I recall reading a comment on a forex trading forum a few years ago that said something to the effect of: throughout history, all human progress can be attributed to an exceedingly small number of elite thinkers – were it not for this tiny number of people, there would be no progress at all. That seemed profound to me at the time; maybe it’ll still come across that way to some folks. Thinking about it now though, it’s true. Anyone that made it through high school (and even plenty that didn’t) can still name off a handful of these elite thinkers that have contributed more to human progress than billions of 9-5 worker drones combined. Galileo, Newton, Tesla, Einstein, and da Vinci have all made immeasurable contributions to the modern world, to the extent that there wouldn’t be a modern world as we know it without them. There are two critical traits that set these type of people apart from the masses: a desire to know truth and a willingness to tackle the complexities of the world around them. This is the polar opposite of the average person. The vast majority of people are looking for simple answers to complex questions. They want to live in a black and white world. Since one doesn’t exist, they create their own. This is why, for as long as mankind has existed, religion has been so popular. The less knowledgable and intelligent a culture is, the more likely it is to be religious. Not surprisingly, the opposite is also true. One need only look back to the famous leaders of technological advancement that I just mentioned to see examples of how religion has consistently hindered progress through the ages. Even today, there are people who think Einstein’s (very widely accepted and well-evidenced) theory of relativity is a liberal conspiracy to pull people away from the Bible. Religion has always been at odds with science because science recognizes complex issues and seeks out their equally complex answers. Religion is, at its heart, the ignoring of complex issues and the creating of a black/white world full of simplistic answers. This is why it has appealed to the masses for millennia – people hate thinking.
These days there are major problems with the religions of old. Many scientific theories long denied by religion have become too undeniable and widely accepted (evolution comes to mind). Old-time religious beliefs are becoming increasingly hard to hold for mainstream folk that don’t want to be viewed as complete nut jobs. However, the needs of the masses haven’t changed. People still want to live in black and white worlds. They still don’t want to wade through the vast complexities of life on earth. They still refuse to take the time to understand complicated answers. They still can’t bring themselves to utter the words, “I need more information to form an opinion on that,” or, “I’m not sure.” They want to have the answers to everything. They want those answers now. They want them with as little effort invested as possible. And they want those answers to be very simple, easy to understand, and easy to repeat.
Thousands of years ago, religious leaders stepped up to the plate to fill this demand. They gave people books that explained how life on earth worked in black/white non-detail and these books also told people how to live their lives. No one needed to think. Just do what the religious leaders told you to do. There’s an imaginary man in the sky watching you, just follow his rules. Don’t go searching for truth and complex answers, this book is full of simple answers. With the decline of traditional religion, new entities have stepped in to fill this void. The leaders of this new religion aren’t called pastor and pope, they’re called The Heritage Foundation, The Cato Institute, and News Corporation, amongst others. Rupert Murdoch is the new Jesus. Glenn Beck is modern John The Baptist. Religion has always been about ignorance – ignoring reality and creating your own, much simpler version. This new movement says that that ignorance no long needs to be proxied through a religion. It can now be freely paraded in the open, accepted and embraced by the vast majority of mankind that is as uninterested in critical thought as they have been since the days they opposed the idea of the earth revolving around the sun or they burned at the stake anyone that questioned their simplistic worldviews.
The ignorance movement can be seen in all aspects of society. One area it’s seen most clearly in is economics. Economics is a highly complex field (the masses hate complexity!) that, to anyone being honest, is a giant gray area (the masses hate shades of gray!!). People willing to admit it to themselves recognize that economics is a field of best-guesses. The masses cannot cope with any of this. They cannot invest the time, effort, and critical thought it requires to analyze abstract real-world issues and formulate real-world solutions. They need concrete, simple explanations, and all complex situations must be artificially boiled down into something very simple. The leaders of this new religion have, of course, come to their rescue. Understanding the vast complexities and millions of moving pieces of an economy is completely unnecessary thanks to the now wide-spread idea of the infallible “free market”. The bought and paid for freshwater economists, aided by billionaire funded think-tanks have sold the masses on the idea that the free market fixes all problems. Pollution choking you out and giving your kids cancer? Remove all government regulation and the free market will sort it out. Giant banks destroying your economy? Remove all banking regulations and the free market will fix it. Bad home loans poisoning derivatives markets? The free market will take care of that. Food poisoning issues? No need for the FDA or USDA. Let the free market sort it out. Gas prices too high? Free market. Healthcare unaffordable? Free market. Increasing homeless population? Free market. Unemployment too high? Free market. Corruption? Ebola? Free market. Free market. Acne? Free market. Car trouble? Free market. Feeling down? The free market will cheer you up. Have the flu? Take a free market pill. The belief that the invisible hand of the free market magically fixes all economic and social problems is the incredibly simple answer to ALL the extremely complex issues of the economy. I’ve often heard members of the ignorance movement refer to this magical hand as a “law of economics”. There are no laws of economics to anyone that understands economics. Paul Krugman calls this intentional, gross oversimplification of economics the Age of Derp – I cannot agree more.
Politics is another prominent area where the ignorance movement is clearly seen in action. Back when we had a functioning democracy, the voting masses took the time to research and understand the complex issues our country faced. Then they formulated opinions on how to best address them. Of course, that is the only way a functioning democracy can exist. No longer. Again, thanks to the new religious leaders, we now have much simpler solutions to these complex problems, and these solutions don’t even require an understanding of the problems. I’ve already written a post describing this phenomenon as it related to the CT gubernatorial election this past November. In short, this simple answer to complex questions goes something like this: anything I don’t like is Obama’s fault. Gas prices too high? It’s Obama trying to force me into green energy. Gas prices too low? It’s Obama trying to stop the Keystone pipeline and destroy US energy independence. Economy sucks? Obama is trying to destroy America. Can’t get a job? It’s because Obama is anti-business. US troop deaths are Obama’s fault for not pulling out of Iraq soon enough. ISIS is Obama’s fault for pulling out of Iraq too soon. The police state is Obama’s fault because he’s trying to be a dictator and take over the world. Trying to rein in the police state by requiring cops to wear body cameras is Obama being a dictator through executive orders. My wife left me. Obama’s fault. The weather sucks. Obama caused it. McDonald’s got my order wrong. Obama’s fault. My coffee was cold this morning. Damn you Obama. It’s gotten so ludicrous that the “thanks, Obama” meme is one of the most popular on the internet. There’s no longer any need to understand the complexities and nuances of healthcare, the insurance industry, foreign policy, wars, regulation, immigration, crime, or anything else that makes this country tick. If you don’t like a current situation, blame it on Obama – simple answer for a simplified, black and white world.
The embracing of ignorance doesn’t stop at the edge of the political and economic arenas. The corporate world is rife with managers who are too busy attempting to quickly advance their careers or hit bonus goals to be bothered with the complexities of running a large business. I watch this play out daily. They want fiendishly complex processes and situations condensed into a single line graph or color-coded percentage on an Excel sheet, so that simple (and mostly poor) decisions can be made with as little critical thought as possible. Reports are worthless without understanding the realities behind them, but those embracing ignorance aren’t concerned with complexities and truth. If the conditionally colored number is red, one’s subordinates suck – if green, the subordinates must be busting their asses to do a good job. Never does anyone take the time and exert the effort required to reconcile these assumptions and gross generalizations with reality. As with religion, taking the time to examine complex details raises doubts and uncertainties – things most people can’t handle. Peering behind the simplistic reports into the abyss of reality brings on a freighting realization of how many moving pieces a business actually has and how difficult they really are to control. So it is ignored and substituted with grossly inaccurate simplicity.
The scariest part of this new ignorance movement is how accepted it is. It’s perfect okay to be blatantly ignorant and repeat these memes as fact. It’s not even just okay; it’s encouraged! People continuously spout off non-sense and blatantly false statements, and no one questions or challenges them. Some recent events have made it frighteningly clear just how accepted the religion of ignorance has become. Just like religions of old, this one is also anti-science. Look no further than the climate change deniers: the people who think their gut feelings and subjective observations out of their bedroom windows are superior to decades of peer-reviewed work by real scientists across the globe. The widespread acceptance of climate change denial is bad enough in and of itself. Where it becomes downright terrifying is the appointment of a climate change denier that has zero scientific background to the position of chair of the senate Environment and Public Works committee. That’s right kids, you can now be completely ignorant on a subject and still grow up to be the chairperson of the committee tasked to deal with it. That is how acceptable the new ignorance religion has become and, just as old-time religion has hindered the progress of mankind for thousands of years, so to will this new religion of ignorance result in dire consequences for this country.
Professor Richard Dawkins has a famously strong quote on how he feels religion should be handled:
So when I meet somebody who claims to be religious, my first impulse is: “I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you until you tell me do you really believe — for example, if they say they are Catholic — do you really believe that when a priest blesses a wafer it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that? Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood?” Mock them! Ridicule them! In public!
Don’t fall for the convention that we’re all too polite to talk about religion. Religion is not off the table. Religion is not off limits.
Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated and need to be challenged and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt.
I feel that this new religion should be treated the same way. The ignorant should not be allowed to spout off false information and ridiculous claims with impunity. These are not legitimate personal beliefs and opinions to be respected. They are gross cop outs for the intellectually lazy, nurtured by the bourgeoisie that benefit from them. This ignorance destroys healthy public discourse, divides society, and cripples the proper functioning of the democracy. The followers of the new religion of ignorance need to be ridiculed with contempt until they are forced to truly understand the issues they pontificate on. It is the only way we can once again have a properly functioning democracy and unimpeded progress.