Wednesday, December 24, 2008

When Democracy Becomes Idiocracy

The response to Barack Obama’s election demonstrates the iron triangle of political idiocy in this country. This particular iron triangle is a substandard educational system that produces non-thinking drones, a media system that simplifies all issues to the lowest common denominator of idiocy, and a political system that eschews philosophy and ideology in favor of focusing entirely on personalities. All three failings work together to create the collapse of the democratic system that has been created for over 200 years in this country.

For the past several years, the educational system in this country, at all levels, has been degenerating. At first, the main problem was social promotion. This educational model is based on the notion that students should be passed to the next grade regardless of their abilities or efforts. To fail a student who doesn’t meet minimum academic standards might hurt the student’s self-esteem. The purpose of education in this model is to stroke the ego of the students. As a result, over time, expectations and standards are repeatedly lowered. One obvious manifestation of this model is that college admission tests have had to be dumbed down (“renormed” is the education doublespeak for this process) ( Thus, those students who choose to go to college because some idiot has lied to them and told them that’s how they get high-paying jobs, find out they can’t perform college-level work. This educational model has not been abandoned, but another has been added – edutainment. Edutainment is the result of our culture which encourages short attention spans and which regards anything that’s not “fun” as too hard and too boring to bother with. Thus, education should be quick and fun. Anything that might be hard, like actually reading a whole book or taking notes (stuff that might be considered, you know, learning) should be kept to an absolute minimum. The result of the edutainment educational model is that students are incapable of prolonged study or inquiry on any subject, whether in school or in their daily lives. Finally, a third educational model has been added, the “No Child Left Behind” model. In this model, students are taught the same material for weeks, months, and even years simply so they can pass a test. Students are only taught the necessary factoids to pass the standardized test. No effort is made to teach students how to think or reason for themselves. In fact, active thinking is discouraged because it takes time away from teaching to the standardized tests. Instead, students are just told for years what to think and to believe. The result of this third model of education is the creation of individuals with an inability to reason and a certain deference to authority. The first two educational models create idiots while the third one creates mindless drones – not just in the classroom, but also in everyday life.

Journalists, like most people, are the product of the degenerating educational system. Thus, even if they wanted to analyze their stories in a more in-depth manner, they lack the necessary intellectual tools. As a result, discussions of the economy and politics tend to be simplistic and reductionist. Both the economy and politics becomes a great morality play. Everything is reported as a simplified dichotomy between good and evil, bad and nice, liberal and conservative, or other meaningless dyads. If, however, a journalist wanted to present a more intellectual discussion of some current event including historical background, opposing sides, and the various connections that exist between multiple events, he or she would run into the inescapable fact that most newspapers and nightly news broadcasts are written at the sixth-grade level. Our educational system has created a (non)reading public which doesn’t have the reasoning capacity to follow a lengthy, logical argument. All ideas must be presented in a quick and fun manner rather than an intelligent form. Thus, they can no longer take an active role in the decision-making process in our democracy.

Politicians are well aware of these problems and, instead of working to remedy the situation, they take advantage of the decline of reason for their own purposes. They do not discuss any ideas in detail. Instead of debating their philosophy or ideology with their political opponents (as has been done for about two centuries), they spew banal platitudes that can be accommodated in a thirty-second sound bite on the nightly news or a twelve-word paragraph in the newspaper. Instead of voting for political leaders, we’re presented with actors telling their followers what they want to hear and what to believe. Luckily for the politicians, our educational system is producing the sort of mindless drones who believe the mental pabulum dished up to them in the nightly news and who have been trained to simply believe what those in authority tell them to believe.

There are some real problems in our country, and these three systemic failures are only exacerbating these problems. The presidential election is one of the most obvious manifestations of this systemic failure. For example, one candidate’s entire platform consisted of one word, “Change.” This extensive platform had the advantage of being understood by Americans with a sixth-grade education and it came in well under the 30-second sound bite limit. It could also mean whatever the listener wanted it to mean. The other candidate’s platform was twice as long with “Country First.” This had the same advantage as the one-word platform, plus it could appeal to everybody from George Washington to Adolf Hitler.

The reaction of many Americans to the election of Barack Obama as the next president of the United States clearly reflects the systemic failure of the educational, media, and political systems. Much of the praise by “liberals” for Obama borders on religious zealotry. Some people were voting for the next savior, not the next president

If you have a DVR, search “Barack Obama coin” in program titles. You will get over two pages of shop-at-home networks selling these holy relics. At least one school has been re-named “Barack Obama Elementary School” (, an honor usually reserved to somebody who has accomplished something after long service to the state or community. The media presents his frequent announcements from the (fabricated) “Office of the President-Elect” as if it were holy writ presented by Moses come down from Mt. Sinai. This personal adulation has never been seen before in this country. It runs completely counter to our system of democracy which has always maintained a healthy skepticism of politicians. It’s the kind of emotional hero worship one finds in Third World politics.

On the other hand, there are a number of “conservatives” who console themselves by saying that at least Obama won’t be in office for long. They darkly hint that he might be assassinated. Anecdotally, I’ve heard of some miscreants suggesting that his assassination would be good for the country. Such sentiments are un-American and any true “patriot” should exercise his or her rights of free expression to mash out the guts of these troglodytes. It’s embarrassing to be an American when the election of Obama apparently resulted in an increase in the number of new members to the Ku Klux Klan and similar groups of idiots (,0,7570102.story).

Barack Obama is not the second coming of the Lord, nor is he the anti-Christ. He is, not simply, the next president of the United States. As Americans, we need to address seriously the problems in the educational, media, and political systems that resulted in the selection of the leader of our nation coming down to personalities, character assassinations, and simple-minded rhetoric instead of substantive discussions of the issues and problems facing our country. We may have selected the best person for the job, but, with the seriously flawed nature of the systems, we’ll never know because we, as Americans, have allowed democracy to degenerate into idiocracy.


fingerofdeath said...

Wow, too much too reed. Not enuf buzz werds and action. Besides, you spoke ill ov our savior.

The "We Hate The New England Patriots" San Diego Sports Fan Collective said...

Read your post at DC Steeler Nation and saw that you were a History Prof. so I thought I would give your blog a read.

All too true. As a middle school History teacher people looked at me incredulously during our election coverage when I suggested that we examine more than just the two party system and their candidates.

So it goes...My room was the one adorned with all of the third party candidate posters. A small victory for your students to be aware that there were more than two individuals running for office...having said that, I must go plan something extraordinarily "fun" for my students...wouldn't want to bore them...