“I’m an American. I don’t have to see something to know that it’s stupid”

“I’m an American. I don’t have to see something to know that it’s stupid”. Those immortal words, uttered by Dick Smothers during a comedy routine about a song from the musical “Paint Your Wagon”, really summarize the theme of this article. Most of us don’t know as much as we think we know, and far too many people are willing to spout out opinions that demonstrate this. The following few articles, culled over the last few days of lunchtime reading, demonstrate this:

  • From the “Don’t Know Much about Religion” Department: A new survey by the folks at Pew have uncovered that most Americans don’t know jack about religion, especially other religions. This seems to be especially true for Christians; the survey shows that the folks who know religion best are athiests/agnostics, Jews, and Mormans. Is it any surprise, then, to see the responses to the second Disney incident about headscarves: this time, where they were able to accomodate an Islamic employee. Instead of praising Disney for figuring out a solution that allows all Americans to work, you see responses such as “These people should be told in no uncertain terms to either accept the cultural norms of the United States, or live in another country.” or “This all because BO’s statement that America is no longer a Christian country while in fact, Christians are still a majority in this country.” or “America, ONCE a great land, but now caving in to the VERY religion that would LOVE to see America fall!”. I read comments such as this, and I’m worried. The lack of understanding of religion is what led to all the blood libels and fears about Jews in the past, and I fear that going after Muslims would just be a start.
  • From the “Don’t Know Much about Politics” Department: There’s a very nice opinion piece over on Politico about the Tea Party, which dovetails quite nicely with what I wrote over the weekend about moderation. For the point of view of this post, I’m focusing on the line “ They believe that politics is essentially corrupt — that deal making and compromise are an abandonment of principle.” This is a clear misunderstanding of how politics works in this country. The goal of opposition parties is not to totally block legislation, but to work to find a middle ground between the parties that works to help the people. Although elected by a majority in their district or state, this does not mean they are not representing the minority voices. The job of politicians is to serve all the people they represent, and to find the compromise positions that serve the interest of the nation. Here’s another quote: “The new Republican caucus will be elected with a mandate to stop Obama’s policies and reverse them wherever possible.” Note that there is nothing here about examining the content of the policies to see if there is anything good: a priori the decision has been made that whatever he says is bad. That’s misunderstanding how government works.
  • From the “Don’t Know Much about History” Department: The Market Urbanism blog has a nice piece on the Great American Streetcar Myth. We all know it: That a GM-Standard Oil-Firestone conspiracy bought up all the streetcars so they could sell more busses. It’s at the heart of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. Of course, it isn’t true either: what killed streetcar systems was a variety of factors, from changing public transportation needs to limitations on fares that prohibited infrastructure improvements, and so on. But people never look at the actual history: they are more comfortable believing the myth.
  • From the “Don’t Know Much about Anything” Department: The Ventura County Star has a nice AP piece about how kids today don’t know anything. They can edit digital photographs, but don’t know how to use a can opener. They can navigate the net with ease, but are confused about how to actually hang clothes on a hanger. They have no idea how to cook a soft-boiled egg, or to get ice cubes out of an ice cube tray. They don’t know how to address an envelope.

So what does this lack of knowledge say about the future of society (especially as budgets force us to spend even less on education)? Should we give up hope now?