sanity in our country was one thing:  ignorance.  I don’t say ‘stupidity’, for that implies an inability to comprehend, but rather ignorance, which is the refusal to comprehend, to consider other options, other ways of doing things.  A few days ago, I came across this OpEd by Paul Krugman writing for the New York Times that I think speaks volumes about our current situation.

What Underlies the G.O.P. Commitment to Ignorance?

By Paul Krugman

Opinion Columnist

June 28, 2021

As everyone knows, leftists hate America’s military. Recently, a prominent left-wing media figure attacked Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declaring, “He’s not just a pig, he’s stupid.”

Oh, wait. That was no leftist, that was Fox News’s Tucker Carlson. What set Carlson off was testimony in which Milley told a congressional hearing that he considered it important “for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and widely read.”

The problem is obvious. Closed-mindedness and ignorance have become core conservative values, and those who reject these values are the enemy, no matter what they may have done to serve the country.

The Milley hearing was part of the orchestrated furor over “critical race theory,” which has dominated right-wing media for the past few months, getting close to 2,000 mentions on Fox so far this year. One often sees assertions that those attacking critical race theory have no idea what it’s about, but I disagree; they understand that it has something to do with assertions that America has a history of racism and of policies that explicitly or implicitly widened racial disparities.

And such assertions are unmistakably true. The Tulsa race massacre really happened, and it was only one of many such incidents. The 1938 underwriting manual for the Federal Housing Administration really did declare that “incompatible racial groups should not be permitted to live in the same communities.”

We can argue about the relevance of this history to current policy, but who would argue against acknowledging simple facts?

The modern right, that’s who. The current obsession with critical race theory is a cynical attempt to change the subject away from the Biden administration’s highly popular policy initiatives, while pandering to the white rage that Republicans deny exists. But it’s only one of multiple subjects on which willful ignorance has become a litmus test for anyone hoping to succeed in Republican politics.

Thus, to be a Republican in good standing one must deny the reality of man-made climate change, or at least oppose any meaningful action to limit greenhouse gas emissions. One must reject or at least express skepticism about the theory of evolution. And don’t even get me started on things like the efficacy of tax cuts.

What underlies this cross-disciplinary commitment to ignorance? On each subject, refusing to acknowledge reality serves special interests. Climate denial caters to the fossil fuel industry; evolution denial caters to religious fundamentalists; tax-cut mysticism caters to billionaire donors.

But there’s also, I’d argue, a spillover effect: Accepting evidence and logic is a sort of universal value, and you can’t take it away in one area of inquiry without degrading it across the board. That is, you can’t declare that honesty about America’s racial history is unacceptable and expect to maintain intellectual standards everywhere else. In the modern right-wing universe of ideas, everything is political; there are no safe subjects.

This politicization of everything inevitably creates huge tension between conservatives and institutions that try to respect reality.

There have been many studies documenting the strong Democratic lean of college professors, which is often treated as prima facie evidence of political bias in hiring. A new law in Florida requires that each state university conduct an annual survey “which considers the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented,” which doesn’t specifically mandate the hiring of more Republicans but clearly gestures in that direction.

An obvious counterargument to claims of biased hiring is self-selection: How many conservatives choose to pursue careers in, say, sociology? Is hiring bias the reason police officers seem to have disproportionately supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election, or is this simply a reflection of the kind of people who choose careers in law enforcement?

But beyond that, the modern G.O.P. is no home for people who believe in objectivity. One striking feature of surveys of academic partisanship is the overwhelming Democratic lean in hard sciences like biology and chemistry; but is that really hard to understand when Republicans reject science on so many fronts?

One recent study marvels that even finance departments are mainly Democratic. Indeed, you might expect finance professors, some of whom do lucrative consulting for Wall Street, to be pretty conservative. But even they are repelled by a party committed to zombie economics.

Which brings me back to General Milley. The U.S. military has traditionally leaned Republican, but the modern officer corps is highly educated, open-minded and, dare I say it, even a bit intellectual — because those are attributes that help win wars.

Unfortunately, they are also attributes the modern G.O.P. finds intolerable.

So something like the attack on Milley was inevitable. Right-wingers have gone all in on ignorance, so they were bound to come into conflict with every institution — including the U.S. military — that is trying to cultivate knowledge.

41 thoughts on “Commitment To Ignorance?

  1. Thank you for sharing!!… they are not ignorant, they just deny change and reality…. the “foundation”, the people that put Trump, politicians and other leaders in power are living in their little world, their comfort zone and with the expansion of the population, today’s technology, etc. their little world is being threatened, their illusion is being shattered and they are trying to put people in power to prevent that…. they can no longer pack their bags (run and hide) as Daniel Boone and others did in the past… 🙂
    Of course, Trump, the politicians, etc. are telling the people what they wish to hear to get votes and into power.. Donald Trump is a bully and dictator, always was and always will be, caring little for anyone but himself… 🙂

    Until we meet again..
    May flowers always line your path
    and sunshine light your way,
    May songbirds serenade your
    every step along the way,
    May a rainbow run beside you
    in a sky that’s always blue,
    And may happiness fill your heart
    each day your whole life through.
    (Irish Saying)

    Liked by 3 people

    • You may be right, my friend. They fear change, fear the unknown. But, the $64 million question is, how do we wake them, how do we make them see that the path they are on has the potential to destroy this nation? If we don’t, if we cannot find a way to do so, I fear for what this nation will be a decade (or less) from now. Thank you , Dutch, for that beautiful Irish Saying!


      • Just keep doing what you are doing, having your voice be heard… as I said, as in any generation, there are many set in their ways, most being the older generation… in history’s past, many of the old-fogey’s would be long gone, but thanks to technology, science, etc. the life expectancy is longer… there are some who do not understand today’s technology and feel threatened… a few years ago, my sister made the comment “I suppose they are going to force us to us computers”… I have other older family members who feel the same way.. The village here has just in the last year become more “modern”, mainly because of the younger generation having more input… be it politics, religion, economics, etc. there are those that use that fear to gain power…

        The younger generation is more accepting of change as they try out new ideas, etc. while learning about life… not as closed minded as the older generation… that being said, continue to do what you are doing, making your voice be heard, and perhaps you will reach those older generation and perhaps work with their fears and they will compromise and, of course, work with, and support, the younger generation while they learn and adapt…

        Just remember the words of Wade Watts;

        Success is failure turned inside out
        The silver tint of the clouds of doubt
        And you never can tell how close you are,
        It may be near when it seems so far;
        So stick to the fight when your hardest hit,
        It’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit!
        (Wade Watts)

        Liked by 2 people

        • Thank you for your encouraging words, my friend! Yes, the older generation often do find it difficult to adapt to new trends … not all of us, certainly, but some. I am printing the words of Wade Watts to tape to my refrigerator … very wise words indeed! Thanks, Dutch!


  2. There’s ignorance and then there’s feigned ignorance. It’s pretty hard to be purely ignorant these days but there are those folks. And then there are those exploiting a situation, pretending to be ignorant.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Intellectuals lean away from the deliberate actions of the right wing to try and bend the truth to suit themselves. The more voters they can have follow them without asking for uncomfortable truths they need to face the better able they are to suggest there are no uncomfortable truths, just lies from the left. There is no climate change, no need for gun control ad there’s far too much benefit given away to some claimants who don’t want to work, by some claimants read People of Colour. The latter of course seems grossly unfair to many Republicans who themselves have had to claim the same benefits. The Party of No is also the party of hints, suggestions and vile calumny. In short they are a party of liars

    Liked by 3 people

    • Exactly! And this is why they are working so diligently to suppress the vote of the elderly, Blacks, Hispanics, the poor, and working women … it is literally the ONLY way they can win future elections, since they have no ideology, no platform, no policies, no honesty, no integrity, and no values. But WHY are so many people falling for their b.s.??? Is this nation truly that ignorant, or are people simply bored with a government that works for the people?

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Pingback: Commitment to Ignorance | Ramblings of an Occupy Liberal

  5. Jill, good piece. These stances are a threat to our country and planet. The varying stages of naysaying climate change by the Republican party have delayed and hamstrung government action. The pandemic naysaying has caused many even still to forego masks and vaccines and more people have died as a result. Then there is big lie BS promulgated by the deceiful actions of the former president which has hurt our democracy and caused an insurrection on the Capitol. These are direct products of the Republican party. Keith

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, they are a threat to our country, but also to others and as you say, to the planet. The $64 million question is … how do we stop this? How do we make people listen, use their brains, stop falling for the conspiracy theories and buying into the lies?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jill, we keep trying, but it is an uphill battle. There has been a steady trickle of folks empowered to speak out, but it needs more than that. Sadly, in this tailored news and social media environment, Nixon may have survived Watergate and he led a burglary ring from the White House and lied about it. Keith

        Liked by 3 people

        • I hadn’t thought about it like that, but I think you’re right … Nixon may well have survived in today’s political climate. The former guy very nearly did, and what he did was, in my view, every bit as bad as what Nixon did, and we don’t even know the full extent of it yet.


          • Jill, I agree the last president’s actions are worse than Nixon’s. Nixon for all of his paranoia and criminal behavior, at least did not incite seditious actions against his own country or side with an autocrat against the advice of our intelligence leaders. As a now independent and former member of both parties, I have said many times, Donald Trump is the most corrupt and deceitful acting president in my lifetime which includes Nixon. Keith

            Liked by 3 people

  6. Same old same old methods, here. Don’t want to talk about historic and/or present systematic public policy supporting the inequality of women, Native Americans, Jews, Mexican-Americans, Black-Americans, Irish-Americans, Catholics… claim it is an attack on “American” and/or “Christian” values. KKK, John Birchers, American Nazis and other right-wing groups standard attack and false flag methods to be denounced!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Yes, they prefer to paint a rosy picture, but that rosy picture is false. As Santayana (and Burke and Churchill) have all said, if we do not learn the lessons from history, we are doomed to repeat it. Every nation has some dark things in its past, the U.S. as much as any, and we must acknowledge them, learn from them, and do better, but instead we are being told to put on blinders and see only the good. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

      Liked by 2 people

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