The Age of Willful Ignorance

The Age of Willful Ignorance

Now we are in the age of disbelief, where previously accepted facts are open to question and no matter what a person schooled in a particular subject says, he's either a liar or a shill or probably both.

Nothing anyone says is greeted as having any truth: it's all political and partisan talking points. Worse, there is a certain abstract notion to things that are dismissed not as being a reality, but a phony threat with fake actors and untrue stories of bad effects. Call it the Alex Jones Effect: nothing is true, everything is a false flag operation.

So when the fact of thousands of employees being furloughed due to a government shutdown is announced, there are scores of individuals who claim this isn't a fact at all. Or, if grudgingly accepting the truth of worker furloughs, the effects are downplayed with a shrug: "I don't see it happening, so therefore it's not true." In other words, a virus is spreading among the American public and its becoming quickly immune to the previous antidote of facts. This is deeply troubling for anyone who likes to believe that voters are often smarter than the politicians they elect. A body politic that is unable to distinguish basic facts is slouching towards the inability to have any empathy for their fellow man. And we're already seeing this start to crop up.

Diana Reimer, a national organizer for the Tea Party, interviewed on the program "Here and Now" summed it best with what has to be a classic statement of willful ignorance: "If they're [federal employees] non-essential, why do they have jobs?" The basic element of understanding there really exists people affected by a government shutdown and are not getting paid is completely and deliberately ignored here. And this means that we are dealing with people who cannot empathize at all: they're dismissive and show they just do not care. This is not a case of "I don't have all the facts," and more of a statement of "I choose not to believe you."

And if this is willful ignorance, then we cannot excuse these people as being dupes: they are willing participants in the atmosphere of hate and indifference to the fates of others. This is already a given when one is talking about the purveyors of this propaganda, but we've moved past that. It's now being reflected among the public. And it's certainly not an extremist view: it's all become mainstream.

In the not so distant past, you could dismiss people who talked about NASA faking the moon landings, chem trails, vaccines causing autism, and other nonsense as being on the fringe. But now the fringe has moved to the center: "I don't see the effects of a government shutdown so therefore they do not exist." Moreover, "I do not believe the government so everything they say is a lie." Ms. Reimer, in her interview, even threw out the idea that "we need to control government spending," a statement completely at odds with the reality that the deficit has been reduced to pre-2008 levels and that the budget currently stalled on Capitol Hill is really the Paul Ryan 2014 budget. In her mind, and in the mind of the company she keeps, the government is still on a spending spree that keeps going.

And this also points to a willful ignorance of how government actually works. Now, we've already seen it in 2010 with the stupendously false claims from ignorant voters that Medicare and Social Security are not government run services (or that they aren't "entitlement programs"). But it's extended to the core of those self-identified Tea Party politicians who rode into Washington the same year. The freshman class seems to have little in the way of comprehending how the levels of the federal government operates but they all know it's bad. And therefore, any action they take is by definition good, so nothing they can do is remotely negative or wrong. This is why there is such a cavalier and destructive attitude that maybe it's not such a bad thing that the government actually defaults on its debts: again, they refuse to accept the reality of what a default actually means because they can't see it, or rather, don't believe what will happen. They don't seem particularly bothered by the sequestration because don't see the effects, so therefore, they don't exist and maybe it was a good thing after all. These folks are dead-set against the Affordable Care Act, but seem to think the way to repeal laws is to hold up a budget that has nothing to do with funding the ACA. Or that intransigence is how you move things along. And lo and behold, the government pretty much grinds to a slow halt. This is interpreted as success, however, and it tastes even better because they disbelieve any fact of people being affected by their actions. So we have a wide swath of people without a paycheck but, as Ms. Reimer said, who cares because these "non-essential personnel" shouldn't have jobs anyway.

The willful ignorance in this society has already reached a critical level. People are unwilling to accept facts, even those outside the political realm, to the point where even previously accepted scientific facts are being questioned. And a national body that cannot agree on basic facts is absolutely a beggar to its own demise.