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America’s Cult of Ignorance – The Daily Beast

“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.’”—Isaac Asimov

In the early ’90s, a small group of “AIDS denialists,” including a University of California professor named Peter Duesberg, argued against virtually the entire medical establishment’s consensus that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was the cause of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Science thrives on such counterintuitive challenges, but there was no evidence for Duesberg’s beliefs, which turned out to be baseless. Once researchers found HIV, doctors and public health officials were able to save countless lives through measures aimed at preventing its transmission.

Source: America’s Cult of Ignorance – The Daily Beast

The article speaks for itself.

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61 comments on “America’s Cult of Ignorance – The Daily Beast

  1. agrudzinsky
    April 2, 2017

    It’s a global phenomenon. Don’t discriminate against Americans.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. kjennings952
    April 2, 2017

    You’ve been quiet. I’m glad to hear your voice.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. dpmonahan
    April 2, 2017

    Every social group is convinced they have the right to rule others. When out of power, the “expert” class is always saying they should run the show because they are smarter and can get results, then when they fuck up people’s lives they say “Judge us by our good intentions!” Their good intentions always become the new justification for their power, like clockwork.

    Like

    • That’s not true at all. The Enlightenment proposed personal liberties enshrined in law as the antidote to what was historically totalitarian rule. Options don’t force anyone to do anything, they leave the door open for each person to choose their own path in life. To choose (or not) a religion, to choose who to marry, to choose a profession and so forth.
      Unfortunately what most monotheistic religious groups have promoted is quite the opposite and entirely along the lines of what you describe.

      Liked by 1 person

      • dpmonahan
        April 3, 2017

        Which is nice ‘n all, but the article was actually about how no one listens to the poor, poor experts.

        Like

      • The article is mostly about the ability to separate fact from fiction. The idea someone who didn’t finish high school can rail against climate change science is what’s actually ridiculous.

        Like

      • dpmonahan
        April 3, 2017

        Climate is an interesting example: I don’t know very much about the climate so I can’t say anything for sure. But I do know something about forecasting models, and know that climate scientists don’t seem to understand what models are actually for: they are for creating scenarios to help manage risk, not for predicting the future.
        That does not make claim wrong, anthropogenic climate change strikes me as an interesting and reasonable hypothesis, but it does cause me to doubt the competence of the expert.
        Even if I didn’t know how to create forecasting models, I still know when someone is trying to sell me something: act now, or the earth will end in ten years, is the same as act now while supplies last. Imitating a used-car salesman also does not create confidence, especially when I have been hearing these apocalyptic sales pitches from environmentalists (or Jehovah’s Witnesses) my whole life. Does that mean anthropogenic climate change is false? No, just that climate scientists are manipulative.
        That is what the article overlooks: people don’t trust the experts because 1) the experts are often wrong and 2) even non-experts can smell bullshit artists.

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      • There’s a foundational problem with your argument.
        If a doctor informs a patient they’re ill and they have between a few months to perhaps a couple of years to live- dismissing the diagnosis because you don’t like the possibility you only have a few months to live is entirely ridiculous from a logical perspective.
        The idea experts are “often wrong” is what people selling snake oil and superstition have banked on since religion is religion to sell their wares.
        You know who’s always more right than a priest about cancer? An expert oncologist. You know who knows about piloting an aeroplane? Not the gardener. This appeal to equate study and the lack of study is preposterous.

        Liked by 2 people

      • john zande
        April 3, 2017

        But when it comes to climate change denial, Evagelicals are practiceing deliberate, organised delusion.

        The Evangelical play book for climate change denial

        The Cornwall Alliance’s Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming:

        WHAT WE BELIEVE

        1. We believe Earth and its ecosystems—created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence —are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth’s climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history.
        2. We believe abundant, affordable energy is indispensable to human flourishing, particularly to societies which are rising out of abject poverty and the high rates of disease and premature death that accompany it. With present technologies, fossil and nuclear fuels are indispensable if energy is to be abundant and affordable.
        3. We believe mandatory reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, achievable mainly by greatly reduced use of fossil fuels, will greatly increase the price of energy and harm economies.
        4. We believe such policies will harm the poor more than others because the poor spend a higher percentage of their income on energy and desperately need economic growth to rise out of poverty and overcome its miseries.

        WHAT WE DENY

        1. We deny that Earth and its ecosystems are the fragile and unstable products of chance, and particularly that Earth’s climate system is vulnerable to dangerous alteration because of minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry. Recent warming was neither abnormally large nor abnormally rapid. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.
        2. We deny that alternative, renewable fuels can, with present or near-term technology, replace fossil and nuclear fuels, either wholly or in significant part, to provide the abundant, affordable energy necessary to sustain prosperous economies or overcome poverty.
        3. We deny that carbon dioxide—essential to all plant growth—is a pollutant. Reducing greenhouse gases cannot achieve significant reductions in future global temperatures, and the costs of the policies would far exceed the benefits.
        4. We deny that such policies, which amount to a regressive tax, comply with the Biblical requirement of protecting the poor from harm and oppression.

        A CALL TO ACTION

        In light of these facts,

        1. We call on our fellow Christians to practice creation stewardship out of Biblical conviction, adoration for our Creator, and love for our fellow man—especially the poor.
        2. We call on Christian leaders to understand the truth about climate change and embrace Biblical thinking, sound science, and careful economic analysis in creation stewardship.
        3. We call on political leaders to adopt policies that protect human liberty, make energy more affordable, and free the poor to rise out of poverty, while abandoning fruitless, indeed harmful policies to control global temperature.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Snake oil salesmanship at its finest.

        Liked by 1 person

      • john zande
        April 3, 2017

        Isn’t it. It’s sick.

        Liked by 1 person

      • dpmonahan
        April 3, 2017

        Funny, it is almost as if the level of confidence you can have in an expert varies with 1) the level of certainty achievable in their field of study and 2) how near to their field of study their advice is.
        We can’t achieve the same certainty in, say, climate science as we can in ballistics, despite the fact that both are sciences. An expert in ballistics is not an expert in aerodynamics, despite his being a scientist.
        As for experts being wrong, the track record of the experts the last few years has been pretty awful. The expert medical approach to pain management of the last 15 years helped create the current opioid crisis. The expert machinations with mortgages created the 2008 crisis. American foreign policy experts have been stepping on their own dicks for the last 20 years. The expert screwing around with the medical insurance markets is bearing crappy results. Government sanctioned expert advice about fat and carbohydrates in your diet has been completely inverted in just the last couple of years, turns out the USDA food pyramid was a load of crap.
        This article whines that the proles are stupid for not obeying the experts when the experts have undermined their own moral and intellectual authority.
        At the root of progressivism is the idea that experts should run other people’s lives as a sort of clerical class. In the end it is all about power for their tribe, which is why the goals of progressivism can change, and the justification changes (competence when they are out of power, good intentions when they screw up), but who they want in charge doesn’t change.

        Like

      • That’s yet another, profoundly flawed attempt at interpreting evidence.

        Take your first example, the “Opioid Crisis”. This isn’t the fault of medicine, much less of expertise. This is a uniquely cultural problem which affects first and foremost North America. By blaming “expertise” you misattribute responsibility. That’s the first step to conning people. The second is saying that because a specific group of doctors made a decision that contributed to a problem, then this other group here, you know, of know-nothings, they have the real solution to opioid management and it’s based on an ancient text compiled by camel herders who in all likelihood didn’t understand the concept of toilet paper.

        And the last part of your comment is simply delusional: “At the root of progressivism is the idea that experts should run other people’s lives as a sort of clerical class.”
        That’s ridiculous on every level. Especially coming from someone who subscribes to an authoritarian and totalitarian religion which wants to rule over everyone in society, followers of the religion or not. And impose its will and punish and marginalize anyone who doesn’t submit to the religion. Hilarious.

        Like

      • dpmonahan
        April 3, 2017

        So the widespread medical practice of handing out opiates like candy had nothing to do with the opiate crisis? The underlying medical concept of opiates as pain management had nothing to do the prescriptions being written?
        I am not aware of anyone proposing a “biblical solution” to opiate addiction, which does not of course exist.
        I am not against authority per se, I do however expect authority to keep to its proper place. The authority of an expert is much more narrow than the expert would like it to be. The same can be said for the authority of the church.

        Like

      • In the attribution of responsibility you have to measure against control groups. So instead of starting with a theory, you have to ask a whole lot of questions and examine all the evidence.
        What countries are most affected by opioid use? What commonalities do we find? What differences do we find?
        Are Russian doctors really prescribing opioids like American doctors?
        If the problem is “expertise” as you theorise, shouldn’t opioid usage be uniform in the developed world?

        Like

      • dpmonahan
        April 3, 2017

        The expert consensus will change from time to time and from place to place. You seem to equate expertise with objective truth, it doesn’t; it equates rather with mastering a body of knowledge, much of which may in fact be wrong.

        Like

      • I equate expertise with the best set of knowledge available to mankind. That’s on the other end of the spectrum to people making wild guesses based on dogma or partisanship.

        Like

      • dpmonahan
        April 3, 2017

        In reality what you have are competing expertises within any given field, and a hierarchy of value of expertise: expertise in mathematics renders a high level of certainty, expertise in sociology, a low level, etc. Any expertise in contingent human systems (sociology, politics, economics) is ipso facto low-certainty.

        Like

      • LOL! Should we call them “Alternate Experts”?
        Competing expertise in when we have a discussion between Friedman and Krugman. That’s hardly what the article or I am referring to.
        Climate change denial, trying to ban the teaching of evolution, saying condoms aren’t safe, equating lgbt people to pedophiles and rapists, saying prayer works- there’s no evidence to support any of those things.
        And no, expertise in sociology, politics or economics isn’t some sort of mystical thing that can’t be studied and dissected. We know the results of totalitarianism, of theocracy, of dictatorship, of closed market policies. We know the effects of dividing society into classes, of creating underclasses and so on and so forth.
        What you’re doing with this sort of comment (again) is a variation of the appeal to mystery fallacy. You pretend certain things can’t be measured because you don’t like the results of the measurements.

        Liked by 2 people

      • dpmonahan
        April 3, 2017

        No, I am being perfectly rational about the limits of human rationality. Sociology might provide some insight, but it is not physics, it does not bear certainty, and no amount of tweaking can change that because of the nature of its subject.
        The problem with dictatorship, theocracy, and centrally planned economies is that they all pretend to exercise authority over areas where they have none. A general has authority over soldiers, not civilians. A rabbi might have authority over religious matters, but not civil. The progressive wants to put an expert in charge of the economy but that is an utter impossibility: not only does he lack the authority to tell people what they can buy and sell, it is impossible for him to control it.
        And I am not the one dividing humanity into classes, it is Tom Nichols who is upset that the stupid proles won’t obey him and his buddies.

        Like

      • Fascinating. So *you* can form an educated opinion on the workings of economics, but an economist can’t?
        An economist who studies the topic for life, who compares different models and scenarios and their histories, is less prepared and qualified to analyze an issue than people who’ve given it very little consideration?
        Again you’re laying out a false proof situation. You’re requiring an “absolute certainty” standard in the case of an expert while on various occasions you’ve embraced substandard and mathematically incorrect propositions like banning Muslims/Migrants, which can be numerically demonstrated to not make anyone safer.
        That’s the definition of identity politics. Not being interested in the standard itself, just whose team the person proposing the idea is on.

        Liked by 1 person

      • dpmonahan
        April 4, 2017

        I am just pointing out the nature of economics: it has relatively little predicative value, and deals with hugely complicated systems. It doesn’t matter who you put “in charge” of the economy, he can’t control it so his authority is fake. It is why planned economies never work, or government attempts to “fix” the economy backfire in unanticipated ways. It is like a bishop attempting to command Galileo what to see through a telescope, absurd.
        You don’t govern a society on data and “science”, you can’t. A society is largely self-governing by traditions, with discrete authorities acting in their defined fields. The problem is those authorities wanting to overstep their legitimate fields to areas where they have neither authority nor competence.

        Like

      • Interesting. So we can’t compare economic policies of China, the US, Russia and the UK and identify the strong points and failures of each system? Then attempt to construct a plan adapted to the particular circumstances of a particular country?
        You’re saying we as human beings are incapable of this task?

        Like

      • dpmonahan
        April 4, 2017

        No, I am not saying politics is impossible, but it is much more of an art than a science.

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      • Only if you don’t like mathematics. Nearly everything can be measured.

        Like

      • dpmonahan
        April 4, 2017

        Then why aren’t all sciences subject to mathematical certainty?

        Like

      • Your mistake is the implication there must be 100% certainty (or it’s worthless.) That’s not true of almost anything in life. Relative certainty goes a very long way. Seatbelts don’t save lives in 100% of accidents but they did reduce death tolls by a whopping 50%.

        Like

      • P.S. did you notice the author is Tom Nichols?

        Like

      • dpmonahan
        April 3, 2017

        Don’t know him. Nice guy?

        Like

    • Arkenaten
      April 3, 2017

      The church would be a fine example of this , yes?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. john zande
    April 3, 2017

    That is the strangest part of this: they actually appear to be proud of their stupidity. Did you see the smiles and high-fives the other day as Trump signed something reversing environmental protection laws?

    Liked by 4 people

    • inspiredbythedivine1
      April 3, 2017

      Not just proud, but defiantly boisterous and loud about it. It’s as if they’re saying, “I’m as dumb as a bag of rocks and, by gosh, by golly, by gum, my dumbness is just as “true” as any other “truth” out there. If I say the earth is but 5000 years old, then you’re the belligerent ass for thinking anything you believe is in any way more valid than my deliberately idiotic one. I’m American! I’m dumb. I’m proud that I’m dumb, and if you piss me off I’ll elect a guy even dumber than me; give him the nuclear codes, and nuke your self-righteous ass into oblivion. Science smy-ance! It’s deliberate, narcissistic ignorance that’s bliss in America!”

      Liked by 4 people

      • Scottie
        April 3, 2017

        Well Said and sadly very true. I am stunned at the level of discourse and hatred of confirmed science in society today. That people don’t want to learn is one thing, to take pride in your lack of understanding is completely another. Not only do these people brag about their lack of knowledge but the shout down, abuse, and assault those who do know something. They take correction as a personal insult. Hugs

        Liked by 2 people

    • It is fascinating, but much less complex than it might seem. Where you see an environmental protection being undone, they see their evolutionary strategy being validated.
      Up until 20 or so years ago, a reasonably safe evolutionary strategy had been simply being part of the *in* group. Adherence to religion or loyalty to those in power was enough to guarantee survival and a place in the hierarchy. The combination of scientific advance and information at everyone’s fingertips has pulled the rug from under that model; As many are thoroughly invested in it, they need to find techniques to validate those views which have thus far guaranteed their status and that of their offspring within the pack.
      That means that everything that’s happening on the surface isn’t actually relevant to them. If tomorrow one of their leaders said, whilst providing no evidence, that owning red telephones was pivotal to making America great again, they would high five and comply.

      Liked by 3 people

      • inspiredbythedivine1
        April 3, 2017

        Red telephones?! Ha! How silly. Any one with a true and reasonable mind knows that only orange telephones will make America great again. Geez, man, get with reality already.

        Like

  5. Ruth
    April 3, 2017

    It really is something. I was watching a segment on the news the other day about climate change deniers. There were, obviously, several scientists on. Their consensus was that when facts contradict the worldview of the ignorant their instinct is to doubt the facts rather than change their worldview. Perhaps we’re all like that to a certain extent. I’d like to think I’ve proven I can change my worldview based on facts, but it took me a long time to be willing to accept them rather than deny them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The ego plays a rather monstrous role in that. We tend to personalize everything. Our thoughts and positions blend with our sense of self and suddenly it’s like anything that contradicts an idea we hold is an actual attack on the self.

      Like

  6. acflory
    April 3, 2017

    Not really surprising. Everything in American culture elevates the ‘jock’ and denigrates the ‘nerd’. Australia would not be all that different – think aussie rules football, cricket, tennis etc – if not for multiculturalism. European and Asian immigrants aren’t forced to ‘assimilate’, and they know the only way forward is via education, so everyone else is dragged along in the slip-stream. I hope we never stop believing that stupid is stupid.

    Liked by 2 people

    • In Latin America as well. Interestingly I think the embrace of ignorance is two-pronged. On one hand it’s encouraged by religion, but on the other it was also a rejection and psycho-social protection mechanism against the old order of Europe. The classical path which had been encouraged was that of education, refinement, bourgeoisie and ultimately aristocracy. That last one either through deeds or through marriage. In creating individual identities the colonial world needed to dismiss what came before as at the very least misguided. They also needed to come up with a model that was going to be more useful for social success in the landscape and conditions in which they were living.

      Like

      • acflory
        April 3, 2017

        You could be onto something there, Pinky. We didn’t ‘break away’ from the Old World until the fall of Singapore [or so I’ve read]. Rather than having a superiority complex, we’re probably still trying to play with the big kids. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • In the official sense, definitely. But from the very beginning of colonization toughness and compliance are more important qualities (in the new world) than citing Plato or playing the piano 😉

        Like

      • acflory
        April 3, 2017

        lol – yes, survival tends to trump culture, but once you have enough to eat, ahhh…then bring on that piano. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  7. belasbrightideas
    April 3, 2017

    If you’ve not seen this film, it really is a must. The guy who wrote it is stunned that it has come true many years before he predicted it would happen. Cult of stupidity, indeed: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0387808/

    Liked by 1 person

  8. makagutu
    April 3, 2017

    Hope you have been well.
    I think ignorance is the easier option. Finding things out takes time and energy

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Sirius Bizinus
    April 3, 2017

    I think one problem with Mr. Nichols’s position is that respecting experts for being experts doesn’t address the problem of pseudo-experts masquerading as actual keepers of knowledge. He doesn’t take into account that the snake oil salespeople adapted to an age of expertise by co-opting that trust, preying upon a person’s predilection for finding confirming information and ignoring contrary information.

    Right now, the public has not been prepared to deal with this level of lying and fraud. Trusting experts cannot be possible when con artists attempt to pass as experts. Rather, the public needs to get better at evaluating information, and professional communities need to facilitate true learning to help this process along.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The problem is having to evaluate the amount of information thrown at people these days is an entirely new phenomena. Up until just a couple of decades ago accident of birth determined most factors in what we were going to believe. From what you were saying the other day about Christian propaganda where you live, that’s still the case to a certain degree in some places.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. foolsmusings
    April 3, 2017

    Sounds great but why should I believe him? :p

    Liked by 1 person

  11. appletonavenue
    April 3, 2017

    Sadly too many Americans feel just as the author states. Happy in their ignorance, unwilling to learn. Some sort of cultural flaw. Something our government thrives on and reinforces.

    Like

  12. Steve Ruis
    April 6, 2017

    Douglas Hofstadter wrote a book on this topic that won a Pulitzer Prize in the mid-1960s. Still worth a read. (Anti-Intellectualism in American Life–still in print)

    Like

  13. Steve Ruis
    April 6, 2017

    Just a thought–could American satisfaction with self stem from “one man, one vote” democracy? Basically, my vote is as good as yours, so I am as good as you (which is why we still claim to be a classless society, all evidence to the contrary), so my ideas are as good as yours, too. Just askin’.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Pingback: Fighting Anti-Intellectualism and Propaganda | Amusing Nonsense

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