“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Friday, January 02, 2009

Off topic (but important)

The problems facing our nation and our civilization are such that well-meaning and intelligent people can differ not only on appropriate policies but on what facts are important. These problems are incredibly complex and highly interrelated. They include, among others, humans' effect on the geophysical environment (climate, erosion, overfishing, pollution, resource depletion, you take it from here), overpopulation, arms proliferation, intolerance (racial, ethnic, religious) and others.

I happen to be watching a bowl game (Utah vs. Alabama) on FOX TV. A pure escapist waste of time to be sure. But during a commercial, there was a promo for the local news, it featured the death of John Travolta's 16 year old son and a guy who makes furniture from empty Budweiser cans. I'm not making this up. This was followed by a promo for another season of American Idol.

Yet we have the turnover of the Green Zone to Iraqui forces, the Israelis bombing the Gaza Strip with tanks and troops on the border, Pakistan (a nuclear power) descending into chaos on the border of India (a nuclear power), Russia (otherwise known as Gasprom) shutting off natural gas supplies to the Ukraine, nearly all of Africa in a state of disorder resulting in starvation, genocide, and cholera, both the U.S. and world economies operating (or failing to operate) in a manner unfathomable by those trained to understand it and those elected or appointed to control it, and a host of other issues that could result in TEOTWAWKI.

I read various blogs (of all orientations: liberal, conservative, those who believe anthropogenic global warming is a fact, those who believe it's wrong, a hoax, or a conspiracy, etc.). The alarming thing is the commentary to these blogs. Much of it is clearly from those who are on the edge of their chairs waiting to see the Budweiser furniture guy on the "news" and who will be the next American Idol. They clearly are uneducated and unthinking. How has this happened? This is not a rhetorical question, I would really like a cogent explanation.

Most alarmingly, these people vote. I don't know if the level of discourse in other countries is as retrograde as it is in the United States, I truly hope to God that it is not. I've blogged before (here and here) about the tendency of spokespersons (of any persuasion) to filter factual information through their own philosophical belief system - that is, to decide what the facts "must be." This is bad enough, but it's compounded by their legions of American Idol watching acolytes who accept it as true. In a thoughtful, educated society this could not happen. And these pathetically uninformed and ignorant, yet highly opinionated people vote.

And every sign I see indicates that it's getting worse, not better. When our Constitution was written, there were many problems but the amount of information to be digested and factual material to be learned in order to address those problems was dramatically lower. Even then, not everyone could vote. Not even every Caucasian male could vote. But now one needn't have the most basic scientific, economic, political, philosophical, or critical thinking background to vote for those who will attempt to solve the problems I listed above. One needn't even speak English or read.

This must be changed, and in both a top down and bottom up manner. This means with educational (or at least knowledge) testing for a "voting license," and a complete overhaul of how Americans are educated. Unfortunately, there are the proverbial two chances of either one happening.