John Colson: Hit and Run
September 25, 2011
I believe it was H.L. Mencken, our national curmudgeon and preeminent sociopolitical commentator in the first half of the 20th century, who wrote something along the line that Americans are inherently too ignorant to deserve democracy.
I must say that I agree on that point, at least, and we are proving him right with greater vehemence and determination with every passing day.
I take, as my most immediate offering of proof, a letter to this newspaper attacking me for a recent column in which I noted that there are still a lot of people who think the “terrorist attacks of 9/11” were at least abetted by, or at worst engineered by our own government.
I said nothing to denigrate the memories of those who died on that day a decade ago, nor did I claim to believe the conspiracy theories myself.
But the mere mention of an alternative to the version touted by our government was enough to send one woman into paroxysms of outrage, invective and misinformation, building her case on assumptions and extrapolations from my words that came straight from her own imagination and knee-jerk anger at any idea that does not comport with her views of the world.
As, again, H.L. Mencken once said, “The fact is that the average man’s love of liberty is nine-tenths imaginary, exactly like his love of sense, justice and truth.” His meaning was that most Americans fool themselves into believing they are defenders of liberty and truth, when in fact, what they are defending is their own flawed, romanticized and irrational fantasy of our nation’s history and future.
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Maureen Dowd, not such a curmudgeon but a woman with a remarkable grasp on reality as it relates to politics and a fabulous command of English, made such case strongly in a recent column in the New York Times.
Among other pithy observations, she noted that Republicans, as a national force, “are now the ‘How great is it to be stupid’ party,” with Sarah Palin and Rick Perry as the party’s standard bearers for the concept that one need not be smart to run this country.
They are, of course, modeling their ambitions on the success of one George W. Bush, who proved for good and all that intelligence is not a requirement for the job.
The problem here is that intelligence IS needed to run this country, if it can be run at all, because we have worked ourselves into a powerfully complicated and dark dilemma, as a nation and a people.
But for half a century or so our nation’s leaders have seemed determined to insure that we are not up to the task of electing anyone who will actually think for himself or herself, take a clear-eyed look at the core problems facing our nation, and then take steps to fix those problems.
Instead, too many of us believe the lies repeated endlessly in television ads, allow our prejudices and our anger at everything to be our guides in making decisions about whom to vote for, and end up with a government that does nothing except preserve the place of those at the top of our national economic heap.
As Dowd pointed out, our education system has been systematically weakened to the point where it is woefully inadequate to the task of teaching us to think and act in our own best interests, which is something we as a people apparently are willing to accept.
Why else would we continue to hold teachers in such low esteem on a national, political level? Why else would we be so eager to believe the lies of such self-interested deceivers as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his campaign to undermine the very profession of teaching? Why else would we permit our national education system, once the envy of the world, to be pirated by religious know-nothings intent on pushing upon our children such vapid and evil concepts as “intelligent design” and preventing our children from even hearing the word, “evolution?”
The power structure that runs this county, let’s face it, is entrenched in its own wealth and privilege, and will do anything to undermine or discredit anyone or any idea that might threaten that entrenchment.
And we let that happen.