Sunday, December 8, 2013

America needs a New Age of Enlightenment

The Age of Enlightenment was a cultural movement in an era that occurred in 17th and 18th century Europe. Its purpose was to reform society using "reason" to challenge old ideas, and to advance knowledge through science. It promoted skepticism and intellectual interchange, while opposing superstition and intolerance. The ideas of the enlightenment had a long-term major impact on the culture, politics and governments of the Western world.

Now here we are today, battling ignorance, superstition and intolerance all over again --- and it's all being promoted by the mainstream media, a slew of wacky politicians (you know who they are) --- and a few Hollywood crackpots (some with crack pipes).

It is especially difficult to get to the truth and counter misinformation when 6 corporations (with their own interests at heart) controls 90% of the "mainstream" media --- and even more so when they have their own ideological agendas.

A good example would be when people like Rush Limbaugh are legally allowed (through freedom of speech) to broadcast their ignorance to over 600 radio stations nationwide --- and so it's no wonder that a broad swath of this nation has been "dumbed down".

Other examples would be in cable news: Fox News (favoring the Tea Party, conservatives and Republicans), MSNBC (favoring Democrats, liberals and progressives), and CNN (who changes sides all the time, trying to appear "neutral" --- although lately, gives Tea Party people like Ted Cruz a lot of air time.)

As was excerpted, paraphrased and edited from a post at the Daily Kos: Whenever someone in the media (or a politician) says, "Oh, but we were just raising the question", it is the same well-worn excuse of sensationalists and yellow journalists everywhere; because if they are just raising the question (where there are, in fact, no serious questions to raise), then they are still doing harm by implying that questions need to be raised.

And by presenting anecdotal evidence does not count as real evidence when attempting to prove sustained and/or widespread proof of something that's happening; nor does it show a cause and correlation --- and it certainly does not count as a valid counterargument to vast reams of evidence demonstrating that just the opposite is true.

Someone could not go on national television and claim that their young son died ten days after watching Big Bird, and that it was clearly Big Bird that killed him. Or someone could not go on television and claim that, because they ate a cheeseburger only days before their neighbor had a car accident, cheeseburgers are bad luck and causes auto accidents. Someone could make those moronic claims, mind you, but even the most gullible minds among us would not generally think that those claims were worthy of a major television station.

We would not have these programs devoted to the "Big Bird hypothesis", programs that were "just asking question", as to whether Big Bird was mass-murdering our children via some unknown force. We would not have radio stations, newspapers and magazines asking "the cheeseburger question", even after the statistical evidence has already confirmed that almost every car accident in America happened to someone who lived in a neighborhood where some other person recently consumed a cheeseburger.

However, if the media frames the same question about a subject that people have a more tenuous or abstract knowledge of, then suddenly the single anecdote holds sway and influences public opinion (and henceforth, political opinion and public policy).

In the scientific and societal realm, false claims about vaccinations, climate change and social programs are regularly "debunked" --- like assertions that "someone somewhere died in the same month that they were given a vaccine for something" or "it is cold today, therefore the climate is not changing" or "he's on food stamps so he must not be looking for work" or "she applied for disability benefits so she must have left her job to game the system" or "someone receiving unemployment benefits increases the unemployment rate and causes people to be out of work longer."

Because these anecdotes are much easier to understand than broader statistical measurements and empirical evidence, for many [ignorant and/or misinformed] people, the anecdotes are given more credibility. The less a subject is understood, the easier it is for cranks to pretend expertise when attempting to convince others, who know even less (Think of the sellers of snake oil.)

And the more eager the TV talking heads, politicians, radio jocks and journalists are to pit the improbable sensationalist against the sum total of all the world's hard-won collective knowledge on the subject (through previous "enlightenment"), the more egregious and nefarious it all becomes --- because it's all done in the name of advertising, ratings and profits (or in the case of politicians, their corporate lobbyists and campaign donors).

God help us if a single anecdotal story actually prove true, as that will shift "the question" from scientific illiteracy to statistical innumeracy. The rarer the event, the more difficult it becomes for the human mind to recognize it as rare.

One man bitten by a shark on one beach becomes "a cause for alarm"; two men bitten by two sharks on two separate beaches becomes "an epidemic". Then, as to be expected, the media asks the questions: "Are sharks becoming more aggressive?" or "Should you even enter the water this summer?" or "Is the human race doomed?"

We see this pandering to sensationalism and ignorance just by the way they sometimes title their headlines or TV strollers.

Then when they take it to the political realm, we have nationwide machinations claiming voter fraud premised on "evidence" of fraud that usually consists of (nationwide) perhaps tens of people.

Or the politicians' demands that we do less to feed the poor because one fellow saw one fellow who "did not seem all that poor", or he saw lobsters in someone's shopping cart, or maybe he saw a beach bum in California being portrayed on TV as partying on food stamps (on the taxpayer's dime).

It seems that most of our political leaders get all their knowledge from the "mainstream" media (or partisan "think tanks"), rather than from a school of higher learning, academic studies or carefully composed reports from nonpartisan sources. So it's left up to the media to "wise up" and teach our political leaders with the facts (rather than fabricate them or selectively report them). Because if not, our public policy will be based on the driving forces behind the media's interests (profits) and not the general public's.

Congress will pass laws based of lies, sensationalism and yellow journalism. People's lives will be directly affected based on skimpy anecdotal fables.

It seems that in the 21st Century, we in America need a New Age of Enlightenment --- because in case you haven't noticed, people in Europe and elsewhere around the world have been laughing at our American "exceptionalism". But when we see people like Bill O'Reilly, Ted Cruz and Michele Bachmann on our TV sets all the time, how can we really blame them for laughing at us? Our mainstream media has become more like a continuous Jerry Springer Show --- not at all like the former and more serious and somber reporting that was once done by Walter Cronkite. Now CBS is also an ideological tool.

As was excerpted, paraphrased and edited from a post at Paul Krugman described the Republican problem as "policy ignorance". It is true that Republicans are ignorant about most policies that they disagree with, but that ignorance is mostly intentional and fostered by culture that is out to oppose Obama at all costs. Republicans are "policy ignorant" because they don’t care about policy --- for them, everything is about denying Obama a "win" on anything that might benefit most Americans.

The downside of their behavior is that they will continually insist on infecting the rest of the country with their ignorance. The Republicans aren’t content to just behave as a caucus of stupid idiots, they also constantly feel the need to spread their anti-intellectual disease. So ignorance is being used as a tool of opposition.

One example is the GOP’s anti-Obamacare rhetoric in their unrelenting effort to keep people deliberately misinformed and ignorant. In part, this is a political "means to an end" --- but it also represents the anti-intellectualism within the conservative movement. Today’s Republican voters aren’t thinkers, they’re believers --- so for them, ignorance is truly is bliss.

And yet....and yet...and yet...rather than point that out, cable TV news stations like CNN wants to share the blame with the Democrats, rather than just point out the actual facts.

But where the Republican leadership really does excel is, in their use of disinformation, misinformation, propaganda and scare tactics to sway the arguments in their favor and influencing public opinion --- by using their favorite weapon of choice, ignorance. And the mainstream media appears all too willing to help in their efforts to get people to vote against their own best interests.

Rather than "enlightening" us (such as the National Geographic Channel, the Discovery Channel or the History Channel --- or even American Greed), the major new media would rather poison our minds with more nonsense, anecdotal stories and "tabloid journalism" --- further dumbing down the people of America.

Rather than asking real questions, they'll formulate questions that have already been asked and answered: "Could Obamacare become genocide?" The Republicans (the party of the super-rich) will always answer "yes" to save the top one percent a 3.8% surtax on their capital gains. But the mainstream media will keep asking the same old question, indicating that there is still the real possibility, and that we should all be afraid --- be very afraid (And then they'll break to a commercial to sell us something that we don't really need or can afford.)

And that's the way it is.


* Watch Nick Hanauer on Income Inequality:

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