For half of Americans, ignorance is bliss

Jonathan Power says with 50 per cent of the US out of touch with reality, the nation is in danger of abandoning reason, despite Obama’s best efforts

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 July, 2015, 11:12am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 July, 2015, 11:12am

About half of the US is a “culture of ignorance”, and .they appear to feel no shame about it. In the south, the total probably goes up to around 65 per cent, whereas in the north, including California, it goes down to 35 per cent.  

It is a rough and ready way of putting it, but the other 50 per cent voted for Barack Obama for president. Obama types are less religious, more scientifically orientated, less racist, more pro health care for the poor, more aware of the world outside, more convinced that war solves little, and knowledgeable to the extent they know their immediate neighbour, Canada, does a much better job of making a good life.  

It’s the “culture of ignorance” half that is now pushing for a tougher military response to the menace of Islamic State, for pumping up military muscle  vis-à-vis Russia, and is persuading itself that more troops in Iraq could sort out what eight years of military occupation didn’t and couldn’t. It’s this half that tried to sabotage America’s economic recovery after the 2008-09 crash by demanding tax cuts for the wealthy and cuts in social welfare for the poor, and refusing to study or countenance Keynesian uplift economics.

I love America. But I also despise America. I’m afraid of America’s footprint in the world. I think Europe and Canada make sense and America doesn’t.

Dylan Roof, the young man who went into a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and murdered nine worshipers, is a child of the 50 per cent who make up the “culture of ignorance”. He may be an extreme form of it, but the ingredients are all around him. Fifty years after Martin Luther King  won historic civil rights legislation and after nearly seven years of Obama, the undercurrent of racism is alive and well. Tied into a knot with the culture of gun ownership and the murders it breeds, it shows no sign of abating.  

Half of America sincerely believes that the country both invented and perfected the idea of freedom and that its quality of life  is the highest on the planet.

Yet international rankings  place America barely in the top 10. Its rates of murder  and other violent crime dwarf the rest of the Western world and that of much of the Muslim world. So does the prison incarceration rate, not least of young black men, often convicted of non-violent, petty, crimes. The US’ average levels of educational achievement  and scientific literacy are, in world terms, embarrassingly low. The southern “Bible Belt” rejects Darwinian explanations of mankind’s creation and insists the notion that God created the human race in seven days be taught in schools.  

America teeters on the edge of abandoning reason. Obama has tried to fight this. He has only partly won. Sad to say, I doubt any successor will do better.

Jonathan Power is a syndicated columnist