Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Unteachable Ignorance of Jane Smiley.

We saw Jane Smiley's "The unteachable ignorance of the red states."
up on Slate. Here are some delightful excerpts:
Here is how ignorance works: First, they put the fear of God into you—if you don't believe in the literal word of the Bible, you will burn in hell. Of course, the literal word of the Bible is tremendously contradictory, and so you must abdicate all critical thinking, and accept a simple but logical system of belief that is dangerous to question. A corollary to this point is that they make sure you understand that Satan resides in the toils and snares of complex thought and so it is best not try it.

Next, they tell you that you are the best of a bad lot (humans, that is) and that as bad as you are, if you stick with them, you are among the chosen. This is flattering and reassuring, and also encourages you to imagine the terrible fates of those you envy and resent. American politicians ALWAYS operate by a similar sort of flattery, and so Americans are never induced to question themselves. That's what happened to Jimmy Carter—he asked Americans to take responsibility for their profligate ways, and promptly lost to Ronald Reagan, who told them once again that they could do anything they wanted. The history of the last four years shows that red state types, above all, do not want to be told what to do—they prefer to be ignorant. As a result, they are virtually unteachable.

Third, and most important, when life grows difficult or fearsome, they (politicians, preachers, pundits) encourage you to cling to your ignorance with even more fervor. But by this time you don't need much encouragement—you've put all your eggs into the ignorance basket, and really, some kind of miraculous fruition (preferably accompanied by the torment of your enemies, and the ignorant always have plenty of enemies) is your only hope. If you are sufficiently ignorant, you won't even know how dangerous your policies are until they have destroyed you, and then you can always blame others.

The reason the Democrats have lost five of the last seven presidential elections is simple: A generation ago, the big capitalists, who have no morals, as we know, decided to make use of the religious right in their class war against the middle class and against the regulations that were protecting those whom they considered to be their rightful prey—workers and consumers. The architects of this strategy knew perfectly well that they were exploiting, among other unsavory qualities, a long American habit of virulent racism, but they did it anyway, and we see the outcome now—Cheney is the capitalist arm and Bush is the religious arm.

Since Ms. Smiley is big on critical thinking, may we ask to whom she is referring when she writes "they"? Should we assume that Karl Rove rolled into town telling people to pray? We assume Smiley believes that devout belief and rational thought are mutually incompatible.

We're distrustful of someone who starts a paragraph, "here is how ignorance works." Especially distressing coming from the Party of Nuance. Then Smiley veers straight for Tinfoil Hat Country when she invokes Big Capitalists and Shadowy Religious Hucksters Conspiring in Dark Corners to Enslave America.

Would we be taken seriously if we wrote, "a generation ago, the international banking cartel decided to make use of the freemasons in their war against modern America"? We hope not. But presumably Slate readers don't blink an eye at her mild derangement.

Interestingly she doesn't think the Bush supporters in her family are ignorant (although she does accuse them of being greedy).

Her selective memory when it comes to Jimmy Carter is also telling. When he lost to Reagan, both he and Rosalyn openly derided the Reagans as immoral, doing his little Church Lady superior dance. Then again, Smiley herself seems to think that anyone who disagrees with her is a moral leper. The take-home lesson: it's fine to be self-righteous, provided you back the Democrats.
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