Mass ignorance is the worst enemy of democracy…

February 1, 2010

One of the biggest problems facing our democracy is mass ignorance. A large portion of our population has little to no understanding of our system of government and our history (I make this judgment based on what I hear on the street and read on things such as those man and woman on the street interviews).

What little so-called info that does seep in often comes from the ratings-driven right-wing hate mongers, primarily on Clear Channel radio and Fox television. Since so many listeners are ignorant they tend to take all of what is said as gospel. To be sure there can be propaganda from the other end of the political spectrum, but it usually does not seem to be filled with nearly so much hate — a little class envy perhaps. The hate from the far right actually gives true conservatism a bad rep. My idea is that a true conservative is slow to change what seems to be working (for him or her at least) — a cautious person by nature — and does not believe in taking undue risk (unless it’s all your money). But the far right hate mongers are simply opportunists who go for the gut in human emotions and play on the fears and jealously that reside somewhere in the hearts of most humans. The left can use this tactic too and has at times, but has not been nearly as successful with it as the far right crowd has in recent decades.

We still carry the frontier mentality in this nation that carries with it the promise or illusion that as bad as things might be at the present, anyone can strike out on the trail and lift himself up and to change his station in life. You don’t want to vote to tax the rich if you might have a chance of becoming rich. (And by the way, I do not suggest that “taxing the rich” is the way to go. We all have to pay our fair share for this thing to work. While I am not sure it is the way to go, I always wonder if some form of consumption tax might not be better than an income tax.)


And I have to insert this thought in here: I laugh my head off when the likes of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, both of whom the every-man-for-himself-pull-yourself-up-from your-own-bootstraps crowd usually worships, say they are not taxed enough. They’re not supposed to say that. It really throws the not-quite-as-rich and rich wannabe crowd a curve ball.


But back to this ignorance thing:

I don’t know what other folks learn in school. Besides English grammar and arithmetic and some science, I learned the basics of history and government and geography in school, and this was all before high school. But somehow so many others either did not or did not pay attention or have some type of collective amnesia.

I once mentored a college journalism student who worked for me as a cub reporter. She was in college and had no idea of basic civics — and she was a journalism major. She did seem to be able, though, and I’m sure if she stuck with it she probably did fine, or better yet maybe she realized that there are more rewarding pursuits out there. The point is that you can go to school and even get a degree and be absolutely ignorant of our own history and government (and probably functionally illiterate to boot). I don’t care what field you are in, you are a citizen and you should know about your own nation. How else can we preserve democracy? Ignorant people are easily misled. They can be convinced to support wars that are not in their own interest at the drop of a hat. They can be convinced that they have to save billionaire bankers before they lose more of our money so the bankers can recoup what they lost and lose more of our money.

Related to all of this, I cannot figure out why I have to listen to the British Broadcasting Company or BBC to hear a comprehensive report of world news (with reports based on the point of view where they originate). In order to be good American citizens and citizens of the world we ought to know what is going on outside our borders. It’s not all about us after all. But for some reason it has been an American tradition to be Americacentric. We think if it did not happen here, it did not happen.

This is not a new thing. My father did his masters thesis back in the 1930s on the Latin American Press and noted that while at the time (and now I might add) U.S. newspapers ran little news of Latin America, the Latin American press was full of news about the USA.

And now many of our local newspapers with a deficit of advertising, plummeting circulation, and little resources have drastically cut out news of the outside world, or any real news at all. Commercial broadcast news goes for ratings and fills its time with glitzy reports (more style than susbstance) almost entirely about the American point of view, along with endless feature fluffs.

Our public schools need to push knowledge of history and government and current events much more than they do. They do not need to reach for ways to entertain their students in order to get their attention. It is up to the students to pay attention and up to their parents to make sure they do.

And I know most come from dysfunctional homes because society has been so consumed with consumption and self-gratification that family means little, but that’s another subject in and of itself. All children were  born of parents, nonetheless, as far as I know. Those parents should be responsible.

If we keep our education requirements up for employment and keep public assistance hard to get, the value of education will naturally sink in.

(The excuse makers in public education will say I just have not been in the local schools and do not know what is going on — good or bad. Not true. I raised two children and went to all the back to school nights and encouraged their education. I covered school news — went into classrooms — as a reporter. I served a stint as a substitute teacher. I have attended many, too many, school board meetings. I know what goes on and what does not. Naturally good students progress, despite the system, not quite as good students suffer. Too much money is sucked up by administrators who do not want to rock the boat and call attention to the mess that while not working so well for the students works quite well for their lifestyle.)

Or we can just as a nation go on being ignorant and scratching or heads to figure out why nothing gets done.


My grandson is in fourth grade and is studying the early California Spanish missions as I did way back when, so I know history is being taught, to some extent anyway.

I also note that at times the extreme left can be as bad as the reactionary right. I wound up listening to some type of radical left radio station the other night because it was the only radio station I could get on my truck radio that was playing the president’s state of the union speech. I was taken aback when listening after the speech the commentators started going into some kind of diatribe against the American flag and against any use of military, presumably even for self-defense. But this kind of stuff brings little advertising, so it is not nearly as prevalent as the afore-mentioned reactionary and ratings (advertising) driven right wingnut propaganda machine. It’s too bad that reasoned discussion does not seem to produce high ratings on commercial outlets (there is C-Span and NPR, thankfully, although NPR does lean a little left at times).

You really can’t ensure balanced news presentation and policy discussion while going for ratings. The act of trying to attract viewers (or readers) tends to make one match the message to what the audience is thought to want to hear or read. But again, better education would teach people to be more critical and discerning in their viewing and reading.