If a person asks whether the United States values knowledge, searching for the answer would be easy. Unfortunately, if a person asks whether the United States values ignorance, searching for the answer would also be easy, way easier and the evidence to it is staggering.
Renowned 20th century writer Isaac Asimov once claimed that there is a “cult of ignorance” going around in the United States, spawning a kind of anti-intellectualism that bears a remarkable effect on the lives of its citizens which makes them value knowledge just as much as ignorance.
Though it was made decades ago, Asimov’s description is even more appropriate today. There must be something in the system that makes this problem still exist. While other aspects can be considered, the clearest constant is the history of the United States. It is not that ignorance itself has been cultivated because of history—rather, it is the misguided pride of the United States that begets ignorance and misinformation in the United States.
Right Pride and Wrong Pride
The word “pride” must first be clarified in this context. When one expresses pride, or is “proud,” he expresses satisfaction for an achievement, sometimes his own but also of others. When it comes to achievements, what is often established is a sense of identity in the achievements themselves, as exemplified when a person “takes pride in his work” In other words, he internalizes the achievement, no matter who attained it.
Another aspect of pride is identity where a person expresses satisfaction for the role he plays in society. Sometimes, both aspects are involved under the same pride. For example, a US citizen expresses “American pride” because of his identity as a US citizen and because of the achievements of his country. Significant is the latter mentioned facet of pride, where the citizen would internalize the achievements of America.
By itself, this is not necessarily a vicious ordeal. For a person to internalize his country’s achievements is for him to better appreciate the identity with which he was born. However, he should not establish his identity only on that internalization. The personal choices he makes, the beliefs he espouses all on his own accord no more beyond himself would establish much of his identity—an identity he established for himself.
This would adhere very well to the idea of individualism in the United States which empowers the individual by letting him choose his own actions and beliefs by his own volition, such that the US citizen would exclaim “America is a great country, and I am also great.” This is a positive result of pride.
On the other hand, if a US citizen establishes his identity more on the internalization than his own beliefs, he may fall victim to unconsciously attaching himself to what are effectively constants, since the past and, likewise, achievements cannot be changed.
Essentially, he becomes dogmatic. Because his identity is so attached to what is unchanging, his beliefs and his mindset follow suit, and become unchanging as well. Instead of being proud of himself and the country separately, he becomes proud of himself because of the country. “America is a great country, so I am also great.”
Misinformation and Ignorance as the Consequences of Pride
Consequently, mentions of any achievement of the United States that one tells a proud US citizen will fill him with the utmost joy and convinces him further that his country, and thus he himself as well, are great. The validity or truth of the achievement need not be considered, for what is important to the proud US citizen is to hear of the greatness of the United States.
This cognitive failure can lead US citizens to become gullible. For as long as it attests to their belief of the United States as a great country, any statement that alters the facts of the history of the country will easily be believable to them. In that regard, they can be easily swayed by a higher authority who seems to share their beliefs that the United States is a great country. For as long as that authority maintains their trust in him, he can make them do his bidding.
What comes to mind is the atrocities of Nazi Germany (1933-1945) that were caused by blind followers of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party who ceaselessly exalted the glory of Germany through its origin from the Aryan race. This is not to say that the United States will become like Nazi Germany, but that it is possible for the United States to fall into unquestioning subordination through the persuasive power of a higher authority. The powers-that-be do not need to force the citizens to do their bidding; the citizens themselves will each become a partisan to the authority and will want to do what benefits him.
This works to the advantage of the said authority. Since the masses have trust in him, he is ensured that whatever change he brings about is in the benefit of the country and of the people. Since the masses are swayed by feelings of affirmation on their being, he will advocate for the belief of the United States in individualism and, with pretense, affirm all of them and proclaim their greatness in a great country.
As he wants to consolidate his power, he will covertly neutralize potential hurdles to his control, one of which is the education system. The authority would twist it, ensuring it produces citizens that are taught to follow only what is being given, made never to ask questions, and to do away with critical thinking. The school becomes the anti-intellectual factory, and in it American ignorance and misinformation form a significant chunk of the curricula.
Misinformation in the United States will flourish by raising its citizens with a wrong direction of looking at the country. It is here where a certain kind of nationalism will be fostered: that America is the greatest country in the world . They will be taught to go against dissenters of the “traditional values” of the United States, to oppose concepts like communism and secularism.
It is also here where they will be instilled with American ignorance—they need not know more than the American way, nullifying the importance of acquiring cultural sensitivity that enables peaceful coexistence with the community of nations. Historical revisionism will run rampant as the past events are twisted to make it seem to favour the country.
Ultimately, what they will be taught will revitalize American Exceptionalism. They would devoutly believe that America is the most special country in the world, and anything that opposes that belief stands in their way to greatness. The authority would fuel the very pride that got them into that situation of unaware helplessness. At worst, the United States could follow in the model of 20th century nationalist regimes whose dogmas espousing illusory superiority ultimately drove them to their end.
Taken to the extreme, Americans will become so blindly rooted in their pride that none of them will think to question the status quo. It is just as what the music duo Simon and Garfunkel described in their song, "The Sound of Silence"—everyone stays silent.
Re-educating What is Education
What is the main solution to the problem? The problem, firstly, is rooted within the system of education—it is ineffective at best, and regressive at worst. In it, the main medium of instruction is for teachers to give lessons to the students whom they expect to later repeat to the letter.
Repeating what is learned as the only means of teaching will only aggravate the issues, as 20th century philosopher Paulo Freire remarked that this methodology of teaching, the traditional “banking method,” serves only to bankrupt the students as they are expected only to regurgitate what is being fed to them. In addition to the simple memorize-and-repeat method, another method must be utilized in conjunction.
Ancient Greek philosopher Plato wrote about the Allegory of the Cave in his Republic where prisoners in a cave are affixed to look only at shadows all of their lives, leading them to think that that is all what reality is. When a prisoner is released to see reality as it truly is and tries to convince the prisoners about the true reality, they will think of him as deranged.
The Allegory discussed not so much about what is known, but the direction in which people see the world. The prisoners symbolize those who cannot see more than one direction in life and, hence, hold only that perspective. This is what a proper system of education should do: they must teach not only to repeat what is taught, but to teach them to see beyond what is being taught.
This ideal system focuses on improving the overall intellectual capabilities of the students. Fostering their capacity to develop and share insights allows them to enhance critical thinking even more. Teaching them to espouse viewpoints regardless of whether they are discomforting to some students allows them to become open-minded and critical of their own beliefs should the need arise.
Ideally, the proud American citizen would continuously re-evaluate his own pride of the country and learn to detach himself from its achievements.
Returning to the Roots of Pride
This is not to say that pride is inherently bad. Pride, taken in the right direction, can be an impetus for growth. What is being attempted is to show the dangers of pride taken in the wrong direction, pride that is misguided. What is hoped, at the very least, is that awareness of this issue may be spread.
The dawn of the internet and social media makes the dissemination of information infinitely easier, which should have made the solution of dissolving misinformation and ignorance less difficult to attain. But for as long as the powers-that-be subtly work their way to the minds of the US citizens and turn them into blind followers, the solution will be far from attainable. Misinformation and ignorance in the United States will still stay, but they will not flourish for long.
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