Deborah Mathis…How Did Militant Ignorance Become the Norm?

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The time: Late 2003

The place: A newsroom in Washington, D.C.

The event: A veteran Republican senator dispatches a news release, announcing the authorization of a new, jobs-making project in the state he represents.

The upside: News like that will be to the politician's benefit because the voters like their man in Washington to deliver the goods. And he gets to add this announcement to the bragging rights file for his next re-election bid.

The downside: The senator knows the measure has zero chance of surviving the essential appropriations process, meaning the news release is pumping people up for something that will never come to fruition.

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The rebound:  When a reporter points out this little technicality, both the senator and many of his constituents protest that she is practicing "gotcha" journalism, which implies something underhanded and ulterior, when, really, only those who have actually done something wrong or embarrassing can get got.

The bottom line: Never mind the facts, the truth, the reality. Just keep those illusions coming and ladle on another helping of deception for the folks back home. It's the perception that counts.

It's that kind of thinking – or lack of thinking – that has us in the bind we now find ourselves in as of late last Tuesday, when the results of the mid-term election affirmed what many had feared: That the American people had lost their collective mind.

Actually, they have replaced thinking with gulping, having been spoon-fed pap from myriad sources, many of which are about as legitimate as a $3 bill. Politics is no longer a full-bodied meal of protein, starch and complex carbohydrates, but a junk food diet chockfull of sugar, salt and saturated fat. And the body politic is no longer healthy.

What makes this regrettable situation worse is that so many people have no qualms about being in this condition. They prefer believing to knowing, and often confuse the two. They believe Barack Obama is a socialist; they believe he was not born in the U.S.; they believe he is spending $200 million a day for an official trip to India.

They do not know any of that because it cannot be known. It cannot be known because it is not true.

Don't bother, however, trying to tell them or even to show them otherwise.  You will only be called a spinner, an apologist and your evidence – Obama's clearly pro-capitalist record, his official birth certificate, and official statements about the India trip – all of that will be deemed as counterfeit.

This is what German writer Johann Goethe called "militant ignorance." That's when you're bound and determined, committed and pledged to avoid and resist any attempt to enlighten, broaden or challenge a hard-held point of view. We're not talking principled here. We're talking about stubborn refusal to question, to self-examine, to learn. The militantly ignorant are soldiers for stupidity.

Unfortunately, many of them are also empowered to vote, and that they did last Tuesday, when some of the dullest wits in the political brain trust were swept into the U.S. House and Senate, where they will spread the backwater gospel they used to make just enough people believe they would be worthwhile in high office.

Some got “got” before they could proceed in damaging and shaming their constituents – and the country – any further. Like the certifiably ditzy and mediaphobic Sharron Angle of Nevada and Colorado's Ken Buck, a 21st century homo sapien whose cultural sensibilities are about as evolved as Cro Magnon man.

But many made it through, and militant ignorance was their sailboat.

I am hoping that, just as the political pendulum swings – to the left, then to the right, then toddling in the middle, then to the left again and on and on – so will this unfortunate comfort with not knowing.

May the curious mind rise, again.

Deborah Mathis is a columnist with BlackAmericaWeb.com, where this article was originally published.