Fear of Knowledge

Contrary to the old adage, ignorance isn’t bliss, it’s dangerous.  Willingly ignoring facts when they are presented to you, turning a blind eye to knowledge that is available to you can only fail to prepare you for the challenges that are to come.

Look, if you will, at the ascension of George W. Bush to the presidency, and his subsequent election four years later.  Among the many parsings that scholars have spent hours upon, there is a cultural significance in not only Bush, but his victory over two somewhat archetypical opponents for the highest office in the land.

In Al Gore, and John Kerry, the image of the scholar was represented.  These two men provided to the American people archetypes of the intellectual with complex language and nuanced arguments.  On the opposite was the poorly spoken Bush, in appearance unlearned in the ways of libraries and text books.

The underlying message was very clear; we don’t need the snobbish erudites, we got ourselves a red-blooded ‘Merican from the Lone Star State.  Buried deep in both elections was a culture war not between the rich and the poor, but between the ignorant, and the educated.

The psychology behind it all is not too terribly hard to perceive.  Bush didn’t just aid in reinforcing the security of those who did not have advanced degrees, he elevated them.  If a good ol’ boy from the South could go toe to toe with Ivy League Elites, then Middle America could be vindicated against the intelligencia that seemingly looked down upon them.

While Bush’s intelligence will most likely always be in question, his intellectual curosity is scarily low, and while this may make some feel good about themselves, it’s deadly dangerous when you think that this is a guy who is supposed to be running our country.

Yesterday, despite intelligence to the contrary, and his own statements in 2004, we learned that he truly believed that Iraq still had Weapons of Mass Destruction as late as April of last year.  Today we learn that the willful ignorance runs deeper and so much worse.

I was astonished to learn that not only did Bush ignore intelligence after the fact that Iraq had no WMD’s, he ignored a blatant outright report of the same information BEFORE WE EVEN GOT THERE!

While books like Hubris have documented in infinite gory detail the faulty intelligence used by the administration to go to war, the fact that Tenet went straight to Bush and told him WMD’s did not exist in Iraq is new, and shameful.

Not that Tenet should feel particularly absolved by this information.  He still bears a heavy burden of the responsibility.  You see, Tenet never brought it up again, presumably allowing his tendency to buddy-buddy up with his boss to override his actual job.

He should have been pounding the lack of WMD’s into the President’s skull from late 2002 until whatever it took for Bush to drop his vanity war in Iraq.  It might have saved lives.  It might have minimized inflammatory sentiments of the Muslim World against us.

It might have prevented a war.

But like he always does, Bush was presented with straight up direct evidence, and ignored it to maintain the integrity of his narrative.  He ignored vital knowledge not just at his own peril, but at the peril of the country he is duty-bound to serve, and ultimately the world.

He ignored the PDB entitled, “Osama Determined To Strike In the US”.

He ignored Tenet’s declaration that there was no fire to the smoking gun Bush was trying to sell to the American people.

He ignored General Shinseki’s advice that it would take “upwards of several hundred thousand soldiers” to secure Iraq.

And he continues to ignore any reports and intelligence that run counter to the narrative that he is attempting to build in regards to his “surge”.

The results have been catastrophic.  As evidenced by the soon to be released video of al Qaeda mastermind, Osama bin Laden, the people truly responsible for attacking us six years ago still roam free, we are mired in an extremely complicated civil conflict in Iraq, as well as one in Afghanistan, and yet through it all the drums to go to war in Iran are being beaten with unmatched fervor.

These are the nightmares that result from willful ignorance.  This is the end of the story for those who engage in the fear of knowledge.

And yet our friends across the puddle find themselves in a strange predicament.  It has just come to light that libraries are stocking books that offer the words of radical Islam, repositories of knowledge used by terrorists.  And while no action in regard to this is clear, the tone is somewhat frightening.

Patrick Mercer, the Conservative MP for Newark and the Government’s new adviser on security issues, said: “I don’t oppose free speech but the amount of this material is frightening.

“It has been bought with taxpayers’ money and you have got to question the balance here.

“Much of the material has very extreme views and I wouldn’t want an impressionable young person to come across it and think that these are the views of the majority of Muslims.”

I say frightening because of the implications seeking to ban or censor these books presents.  I don’t often get to say this, so… back in college, I had done a paper on banned books, and I took one important lesson from it.

Books like To Kill A Mockingbird, and Of Mice And Men, were banned as a disservice to minds who could learn much from the cultural awareness that such titles provide.  For every book banned, the only thing that was protected was ignorance, the kind of dangerous ignorance that only deepens the boundaries that separate us.

Books are objects, they are tools.  Within their covers is merely information and it is up to the mind processing that information how to properly act with this knew acquisition.  Even in the case of books that encourage terrorism, there can be much learned for the good of the community.

But mark my words, the greatest thing to be lost by turning away from them is insight.  We need to stop this fear of knowledge that seems to be propogating through our society.  We need to end the willful ignorance and the smug security we take in our own knowledge.

Some of these people might want to start by picking up a book, and if you have problems with reading radical Islamic literature, then perhaps a good book to start with might be this one that says something about knowing your enemy.


3 Responses to “Fear of Knowledge”

  1. Mick Arran says:

    I see your point but I think your conclusion – Buried deep in both elections was a culture war not between the rich and the poor, but between the ignorant, and the educated. – is wrong.

    I live down here, and while ignorance of current events is certainly a problem, the specific ignorance you’re talking about was widely shared, and that includes a lot of otherwise intelligent people. In 2000, very few people knew, for example, that Bush was a C student. The MSM coverage of Bush’s past was abysmal. Very few knew about Harken or Arbusto or the slimy Texas Rangers deal because none of them got any press to speak of.

    What happened was that otherwise smart people simply refused to believe a major party would nominate an idiot for such a high office. They also refused to believe that just because a guy couldn’t speak well, that meant he was stupid. IOW, in the absence of legitimate reporting and analysis, they saw no reason not to give him the benefit of the doubt. Naive, perhaps, but a far cry from a deliberate fuck-you from the uneducated. In fact, based on my personal experience, there were more uneducated people who saw through Bush’s clumsy act than educated ones.

    As for ’04, that was one of those “hold y’r nose” votes. At least around here (I live in a very conservative area of Mass), the bloom on the Bush rose was definitely fading but no one liked Kerry. The SwiftBoaters slur had an enormous impact, and swingers who actually wanted to vote Dem backed off and went for Bush again largely because of that.

    Not that there isn’t an element of the class war you’re keying on, but its emotional appeal tended to kick in after decisions had already been made. IMHO, I don’t think it was a dominant force.

  2. Well, for one, we’re coming from two COMPLETELY different regions. I’m coming from the South, so there’s that to think about. And I suppose I should have made that more clear. Also, when I meant buried was that it was actually a small factor.

    Also, i think the phenomenon was much more prevailant in the 04 election.

  3. mick says:

    Well, here’s the test: now that they know – in the South as well as everywhere else – that Bush is, at best, an average mind, not up to the job, are they still singing the same tune? His poll numbers are no better down there than they are up here, are they?

    “Buried.” Oh. I misunderstood. I thought you meant buried in the sense that no one was talking about or examining it because it was verboten to discuss class differences, not because it was a minor factor that no one had caught on to. Probably the way I think: class distinctions are something I write about a lot because they’re ignored, so I probably tend to interpret issues a lot in terms of class, maybe more than I should. But I do think it’s a huge factor in much of what goes on, both economically and politically.

    “04”. Yeah, I’d agree. There was a deal more deliberate blindness in ’04 than ’00.


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