In The Triumph of Ignorance: How Morons Succeed in U.S. Politics, George Monibot attempts to figure out what perplexes the rest of the world. How can a country with the strongest collective brain trust in the history of man be constantly led by such idiots? From Reagan to Bush, Quayle to Palin, being an idiot seems to be no impediment to political power.
How was it allowed to happen? How did politics in the United States come to be dominated by people who make a virtue out of ignorance? Was it charity that has permitted mankind’s closest living relative to spend two terms as president? How did Sarah Palin, Dan Quayle and other such gibbering numbskulls get to where they are? How could Republican rallies in 2008 be drowned out by screaming ignoramuses insisting that Barack Obama is a Muslim and a terrorist?
Monibot blames (in part) American religion.
Religion — in particular fundamentalist religion — makes you stupid. The United States is the only rich country in which Christian fundamentalism is vast and growing.
And, not surprisingly, the South
But there were other, more powerful reasons for the intellectual isolation of the fundamentalists. The United States is peculiar in devolving the control of education to local authorities. Teaching in the Southern states was dominated by the views of an ignorant aristocracy of planters, and a great educational gulf opened up. “In the South,” Jacoby writes, “what can only be described as an intellectual blockade was imposed in order to keep out any ideas that might threaten the social order.”
The Southern Baptist Convention, now the biggest Protestant denomination in the United States, was to slavery and segregation what the Dutch Reformed Church was to apartheid in South Africa. It has done more than any other force to keep the South stupid. In the 1960s it tried to stave off desegregation by establishing a system of private Christian schools and universities. A student can now progress from kindergarten to a higher degree without any exposure to secular teaching. Southern Baptist beliefs pass intact through the public school system as well. A survey by researchers at the University of Texas in 1998 found that 1 in 4 of the state’s public school biology teachers believed that humans and dinosaurs lived on Earth at the same time.
And what would a bash on the South and fundamentalism be without a bash on Rush Limbaugh?
Besides fundamentalist religion, perhaps the most potent reason why intellectuals struggle in elections is that intellectualism has been equated with subversion. The brief flirtation of some thinkers with communism a long time ago has been used to create an impression in the public mind that all intellectuals are communists. Almost every day, men like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly rage against the “liberal elites” destroying America.
The specter of pointy-headed alien subversives was crucial to the elections of Reagan and Bush. A genuine intellectual elite — like the neocons (some of them former communists) surrounding Bush — has managed to pitch the political conflict as a battle between ordinary Americans and an overeducated pinko establishment. Any attempt to challenge the ideas of the right-wing elite has been successfully branded as elitism.
All I can say is Amen, Brother.