Ignorance greases the wheels of thought | VailDaily.com

Ignorance greases the wheels of thought

Alex Miller

When a report came out last month reaffirming what we’d heard before about how today’s teens don’t know much about history or literature, I pop-quizzed two of my own teens at the dinner table.

According to the report from Common Core, I shouldn’t have been surprised if they told me Martin Luther King sailed over on the Mayflower so he could give his famous speech at Gettysburg. Or that Shakespeare was one of The Beatles.

They actually did OK, although I suspect if I moved beyond the “core” learnings at all, they’d fall woefully short. In thinking about it, I tried to honestly ask myself how concerned I was, as a teen, with the content of the Magna Carta or what Reagan was up to in Washington. Or, more to the point, how curious was I about this stuff? How passionate?

I remember hating Reagan vociferously, and my kids (and most of their friends) seem to have similar feelings toward Bush. There’s a lot of interest among teens in Barack Obama, but I don’t think they know much about the man beyond the fact that he’s A) not Bush and B) pretty cool. Since none of my teens will be able to vote this November, their interest is primarily academic.

We also hear that ignorance ” and its bastard cousin, anti-intellectualism ” is at work in the greater world. Working at a newspaper, I don’t see as much of this since the trafficking of information is, by its very nature, the opposite of ignorance.

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(Although I would point out that the opinion page can certainly contain arguments based on ignorance.) Where I see people letting their hair down and displaying less-appealing brain work is on the online comments section of this and other newspapers. With anonymous screen names, they shriek and howl at one another in online discussions that can run into the thousands of words ” often, in the case of the Vail Daily ” by the same dozen or so folks.

The comment-makers range from thoughtful writers who attempt to employ facts to outright ranters who don’t mind wielding insults and baseless arguments to score points. In these comments, I see a microcosm of larger forums like “Hannity and Colmes” and Rush Limbaugh. Global warming can’t be real, we might hear, because Al Gore believes it and Al Gore is a patrician with a big house. Even if most of the Ten Commandments have no relevance in modern society, we should have them hanging on the wall at school because they are the “Word of God.” All “furriners” should be run out of the United States because this place is really only meant for white people (and a few blacks).

Just as it’s easier to drop a bomb on a country than go in and negotiate a peace, so, too, is it simpler to rely on the tropes of accepted ignorance (the Confederate flag is a symbol of pride; liberals all really hate America) than to deploy defensible arguments and empirical evidence. It’s unlikely anyone who’s ever read any of the many peer-reviewed scientific papers (or articles about such) about the effects of climate change on the Earth’s ecosystems and species could stomp about saying it’s a myth.

Listening to reports of journalists and soldiers who’ve spent a lot of time on the ground in Iraq will dispel any notion that we can still “win” over there.

But, then, if everyone used only facts to make their arguments, there wouldn’t be much room left for arguing, would there?

Alex Miller is responsible for the editorial oversight of the Vail Daily, Eagle Valley Enterprise and Vail Trail. He can be reached at 748-2920, or editor@vaildaily.com.

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