In a country where a sitting congressman told a crowd that evolution and the Big Bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell,” (link is external) where the chairman of a Senate environmental panel brought a snowball (link is external) into the chamber as evidence that climate change is a hoax, where almost one in three citizens can’t name the vice president (link is external), it is beyond dispute that critical thinking has been abandoned as a cultural value.
Our failure as a society to connect the dots, to see that such anti-intellectualism comes with a huge price, could eventually be our downfall.
What Americans rarely acknowledge is that many of their social problems are rooted in the rejection of critical thinking or, conversely, the glorification of the emotional and irrational.
What else could explain the hyper-patriotism (link is external) that has many accepting an outlandish notion that America is far superior to the rest of the world?
Love of one’s country is fine, but many Americans seem to honestly believe that their country both invented and perfected the idea of freedom, that the quality of life here far surpasses everywhere else in the world.
But it doesn’t.
International quality of life rankings (link is external) place America far from the top, at sixteenth.
America’s rates of murder and other violent crime (link is external) dwarf most of the rest of the developed world, as does its incarceration rate (link is external), while its rates of education and scientific literacy are embarrassingly low (link is external).
American schools, claiming to uphold “traditional values,” avoid fact-based sex education, and thus we have the highest rates of teen pregnancy (link is external) in the industrialized world. And those rates are notably highest where so-called “biblical values” are prominent. Go outside the Bible belt, and the rates generally trend downward (link is external).
Interestingly, anti-intellectual fundamentalists are joined in their climate change denial with unusual bedfellows: corporate interests (link is external) that stand to gain from the rejection of sound science on climate.
Corporate influence on climate and environmental policy, meanwhile, is simply more evidence of anti-intellectualism in action, for corporate domination of American society is another result of a public that is not thinking critically.
Americans have allowed their democracy to slip away, their culture overtaken by enormous corporations that effectively control both the governmental apparatus and the media, thus shaping life around materialism and consumption.
Indeed, these corporate interests encourage anti-intellectualism, conditioning Americans into conformity and passive acceptance of institutional dominance.
They are the ones who stand to gain from the excessive fear and nationalism that result in militaristic foreign policy and absurdly high levels of military spending.
They are the ones who stand to gain from consumers who spend money they don’t have on goods and services they don’t need. They are the ones who want a public that is largely uninformed and distracted, thus allowing government policy to be crafted by corporate lawyers and lobbyists.