An Apple a Day

2/15/13

An Apple a Day….

We are faced in this country with an unfathomable conundrum. Adults of all parties counsel children and young people to stay in school, finish their studies. Ideally, this will better prepare them for a fruitful adulthood which would include jobs, savings, families, responsibilities.

Not everyone benefits from higher education, as we all know. Some young men and women are ready right now to go out and start earning a decent living, begin careers, build fortunes in garages and home-made laboratories, become auto mechanics, electricians, plumbers, which – if truth were known –makes us envy them enormously. No matter how dire the economy, these people always find work.

And yet we live in a nation at a time when brain-power means less and less, and in fact is made fun of. Remember Rick Santorum’s cry during his campaign that President Obama wanted all people to go to college? His response was simple: “He’s a snob!”

Not since the Fifties has the nation valued intuition and hard work so little. In the Fifties, “Egghead” was the term used to make fun of intellectuals. “Eggheads” were the elite of their time. “Regular folks” had visions of thin, balding, bespectacled men in laboratories and classrooms ruling the world.

Now, in 2013, there is an equally anti-intellectual epidemic speeding from state to state.

All right, we know this kind of thinking is cyclical. But it puts us in mind of the thousands of eager, dreaming young people whose families could have, and did not, support their college dreams. They could have. It wasn’t always a matter of money. Parents were afraid that if their kids went onto college, they would return to make fun of their parents and their parents’ friends. They would be, in common terms, too big for their britches. “Eggheads.”

Fear propels this kind of thinking. And no matter how loving a family truly is, it’s tough to combat the idea that your kid is going to return from the larger world to ridicule you for your own failings.

Which leads us to the political conundrum of today.

Grown-ups, ever vigilant of their own status in the greater scheme of things, are terrified by facts, figures, ideas, progress. They did fine themselves, they reason, and fine is good enough for their kids, too.

Which we hope- rather than mean-spiritedness –explains the willful ignorance of the Republican party.

In the matter of climate change, for example, how else to explain the Republican’s unwillingness to even imagine this as a threat to civilization?

Of course, this redounds to the ever-current debate about creationism versus science, as well.

Which in turn leads us sooner or later to what are considered attacks on organized religion – of which there are almost none – not to mention the idea that (scientifically) women have a defense mechanism that protects them during rape to keep them from getting pregnant!

How do we combat this kind of mental prejudice?

Here is our idea. We think, over the years, it might very well bring some of the most determinedly ignorant people in the county around to actually changing their minds.

We want to take a moment to distinguish between people who are uninformed, and people who are playing at being uninformed. Unless we miss our guess, some of the greatest actors of our time are in Congress and statehouses around the country.

These men and women, firmly believing that their constituents are as disdainful as they are of brain power, travel the hustings during a campaign, making outrageously prejudicial statements because they believe these statements are already deep in the hearts of their listeners.

Which is to say, if they sound as dumb as they believe their voters are, their voters will reward them at the ballot box because together they’re all stupid in the same way.

We also believe that these wonderful performers do not actually believe the bilge they spray as they travel. We imagine, with their own families, they are nearly as awestruck by science and progress as the rest of us are. But to admit this would be to alienate people in their districts who actually have not had the same opportunities to learn.

Is this hypocrisy? Of course. But does it lead to winning a seat in Congress? Too often, the answer is yes.

Meanwhile the rest of us are astonished at the misrepresentations and often outright lies we hear them endorse.

So what we’re talking about here are the men and women who really are uninformed, often through no fault of their own but at the urging of their friends and acquaintances from whom they do not want to be differentiated. This is called social pressure, and it’s real. Remember how each of us, in high school, wanted to achieve the inner sancta of our friends, to be considered one of the guys, part of the clique that seemed to important to us at the time? That, folks, in a word, is what the Tea Party offers. Belonging. Comfort. If misery loves company, so too does stupidity.

Back to our plan. In order to bring about change in attitudes that belong to the really uninformed, we need a plan. Here it is. Simple and we think destined to be effective because it, too, relies on the desire to be part of the “in crowd,” for lack of a better word.

Firstly, assuming that you do think there are dangerous alterations in our nation’s climate, for example, arm yourself with three easily understandable and relatable facts. They might be about the temperature rising throughout the country, or about glacier disappearance, or what had been until now unusual and unseasonal wildfires.

Step two is giving voice to these facts. Nicely, in a manner that indicates your own concerns and that of perhaps many others. Drop the glacial disappearance into a conversation about nearly anything and then, pleasantly, let it rest where it lands. Don’t push. Don’t argue. Don’t make a federal case. Just mention it in passing and then move on.

We are not challenging creationism here, or even defending Darwinism. All we are doing is dropping little factoids along our paths, hoping that if someone hears these bulletins often enough, and from enough different sources, eventually the facts being delivered will come more and more to sound reasonable. And that’s our first triumph — simply getting badly informed people to admit the possibility of science.

We’re not arguing. We’re informing. We’re not calling names or making fun of others. All we’re doing is using the power of ideas to change the lack of understanding and sympathy in others.

Clearly this is a plan that’s going to take some time to come to fruition.

But if our understanding of the human need to belong is accurate, in time, perhaps even in a few years, we will have changed the viewpoints of unsuspectingly gullible people so that at least some of the sharp-edged and personal hectoring that has come to seem standard practice in our country will cease. Or at least lessen.

We’re in this for the long haul. And only time itself will tell us whether we are right, and whether there is still hope among the willfully, vocally, distressingly prejudiced fellow citizens for intelligent change. With all our hearts, we hope so.

 

 

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