You can tell I’m getting a lot out of my system after a couple of weeks of not being able to write on my computer, can’t you?
What got me going on this subject was seeing an article about it in a British newspaper. It talked about Marilyn Monroe’s quest for intellectual enrichment – she had a library of 400 books, and compared her search for knowledge and education with the ignorance propounded by the likes of Sarah Palin and which has been raised to cult status. It’s cool to be ignorant, geeky to be intelligent and educated.
It’s something that has been getting up my nose quite a bit – when did the worship of stupidity become a badge of honour, while – on the other hand – a claim to intelligence is now a sin?
This was further compounded by reading that Michele Bachman, a former candidate for the forthcoming US Presidential elections, had tried to whip up anti-Muslim hysteria with wild, unsubstantiated allegations about certain people of Islamic faith in public life.
Bachman is one of those who uses Ignorance Chic to promote not only simplistic, selfish, short-sighted “solutions” to the challenges which the US (and many other countries) is facing in current times, but also divisive slogans to whip up prejudice and division among people. She is probably correct to appeal to ignorance because the dumbing down of political debate, in the US and in other Western nations, is concomitant with the rise of celebrity culture where nothing is required of people like Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton except that they be celebrities without having any other achievements to their credit.
Somehow it’s become acceptable to be dumb and ignorant, while intellectual, educational and cultural pursuits are scorned. Ignorance Chic and the worship of ignorance is truly reprehensible. Palin built up an avid following after she burst into prominence when Senator McCain made her his vice-presidential running mate in the last presidential elections. Subsequent media interviews and her own words, however, showed that she was a woman ignorant of the wider world, uninterested in intellectual rigour or knowledge about her responsibilities as a potential vice-president, and only intent on whipping people into anti-liberal hysteria while feathering her own nest.
The sad thing is that, despite showing time and time again how she lacked intellectual rigour, people continue to follow her and praise her for her very simple, reactionary views which can’t be upheld by logic or an educated approach. The frightening thing is that people were – and still are – willing to be wound up by someone who had one skill – rabble-rousing with simplistic slogans.
It’s very reminiscent of Nazi Germany where difficult economic times made the rise of ultra-right nationalism attractive to people in difficult financial circumstances and where simplistic slogans were used to whip people into nationalist and pro-war frenzies. I studied German history at university which is why many of the details of Nazi Germany remain in my memory bank. I think we live in dangerous times where we can see the rise of the extreme right in many nations and circumstances very reminiscent of the pre-war situation in Europe, so it’s instructive to look at the propaganda machine of the German fascists, overseen by the infamous Dr Joseph Goebbels.
He was made Minister of Propaganda in 1928, and in 1933, once Hitler became Chancellor, Goebbels began his campaign against artistic expression. He got rid of Jewish writers, journalists, and artists from the German cultural scene, and placed the news media under government control. He used rallies, films, the print media, posters and speeches to spread Nazi ideas among the mass of the people.
Because of the time distance from the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t only Jews who were murdered by Hitler and his thugs. Artists, writers, educators, union activists, gypsies, intellectually and physically handicapped people, religious activists, ANY opponent of the regime was either murdered outright or incarcerated in concentration camps to die of starvation and ill-treatment, or be fed into the gas chambers.
Goebbels view was:
“If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth. ”
“The bigger the lie, the more people will believe it.”
I thought of this when I watched Palin at a rally during the last Presidential election accusing President Obama of “palling with terrorists”. This was a palpable lie but she stood there smirking when people were shouting out: “Kill him” or “Shoot him” in scenes reminiscent of the black lynchings so prevalent in the southern states of America. I did check out her Facebook Page once, out of curiosity, but I didn’t hang around for long. I felt dirty after reading just briefly the racist, inflammatory comments which she or her page editors made no effort to remove.
The views of Goebbels above could easily be the refrain of the Fox news empire, which resembles the propaganda machine Goebbels built up in Nazi Germany. Murdoch’s media apparatus has a stable of shock jock-type hacks and reporters who peddle lies, distortions, a dumbing down of information, an appeal to nationalism, and the vilification of anyone who the Fox stable considers inimicable to the activities of ultra-right organisations, the armaments, petrol, banking and pharmaceutical oligarchies, as well as the beating of the drum for wars by any means – economic through sanctions or military through military aggression – to further the cause of US imperial control throughout the world. The Murdoch empire promotes the view that the US is the centre of the world and its interests prevail over the rest of humanity. Sounds remarkably like Hitler and fascist ideology.
What is often forgotten is that Goebbels believed people should have limited education in order to make them malleable to the ruling elite, the fascist Nazis. If you have a look at what is happening in the US, Australia, Britain, Greece and other Western nations, you can see the same thing happening: schools are being closed; libraries are being closed; censorship of texts is gradually being implemented; teachers are under the microscope for any views considered in any way progressive; funds are shunted to rich, private educational institutions while funding is cut for educational services to the less affluent. Look at how the science of climate change has been attacked and ridiculed while ideas of fundamentalist creationism have been puffed up.
Added to this is the disdain for cultural activity by people like Palin, Limbaugh, Federal Australian politicians like Opposition Leader Abbott, and the focus on sporting activities which are used – as can be seen in the Olympic Games about to start this week – to beat the nationalist drum.
Then you’ve got the dumbing down of entertainment, the promotion of airheads like the aforesaid Hilton and Kardashian , and the cult of celebrity whereby many young people today see their goal in life to “be rich and famous” or simply “skinny/thin”.
What on earth is wrong with wanting education, having artistic ideas, being creative, loving scientific discoveries, being known as intelligent and educated, or admiring scientific advances? I have a very rich spiritual life with plenty of experience of contact with the after-life, and I continue to believe strongly in mysteries which we aren’t going to be solved here on earth because they’re not meant to be solved here on earth. But I’m also a big admirer of achievements which have arisen from the utilisation of intellectual rigour and the logical sides of our brains.
I find Ignorance Chic depressing because this is its fundamental aim and what it’s really about, not just Fox News but the super-wealthy oligarchies who leech off the great majority:
On the other hand, I’m a glass half-full gal, and I reckon there’s always a positive to outweigh the negative. Ignorance Chic is inspiring so many people towards Creative Courage. I am inspired by the creative work that goes on outside of conventional channels – through independent organisations; through cultural collectives; through media outlets on the web; and through YouTube and other outlets.
When you look around, there are zillions of ways in which people ARE seeking intellectual rigour and are supporting educational and creative excellence. In its own way, Ignorance Chic has likely compelled an uprising of independent activity because the reality is that ignorance doesn’t serve the vast majority of the people, only – as the Occupy Wall Street movement pointed out so eloquently – the 1% who leech off the 99%.