The life of a people ripens a certain fruit; its activity aims at the complete manifestation of the principle which it embodies. But this fruit does not fall back into the bosom of the people that produced and nurtured it; on the contrary, it becomes a poison-draught to it. That poison-draught it cannot let alone, for it has an insatiable thirst for it: the taste of the draught is its annihilation, though at the time the rise of a new principle
— Hegel, 1804
“Ignorant and Proud of It.”
Two thirds of Americans cannot name the three branches of government or come up with the name of a single Supreme Court justice. Voters who rate the judiciary as an important issue are in a distinct minority, and many of them are on the far right.
Tocqueville observed, “I very clearly discern two tendencies; one leading the mind of every man to untried thoughts, the other prohibiting him from thinking at all.”
“The problem isn’t just that you were lied to. The real problem is that we, as a people, have become too lazy to learn what we need to know to make sound public decisions. The problem is that two thirds of us can’t find Iraq on a map, and many members of Congress don’t know a Shiite from a Sunni. The problem is that the public doesn’t know enough or care enough about culture to be outraged when a United States secretary of defense, informed that some of the oldest artifacts of Western civilization are being looted from a Baghdad museum on our watch, says dismissively, ‘Stuff happens.’ The problem is that most of us don’t bother to read newspapers or even watch the news on television. Our own ignorance is our worst enemy.” It is so much easier, so much safer politically, to simply say, “You were the victims of a lie,” than to suggest that both voters and their elected representatives, in both parties, must shoulder much of the blame for their willingness to be deceived.
In an essay titled “History and National Stupidity,” Schlesinger poignantly observed: Sometimes, when I am particularly depressed, I ascribe our behavior to stupidity—the stupidity of our leadership, the stupidity of our culture. Thirty years ago we suffered military defeat—fighting an unwinnable war against a country about which we knew nothing…. Vietnam was bad enough, but to repeat the same experiment thirty years later in Iraq is a strong argument for a case of national stupidity. In the meantime, let a thousand historical flowers bloom. History is never a closed book or a final verdict. It is always in the making. Let historians not forsake the quest for knowledge, however tricky and full of problems that quest may be, in the interests of an ideology, a nation, a race, a sex, or a cause. The great strength of the practice of history in a free society is its capacity for self-correction.
It is possible that nothing will help. The nation’s memory and attention span may already have sustained so much damage that they cannot be revived by the best efforts of America’s best minds. I too am nibbling at the edges by talking about the need for political leaders who address Americans as thinking adults; for intellectuals willing to step up and bring their knowledge, instead of a lust for power, to the public square; for educators devoted to teaching and learning rather than to the latest fads in pop psychology. None of these suggestions addresses the core problem created by the media—the pacifiers of the mind that permeate our homes, schools, and politics.
==The Age of American Unreason (Susan Jacoby)
Illiberal tendencies are on the rise around the world, and the West is no exception.
After the implosion of the Soviet Union the day after Christmas in 1991, there was a wide recognition among many analyst-prognosticators of international trends that the flowering of liberal democracy was the global wave of the future. (Liberal democracy characterized by values such as freedom of expression, religion, and speech as well as separation of civilian-run government from the military.) Roughly three months shy of the decade anniversary after the Soviet collapse, the 9/11 terror attacks dramatically reversed whatever democratic trends there were in the 1990s – admittedly a decade full of civil wars and ethnic cleansings in various regions throughout the planet. New security strategies and policies were enacted in the West, especially in the United States, telling examples being the consolidation of security agencies into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), intrusive search practices implemented by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the clandestine National Security Agency (NSA) dragnet surveillance program PRISM.
This trend in militarization of domestic policing – and establishing its accompanying security economy – has been analyzed by many in the past 15 years. The late French social theorist Michel Foucault noted a certain phenomenon he called the ‘boomerang effect’ where various state doctrines and technologies experimented abroad in context of war or colonial administration were oftentimes implemented domestically later and then globalized.
A recent example of this is the use of the Simera, a balloon-based aerial surveillance technology developed by Logos Technologies for the US forces engaging in the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq, during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Meanwhile the French government has renewed the state of emergency after the Nice attack (July 14), extending it for another six months into January 2017, which has pointed out by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) as having some potential for abuse against rule of law and civil liberties if implemented with unaccountability by the national executive.