Thursday, November 20, 2014

More on Our Collective Stupidity

The excrement is still hitting the media-powered fan over Jonathan Gruber’s remark that the American public is “stupid.”

Nobody likes to be called “stupid.”  Remember the playground bully who couldn’t spell his own name or add 2+2? He would bloody the nose of anyone who called him “stupid.”

The stupidity of the American electorate is one more inconvenient truth, one more fact that people don’t want to hear. Yet by virtually every accepted measure of social science, we are the second most stupid nation in the First World.  I won’t mention the only more stupid nation but here’s a hint: two males of this ethnicity are on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Part of the reason for our collective stupidity is educational: we have mismanaged public and higher education for too many years.  The schools don’t teach critical thinking.  Our masses are scientifically illiterate.  Our sanitized version of history  is a pious joke: we don’t know we’re racist because we were never taught the truth about slavery and institutionalized racism in the post-bellum south. 

Part of the reason for our collective stupidity is our mainstream media.  As fewer and fewer  huge corporations control more and more of the information providers, the profession of journalism is vanishing.  If we have an electorate devoid of critical thinking, we also have information providers incapable of asking critical questions.  They are stenographers.  They are manipulated.  They are propagandists.  They do not probe.  They parrot.

Part of the reason for our collective stupidity is our propensity for self-delusion.  We believe what makes us feel good.  We believe in a world of white hats and black hats where American exceptionalism rules.  Other guys, who have been assigned the black-hat role by our government and its media  propagandists, torture people; we do not.  Other guys, who have been assigned black hats by our government and its propagandists, commit war crimes, violate the territorial integrity of other nations, brutalize minorities and worship false gods; we do not.

Combine these factors and, in almost any random sampling of Americans, you would have a majority who believe that Iran is making weapons of mass destruction to use on us, but who can’t find Iran on a map of the world. You would have a large, strident minority who think every weather event is an “act of God” and who vigorously deny that anything humans have done or are doing could possibly produce something called climate change.  You would have a majority who believe that we should not  raise taxes on “job creators,” even as those so-called “job creators” continue to export 200,000 American jobs per month to other countries.

Polls suggest that a majority — 54% to 59% depending on the moment the poll was taken and the pollster to took it — of Americans favor the construction of a pipeline to conduct tar sand petroleum from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Louisiana and Texas.  The poll respondents have been told, and so believe, that the pipeline would create thousands of new jobs in an economy suffering from severe unemployment; would result in cheaper gasoline for their internal combustion machines and would “free us from dependence on foreign oil.”  None of this is true.  The jobs are phantoms: TransCanada, the company that wants to build the pipeline, originally said it would generate 5,000 to 6,500 jobs.  Even that number, according to an independent study by Cornell University, was high.  In exchange for the support of a powerful U.S. union, TransCanada signed a sweetheart deal with the Teamsters, who began propagating that 13,000 new jobs would result from the pipeline.  When other unions raised obvious environmental issues, the Teamsters upped the ante to 20,000 new jobs.  As the Senate prepared to vote on a proposal to mandate approval of the pipeline, its proponents magically divined 43,000 new jobs.  Absolutely nothing has changed since Trans Canada’s original bullshit guess of 5,000 to 6,500 new jobs.  But somehow the media accepted, and a majority of Americans believe, that 43,000 new jobs would be created out of thin air.  That’s stupid. 

Most Americans who believe in these phantom jobs haven’t the foggiest notion what would actually be conducted through the bloody pipeline.  Tar sands petroleum is NOT fluid; it’s a solid sludge loaded with carbon, the stuff that causes climate change when it’s discharged into the atmosphere.  The sludge has to be heated to more than 150 degrees f. and put under extremely high pressure to be forced through the 36-inch diameter pipeline.  The pipes are held together by seams.  Seams fail under high pressure.  And so, mile after mile, from Alberta to Louisiana, water tables and people on either side of the pipe seams are at  high risk of exposure to dangerous and extremely toxic leaks and spills.  A majority of Americans tell the pollsters they are in favor of this thing.

Which is not merely stupid.  It is utterly insane.

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"The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of our own ignorance" --Benjamin Franklin

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