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Opinion » Columnists

The dumbing down of America

16.10.2013
 

By David Hoffman

The dumbing down of America. 51333.jpeg

One of the most insidious, yet effective, political strategies in existence is what Adolf Hitler called THE GREAT LIE THEORY.  Simply put, the great lie theory states that if political leaders take great lies, reduce them to slogans, and unremittingly repeat them they can make people believe that "hell is heaven" and "heaven is hell." 

When successfully deployed, great lies can influence all classes of people to act against common sense, common interests, and the common good, and when great lies are propagated by the rich, they can be especially effective at turning the middle class and the poor against each other.  For this to occur, however, the propagators of great lies must overcome two fundamental problems.

First, they must make sure they are disseminating great lies, because ordinary lies will be recognized by the masses.

For example, many, if not most, Americans did not believe Bill Clinton's denials about having a sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, because people routinely lie about extramarital affairs.

Yet many, if not most, Americans obsequiously  swallowed George W. Bush's lies about Iraq possessing "weapons of mass destruction," because it was difficult for them to believe a United States president would recklessly spend billions of taxpayer dollars, and callously sacrifice thousands of lives, simply so he and his draft-dodging minions could "play soldier" without risk to their own lives, and so he could further enrich his wealthy political supporters with "no-bid" rebuilding contracts, oil leases, and other lucrative spoils of war.

Second, for great lies to be successful, they have to be believed, and historically this has meant that intellectuals who possess the political, social, and historical knowledge to recognize and expose great lies must be silenced.

In dictatorships, this is usually accomplished through censorship, intimidation, imprisonment, torture, and assassination.  But in so-called "democracies," the suppression of the intelligentsia usually has to be more subtle. 

Usually, but not always.  In fact, one of today's primary beneficiaries of the great lie theory, Barack Obama, has not hesitated to employ tactics once reserved for dictators.

Obama catapulted into the presidency on the great lie that he was a politically progressive visionary concerned about the human rights abuses, warmongering, and erosion of the Bill of Rights perpetrated by his predecessor.  He promised an "open and transparent government," and a majority of the electorate believed him.

But Obama has not only failed to prosecute any of the war criminals, torturers, and murderers of the Bush administration, or any of the people who covered up their crimes, he has gone to extraordinary lengths to protect them.  His administration has defended them in court and strong-armed foreign governments into not pursuing their own indictments against these criminals. 

By contrast, his administration has rabidly persecuted and prosecuted courageous and conscientious individuals who dared to expose America's war crimes, violations of national and international law, tortures, and murders. 

According to The Committee to Protect Journalists-an  organization that normally concerns itself with abuses directed against journalists in dictatorial countries-the  "[Obama] administration's war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive . . .  since the Nixon administration . . ." and have resulted in an "unprecedented number of prosecutions of government sources and seizures of journalists' records." (qtd. in the Associated Press, October 10, 2013).

And everyone knows what a "law-abiding" president Nixon was!

Yet again, by contrast, the Obama administration has invaded and decimated the privacy rights of millions of Americans by expanding the spying capabilities of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the powers of the FBI and CIA, despite the fact that all three of these institutions have historically acted above the law without fear of legal reprisals, particularly when promoting corrupt government interests or enhancing the profits of American corporations.   

A common refrain government officials mutter to critics of these expanded powers is, "If you aren't doing anything wrong, you should have nothing to hide."

So why doesn't this refrain apply to governments too?

One reason for addressing Obama's great lies in this article is to show that instead of being the egalitarian, Nobel Peace Prize winning savior destined to restore America's moral standing in the world, Obama has reaffirmed the axiom that humans who seek and obtain power are usually undeserving of it and incapable of resisting its corrupting influence.

The second reason for addressing Obama's great lies is to dispel the proclivity of many readers to assume that being critical of one political movement or party automatically means you are supportive of the other.

If there is one recent movement in America that bluntly demonstrates how successful great lies can be, and how easily many Americans can be dumbed down to unquestioningly accept these lies, it is the tea party movement.  In fact, the tea party movement has been structured on one monolithic lie:  Even though it is financed and controlled by corporations and right-wing billionaires motivated by greed and selfishness, and acting to the detriment of 99% of the American population  (including many of the movement's own supporters), tea party politicians have managed to dupe numerous people into believing they are supporting a grass-roots campaign fueled by the common man.

There is no clearer evidence of the tea party's willingness to exploit great lies than its recent shutdown of the federal government.  After all, many members and supporters of this movement vociferously condemned and protested the Democratic legislators who retreated to other states in an effort to block anti-labor legislation in Indiana and Wisconsin. 

The difference, of course, was these Democrats were seeking to compel a fair and honest debate on proposed legislation, not shutting down a government, harming an economy, and putting thousands out of work because of petty bitterness over legislation that has already become law.

If further evidence is needed to demonstrate the political results of the dumbing down of America, it can be discerned by the fact that no truly intelligent, informed, and enlightened voter would ever believe that reprobates like Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Mitch Daniels, Scott Walker, Rick Snyder, Ted Cruz, Todd Rokita, Marlin Stutzman, Jackie Walorski, Eric Cantor, and John Boehner (to name a few) are or were fit for public office.

So how was America dumbed down to create the milieu for great lies to succeed?  There are six ways, and they are still being practiced today: 

1).  INDOCTRINATION:  In 2002, the United States Supreme Court ruled that students in public schools could be subjected to "random" drug testing, even though no reasonable suspicion exists that they are using, or have used, illegal drugs.  Like many indoctrination techniques, "random" drug testing pretends to have a benevolent motive.  After all, what parent would not want to know if his/her child is abusing drugs?

But, in addition to the financial kickbacks and other perks school administrators receive from laboratories that do this testing, the real goal is to indoctrinate impressionable school children into believing they are guilty until proven innocent, and that even their most intimate bodily functions can be controlled by a ubiquitous "big brother." 

In most "random" drug testing scenarios, students are ordered to leave their classrooms, required to reveal to a complete stranger any medications they are taking (including medications for depression, HIV, and/or birth control), then forced to urinate into a cup while this stranger listens.

And all this is occurring at the same time that many schools are eliminating courses that encourage individuality, imagination, and creativity, such as music, art, and literature, allegedly because they cannot afford to sustain them.

Not surprisingly, one of the most powerful pushes for indoctrination over education comes from what is perhaps the most politically backward state in the Union: Texas.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, several members of the Texas Board of Education are right-wing, religious zealots who are seeking to omit theories and ideas in scientific and social studies textbooks that fail to comport with their small-minded ideologies. 

While it is true that this indoctrination would have scant ability to dumb down the rest of America if confined within Texas's borders, some critics have expressed concerns that the size of the Texas textbook market could make it too costly for publishers to print one version of a textbook for Texas, and a different version for the rest of the United States.  Since Texas has already cursed America with the likes of Cruz, Perry, George W. Bush, Tom DeLay, and Alberto Gonzales, and given the number of electoral votes it possesses, it might actually be beneficial to America to grant the wish of many Texans and allow the state to secede from the Union.

2).  THE CORPORATE CONTROLLED MEDIA:  One of the ironies of having a plethora of television and radio stations to choose from in today's America is that people are actually becoming less informed and knowledgeable about state, national, and international affairs.

In the past, when American television viewers could only choose between two or three stations, most of the news broadcasts had journalistic integrity.  Since these broadcasts normally aired at the same time on all these channels, viewers either watched the news or they watched nothing at all.

Today, the abundance of television channels, along with the Internet and other rapidly evolving technologies, have spawned a myriad of mindless programs to watch and mindless activities to do.  And those who do desire to be informed are confronted with numerous news outlets competing for ratings and profits so vehemently that they simply regurgitate what viewers want to hear, instead of what they need to hear, and/or manufacture counterfeit controversies, usually involving a celebrity or sports figure, so they can avoid reporting on the real ones. 

Some so-called "news" networks have even mastered the "Oops, I made a mistake" strategy, where propagandists report falsehoods as truth, and then, at a later date, issue an "apology" for their "mistake," knowing that many of the people who heard the original report will not hear the retraction.

As I was researching and writing this article, I was both surprised and pleased to see a similar article by LZ Granderson entitled America's Problem: We're Too Dumb.  Having written for Pravda.Ru for over ten years, I realized that any article discussing the dumbing down of any person, entity, state, or nation is risky and controversial; therefore many journalists and pundits are reluctant to express such sentiments publicly.  Granderson made me realize there is at least one kindred spirit in the journalistic world.

To support his article's thesis, Granderson cited the "person on the street" interviews often conducted by some late-night television hosts.  During these interviews, the host shows people photographs of historically significant figures and of celebrities.  Although the historical figure is rarely identified by the interviewee, the celebrity almost always is.

Still, despite the commentary on the flawed priorities and lack of relevant knowledge many Americans possess, there is inherent hypocrisy in these interviews, because late-night talk show hosts are some of the principal culprits promoting the very "cult of celebrity" they are ridiculing.

3).  NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL CAPITALISM DEMANDS IGNORANCE, NOT INTELLIGENCE:  Granderson states, "an uneducated workforce is a hindrance to us all and an uninformed electorate is the thorn in democracy's side . . ."

While I agree with his latter observation, I disagree with the former.  An uninformed electorate is indeed a thorn in democracy's side, but it is a rose in capitalism's hand, and, unfortunately, an uneducated workforce is a blessing, not a hindrance, to tea party politicians and their billionaire backers.

Capitalism thrives on fear and ignorance:  people often fear losing their employment to such an extent that they will mutely accept the lifelong prospect of being paid too little for working too much at a job they despise.  Then they frequently waste the wages they earn paying too much for products they don't need or want because "everybody else has one," and/or engaging in costly activities they don't enjoy because "everybody else is doing them."

Marketing and advertising is built upon the "herd mentality"-consequently, the resolute sense of individuality and independence that education often inspires is anathema to the capitalist system.

4).  THE COSTS OF COLLEGE AND THE RISE OF "FOR-PROFIT" EDUCATION:  One of the criticisms leveled against traditional colleges is they compel students to take courses unrelated to their academic goals. 

For example, I was required to take courses in subjects like literature, geology, physics, biology, and economics even though my major was communications.  And while I ended up enjoying these subjects, I still, like many of my classmates, viewed these requirements as a way for the university to gouge more tuition dollars out of me.

Colleges and universities often emphasize the benefits of higher education by comparing the annual incomes of people with and without college degrees.  Yet what they neglect to factor into this comparison is the student loan debt many, if not most, college students have accumulated. 

After paying monthly student loan bills, a college graduate may actually be left with less income than a person without a degree, and even this is contingent on whether the graduate has had the good fortune to secure a job that provides enough income to both service the debt and other living expenses.

A student loan default can follow college graduates around for the rest of their lives, creating a cruel Catch-22 where student loan debtors require good incomes to pay off defaulted loans and reestablish good credit, yet they cannot obtain employment that pays such an income because of the bad credit rating caused by these same defaulted loans.

Also, in tough economic times, when competition for any type of job is fierce, persons with higher education degrees may actually be at a disadvantage, because prospective employers will often label them "overqualified" (a code word meaning "wanting more than we are willing to pay").

As the expense associated with traditional college or university degrees decreases interest in higher education, the dumbing down of America will increase. 

Some pundits have contended that the growth of the "for-profit" college industry (colleges owned by private corporations) and "online courses" will prevent this dumbing down from occurring. 

The allure of "for-profits" is that prospective students are told they can learn at home "at their own pace," course schedules are flexible, and, with narrow exceptions, they are only required to take courses related to their specific area of study.

Yet these alleged "benefits" not only ignore the classroom and other social interactions that are often crucial to the overall learning experience, they also create people who are proficient in one area but totally ignorant in others.  As a famous quote from George Santayana states, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."  Such doom is a certainty when history is not being taught.

5).  THE DESTRUCTION OF ACADEMIC FREEDOM:  In several past articles for Pravda.Ru, I have discussed how the University of Colorado (UC), in conjunction with Colorado's corrupt legal system, decimated academic freedom throughout the United States by firing tenured professor Ward Churchill. 

Churchill came under scrutiny after authoring a controversial essay about the September 11, 2001 attacks.  Although UC initially contended that Churchill's essay was protected by his right to freedom of speech, they subsequently conducted an "investigation" into allegations that he had engaged in plagiarism and other forms of academic misconduct. 

After he was fired, Churchill filed a lawsuit against UC, and a jury returned a verdict in his favor, finding that the misconduct allegations were simply a pretext used to discharge him.  But the presiding judge, Larry Naves, himself a graduate of UC law school, reversed the jury's verdict and upheld Churchill's firing. 

Although Churchill's case eventually made its way to the United States Supreme Court, the so-called "justices"-callously (but predictably) indifferent to the corrosive impact his firing has upon academic tenure and freedom-refused to hear it.

Thanks to UC, Larry Naves, and the United States Supreme Court, every professor in America, tenured or not, will now tremble at the thought of researching, studying, writing, or expressing anything that could remotely be construed as "controversial"-a sad prospect in a world where today's pariahs are frequently tomorrow's prophets.

So the dumbing down goes on.

6).  CORRUPTION:  If Professor Ward Churchill was fired for nothing more than expressing his opinion, then what type of career in higher education should await a right-wing, book-burning, lying, hypocritical politician who worships privatization and despises publicly funded programs and schools?

In Indiana, he is appointed the president of publicly funded Purdue University. 

Not only that.  He is appointed by the very lackeys he previously appointed to Purdue's "board of trustees."

Mitch Daniels, during his tenure as governor of Indiana, instituted several so-called educational "reforms" designed to weaken the public school system.  In addition, he sought to ban certain books, like Professor Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, from Indiana classrooms. 

One such "reform" was an "A-F" grading scale used by Indiana's Superintendent of Schools to determine how much state funding a school would be eligible to receive. 

Recently, the Associated Press (AP) obtained e-mails indicating that Tony Bennett, who served as Superintendent of Schools under Daniels, changed the grade of Christel House charter school from a "C" to an "A."

According to the AP, the school's founder Christel DeHann, had "given $2.8 million to Republicans since 1998, including $130,000 to Bennett and thousands more to state legislative leaders."

I have written extensively about the history of corruption in Indiana politics in articles such as The Ku Klux Klan Once Again Controls Indiana (Pravda.Ru, November 12, 2012), and its political backwardness may only be rivaled by Texas. 

This was made appallingly clear when, despite Bennett's antics, Indiana voters still elected Republican "super majorities" to the State Legislature and tea party darling Mike Pence as governor.  And even though Democrat Glenda Ritz was elected to replace Bennett, her "victory" serves as nothing more than a depressing reaffirmation of how oblivious Indiana voters are to the magnitude of their state's corruption.   

As the South Bend Tribune recently reported (October 13, 2013), the State Board of Education Ritz chairs is still polluted with Bennett supporters, her funding has been drastically cut by the Republican "super majorities," Pence has moved $5 million dollars earmarked for Ritz's office to his office, and, when Indiana "lawmakers" reconvene in 2014, Ritz expects to be completely stripped of her authority.

So this question ultimately emerges:  Is Indiana so dumbed down that its governor and Republican "super majorities" foresee no political risk in placing the interests of wealthy Republican donors above the educational interests of children?

Considering that Indiana voters are also responsible for electing tea party darlings like Walorski, Rokita, and Stutzman to the United States Congress, the answer can only be a resounding YES!

Meanwhile, Daniels recently flaunted how tightly he carries Purdue's Board of Trustees in his pocket by giving a paid speech to a conservative "think tank" in Minnesota, despite his promise to avoid partisan politics while serving as Purdue's president.

Some pundits have contended that the tea party's political antics, including the recent government shutdown, have set it on the pathway to destruction.  This might be the case if a majority of the people still determined the outcome of elections in America.  Despite successes in Texas and Indiana, the tea party's ability to dumb down a majority of the voters so they will believe its great lies still has limits, at least during this stage of American history.

But the tea party realizes that soon the majority of the people will no longer determine the outcome of elections.  The minority of the people with the majority of the money will.

It is no secret that the tea party movement was significantly bolstered by the United States Supreme Court's corruption inviting Citizens United case, which removed all financial limits on what corporations and right-wing billionaires could spend to promote tea party candidates. 

And now this same court, comprised of some of the most biased, racist, unethical, politicized, myopic, and corrupt "justices" in American history, is poised to grant corporations and right-wing billionaires the power to give unlimited financial support directly to political candidates.

Of course, America will still call itself a democracy.  And, if the dumbing down of that once great nation continues unabated, this great lie will undoubtedly be accepted without question.

David R. Hoffman

Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru

 

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