“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” ― Isaac Asimov
While doing fieldwork in Tennessee for his eye-opening and often harrowing new book, Dying of Whiteness, Vanderbilt University Professor Jonathan M. Metzl met Trevor. A 40-something-year-old former cab driver (who used to “party pretty hard”), Trevor needed a walker to get around; his skin was “yellow with jaundice” from hepatitis C and an inflamed liver. Trevor is dying, yet he is opposed to the Affordable Care Act, even though it would provide him with the medical care he needs and can’t afford. “Ain’t no way I would ever support Obamacare or sign up for it,” he explains to Metzl. “I would rather die. We don’t need any more government in our lives. And in any case, no way I want my tax dollars paying for Mexicans or welfare queens.”
A physician reveals how right-wing backlash policies have mortal consequences — even for the white voters they promise to help Named one of the most anticipated books of 2019 by Esquire and the Boston Globe In the era of Donald Trump, many lower- and middle-class white Americans are drawn to politicians who pledge to make their lives great again.
Leading up to the election, The Chronicle of Higher Educationreleased a Trump 101 syllabus to explore his campaign academically. Following that, N.D.B. Connolly and Keisha N. Blain released a corrective one called the Trump Syllabus 2.0 that more fully considered Trump’s campaign, focusing on xenophobia, racism, and sexism. Following the release of now-President-Elect Trump’s infamous “locker room talk” footage (wherein he made references to nonconsensual, predatory sexual advances towards women), Laura Ciolowski released the Rape Culture Syllabus in order to situate the culture in which Trump’s comments about sexual assault could be normalized.
In 2014, following the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, Dr. Marcia Chatelain started the #FergusonSyllabus movement to help explain the history behind the protests over police misconduct and the birth of the Black Lives Matter Movement sweeping the nation.
Much has been written about the arrival of a “post-truth” era, in which facts become secondary to feeling; expertise and vision to ersatz emotional connection. Nazi Germany shows that this is not new, but the internet-driven efficiency with which it can be manipulated is.
One of the main drivers of this process is a click-based revenue model, in which algorithms prioritise items in news feeds based on how likely individual users are to “engage with” (ie click on) them – and thus be exposed to more ads. Whether these items contain carefully researched or fabricated material is of no concern to the algos: in fact, false, sensationalist stories that bolster existing prejudices are more likely to draw clicks than sober analyses that challenge assumption. With misinformation being incentivised in this way, who could be surprised when Buzzfeed found a group of young Macedonians copying the most outlandish fabrications to more than 140 specially created pro-Trump websites and sexing up the headlines to gain clicks and go viral on Facebook?
Among the most pernicious myths of our time is that the functioning of the web is neutral and immutable; that it has evolved of its own ethereal logic, like a galaxy, and can’t be changed or stopped.
This is important, because a recent study by the Pew Research Centre found a majority of American adults using Facebook as a source of news (which means Britain is sure to follow). Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been resistant to the notion that his company, social media, or the web in general are undermining democracy (“a pretty crazy idea”), even after dozens of his own staff formed a covert taskforce to address the problem post-election. It’s easy to see why he bridles too, because if he accepts the truth that his algorithms function no more objectively than a human editor, then he bears responsibility for their choices. And once he does that, he allows the equally obvious truth that Facebook, whether it wants to be or not, is now a media organisation and must vouch for the information it disseminates.
The most interesting question about 2016 is not why the Brexit result and Trump happened, but whether historians will regard both as incidental; whether this will go down as the year democracy revealed itself unworkable in the age of the internet – in which reality, already engaged in a life-or-death struggle with inverted commas, finally gave way to “alt-reality”.
In 1980, scientist and writer Isaac Asimov argued in an essay that “there is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been.” That year, the Republican Party stood at the dawn of the Reagan Revolution, which initiated a decades-long conservative groundswell that many pundits say may finally come to an end in November. GOP strategist Steve Schmidt (who has been regretful about choosing Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate in 2008) recently pointed to what he called “intellectual rot” as a primary culprit, and a cult-like devotion to irrationality among a certain segment of the electorate.
There are 200 million Americans who have inhabited schoolrooms at some time in their lives and who will admit that they know how to read… but most decent periodicals believe they are doing amazingly well if they have circulation of half a million. It may be that only 1 per cent—or less—of Americans make a stab at exercising their right to know. And if they try to do anything on that basis they are quite likely to be accused of being elitists.
Nonetheless, the widespread (though hardly universal) availability of free resources on the Internet has made self-education a reality for many people, and certainly for most Americans. But perhaps not even Isaac Asimov could have foreseen the bitter polarization and disinformation campaigns that technology has also enabled. Needless to say, “A Cult of Ignorance” was not one of Asimov’s most popular pieces of writing. First published on January 21, 1980 in Newsweek, the short opinion piece has never been reprinted in any of Asimov’s collections. You can read the essay as a PDF here.
Painting of Asimov on his throne by Rowena Morill, via Wikimedia Commons In 1980, scientist and writer Isaac Asimov argued in an essay that “there is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been.”
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups in the US, NPI is one of the four most influential organizations of academic racists in the country. Its companions on that list include the Charles Martel Society, run by NPI’s founder, millionaire publisher William Regnery. Also on the list: the New Century Foundation, which is run by Jared Taylor, one of the founding members of NPI’s board. It’s a small pond, and just about everything you fish out of it has some connection to NPI.
THE TERM “ALT-RIGHT” probably makes you think of Twitter or a dark subreddit, or 4chan, or some social medium occupied by meme-slinging, Trump-supporting, unapologetically bigoted provocateurs. You probably don’t think of a PO box in Whitefish, Montana. In any event, they should be called what they are: Nazis.
But now that clique’s ideas, the ideological tentpoles of the alt-right movement, have swum out into the mainstream.
The National Policy Institute spread the term “alt-right.” It’s a white nationalist think tank (and an academic version of 4chan). The post How the Alt-Right Grew From an Obscure Racist Cabal appeared first on WIRED.