What follows are excerpts from the "Notebook" section of the latest (Feb '09) Harper's, entitled "A Quibble." Those five or six of you who are more or less regular readers will recognize a similar theme. This piece is by one of the contributing editors, Mark Slouka.
What we need to talk about, what someone needs to talk about, particularly now, is our ever-deepening ignorance (of politics, of foreign languages, of history, of science, of current affairs, of pretty much everything) and not just our ignorance but our complacency in the face of it, our growing fondness for it. A generation ago the proof of our foolishness, held up to our faces, might still have elicited some redeeming twinge of shame—no longer. Today, across vast swaths of the republic, it amuses and comforts us. We’re deeply loyal to it. Ignorance gives us a sense of community; it confers citizenship; our representatives either share it or bow down to it or risk our wrath.
What do we care about? We care about auto racing and Jessica. We care about food, oh yes, please, very much. And money. We care about Jesus, though we’re a bit vague on his teachings. And America. We care about America. And the flag. And the troops, though we’re untroubled by the fact that the Bush administration lied us into the conflict, then spent years figuring out that armor in war might be a good idea. Did I mention money?
Here’s the mirror—look and wince. One out of every four of us believes we’ve been reincarnated; 44 percent of us believe in ghosts; 71 percent, in angels. Forty percent of us believe God created all things in their present form sometime during the last 10,000 years. Near the same number—not coincidentally, perhaps—are functionally illiterate. Twenty percent think the sun might revolve around the earth. When one of us writes a book explaining that our offspring are bored and disruptive in class because they have an indigo “vibrational aura” that means they are a gifted race sent to this planet to change our consciousness with the help of guides from a higher world, half a million of us rush to the bookstores to lay our money down.
I'll continue with more snippets of this article tomorrow. For the nonce, chew on this stuff here. Think about it: 40 percent of the country is functionally illiterate. Doesn't that just scare the hell out of you? Four out of every ten people! Brothers and sisters: there's no hope when you're constituted like this.