From Charles Pierce’s1 book Idiot America, which I’ve be listening to in the car this week.
The rise of Idiot America, though, is essentially a war on expertise. It’s not so much antimodernism or the distrust of the intellectual elites that Richard Hofstadter teased out of the national DNA, although both of those things are part of it. The rise of Idiot America today reflects–for profit, mainly, but also, and more cynically, for political advantage and in the pursuit of power–the breakdown of the consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people we should trust the least are the people who know best what they’re talking about. In the new media age, everybody is a historian, or a scientist, or a preacher, or a sage. And if everyone is an expert, then nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert.
It was published five years ago, when I first read it, and reminded me at the time of Issac Asimov’s classic essay from thirty years prior called A Cult of Ignorance.
There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.
It’s a sad statement that the trend toward willful ignorance in this country is little changed, and has indeed become much worse, from Asimov’s observations in 1980 to those of Pierce in 2009 to today.
Despite, possibly because of, greater access to information than ever before.