“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

Category: Health (Page 1 of 2)

The Age of Ignorance

The Age of Ignorance

Why We Live in a Time When Ignorance Proudly Parades Itself as Enlightenment

umair haque

Anti-maskers violently yelling at school board meetings to stop their kids…from wearing masks…during a pandemic. Anti-vaxxers refusing to get vaccinated and dying from COVID. People pretending the pandemic is over while Covid goes permanent.

When I look around the world today, I see shattering ignorance at work, like never before in our lifetimes. Shall I name a few kinds? Bigotry, racism, hate, xenophobia, nationalism, greed, spite, cruelty, fascism. Ignorance upon ignorance, of all the devil’s many kinds.

But the really strange, bizarre, and weird thing isn’t all that — ignorance has always been around, hasn’t it? It’s that today, ignorance is willful. Deliberate. Proud. Boastful, cocky, and exultant. Pompous, high-sounding, and aggrandizing. It waves banners and sings chants and discusses philosophies. Ignorance today thinks of itself as Aristotle by way of Descartes and Kant. The really strange thing about now is that ignorance parades itself as enlightenment.

Ignorance — of every kind, day after day. That’s bad enough. But ignorance proudly presenting itself as wisdom, truth, and enlightenment? In bestsellers, through YouTube “personalities”, by college professors? Now that’s tragedy and comedy both. And yet people buy it. Why? I think this weird phenomenon — of flaunting ignorance as grand-sounding enlightenment — is made of a fatal cocktail of cognitive dissonance, infantile regression, and malignant narcissism.

Let’s start with the first one. I tell someone a fact. “Hey, do you know that Americans live five years less than Europeans?” Bang! Along comes a string of justifications, denials, misinformation, Fox News talking points, followed by mistrust, personal attacks, and finally, rage. Here’s another example. “Hey, did you know Brexit is now going to cost you thousands every year, and make you poorer to begin with?” Snap! The very same string, in response. Don’t you think that’s odd? I do.

What happened, really? Instantly, massive cognitive dissonance was triggered. New information, which conflicts sharply with preexisting beliefs. Old myths. In this case, that America’s exceptional, special, the best, a Promised Land. Or British triumphalism, the idea that by carrying on, it will win, it doesn’t need anyone else, and never has. Whatever the myths may be, the point is the same. New information confronts old myths. The old myths triumph — in a frenzy of defensiveness, people end up lashing out, instead of “processing,” that is to say, accepting, understanding, tolerating, the new information.

Now, people can only ever really decide in favour of new information is the cost discarding old myths is reasonably low. If it doesn’t hurt, them, in other words. But it seems to hurt them immensely, almost absurdly, to discard these old myths. It seems to damage their self-coherence at an existential level, and thus, result in activating a traumatized person’s fight-or-flightresponse. Hence, the price of discarding the old myths is impossibly high to meet, which is why you can’t reason with a Trumpist or fascist of any kind, ever with facts, logic, or evidence.

But why would the price of discarding old myths be so impossibly high? After all, we do it every day, in littler ways, perhaps. Well, people must already feel fragile. Uncertain. Unstable, even. These myths must be all that is shoring up their identities, their egos, and their sense of morality, too. And so what people are really protecting, by clinging to these old myths — whether of exceptionalism, specialness, triumphalism, or racism — is themselves. At an existential level. “I still exist!! This is the only way I can belong! This is all that defines me! There’s nothing else in me!” (We’ll come back to that.) So this trend of ignorance masquerading itself as enlightenment, where people lash out the moment they’re presented with truths, is a kind of desperate, last-ditch self-preservation. But which self are they trying to preserve?

Well, what kind of people do we call those who need grandiose fairy tales of their omnipotence to feel secure? Children. And what the phenomenon of ignorance parading itself as enlightenment reveals about those who do it is that they have regressed to a childlike state. The fairy tale allows the child to exist, to belong, to feel safe, to feel unique, the only one, the chosen one — the knight or the damsel, take your pick — and in that way, to feel loved in the way that they need to be loved. When people cannot handle the cognitive dissonance of mundane everyday truths, and cling to grandiose myths instead of being able to process, integrate, and accept new truths, it’s stark evidence that they are regressing into a simpler, safer world — because functioning adults don’t need to feel omnipotent, singular, grandiose.

But why would adults, who’ve regressed to childlike states, need to feel grandiose, all-powerful, the only ones in all the world? Because the world is indeed a hostile, frightening place these days. One can hardly survive these days, by meekly following the rules. One must conform, keep one’s head low, try not to stick out. Survival is an act of obedience in the collapsed world that predatory capitalism has created. What is that world really like, though, to experience? It’s a world which constantly tells you have no intrinsic worth. That you are without inherent value. You are only as good as what you can be used for. If you cannot be used for anything, then your just fate is essentially to be left to die. You’re powerless, aren’t you? Ah, you see? Who else needs absolute power, but those who feel powerless inside?

In other words, predatory capitalism creates a world that constantly tears away at people’s sense of self — which is precisely why people are always seeking to shore those absent selves up with grandiose myths of how special, unique, and wonderful they are. There is nothing left inside a person under predatory capitalism — even their sense of self has been taken away from them. They are constantly trying to earn it back, with consumption, with status, with luxuries, with signals, by being the richest, hungriest, strongest, the perfect one with the perfect life. People under predatory capitalism are always trying to earn their missing selfhood back by preying on others, so that they’re the only ones who are loved, needed, desired, in all the world. (Only then can they feel, for just a fleeting moment, no just like they’re safe, whole, or true — but like they exist at all.)

But what is a person with nothing inside called? A narcissist. The narcissist isn’t what we often think — the one who thinks too much of himself. He is the one who thinks too little. So little, in fact, that he has no inherent sense of worth, meaning, belonging, purpose, or value. He is nothing, to himself. And so he constantly needs reassurance, praise, flattery, admiration. Even in destructive, abusive, and ruinous ways. He calls that “love,” and though it isn’t love, only power — it’s the only kind of relationship he is capable of.

Remember the phenomenon of flouting ignorance as enlightenment? Isn’t that what it’s really about? Power? It’s power over you. Power over the world. Power over society. The power to if not earn your praise, then at least demand your submission, your pain, your helplessness — which is what gives the malignant narcissist the validation they need to fill up that hole where a self should be. The pain of your powerlessness is the only thing that can validate the malignant narcissist’s self-existence.

Yet the malignant narcissist has come to exist because predatory capitalism has made him a mirror image of itself — it has left nothing in him at all, not even a self. There’s just an absence, an emptiness, where a self should be — which is insatiable. And so it must be fed with aggrandizing myths, that the narcissist is the only one who matters, counts, exists. But that means that his existence must come at the price of you, me, facts, reality, and, ultimately, even the whole world burning down. The more you suffer — the more I exist. The only thing that makes you feel powerful is my powerlessness — because capitalism has burned a hole through the place where a self should be.

Hence, ignorance parading itself as enlightenment. It’s the defining mood, phenomenon, way of the times we live in. Perhaps you and I, though, should be wiser than those who proudly, boastfully devote themselves to it.

August 2021

Dying of Whiteness

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.”

Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland

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.

America’s Water Crisis Extends Far Beyond Flint

Crisis: Clean water is a basic human right. Why are we charging so much for it?

Clean water is a basic human right. Why are we charging so much for it?

America’s water crisis: as with all environmental injustices, this one falls especially hard on non-whites.

Aging infrastructure + warming climate = rising prices. That’s the basic conclusion of a new report showing that clean water is getting more expensive in cities across the country — in some cases, far more expensive than what poor residents can reasonably afford for what should be a basic human right.

Rates vary hugely across the country — water will cost you five times as much in Seattle as in Salt Lake City, for example — but on average, the cost of clean water and wastewater services has risen 41 percent over the last five years, according to an examination of national data by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, a human rights advocacy organization.

The new report blames rising water costs on a variety of factors, including:

  • Pollution from industry, agriculture, and fossil fuel production, requiring more communities to clean and treat their drinking water. Climate change, by increasing salinity and algal blooms, makes the problem worse.
  • Population growth and drought in the arid Southwest and elsewhere (the new normal due to climate change), which means water is traveling farther to reach consumers, increasing costs accordingly. Drought surcharges can bring a family’s bill above $300 per month in some places.
  • Increased rainfall from climate change in the East and Midwest, which causes flooding and fills water systems with pollution. Detroit struggles with overflowing sewers during heavy rainfalls, while New York City has to discharge sewage into its harbor after a storm. These situations can require costly upgrades to wastewater treatment facilities.

As with all environmental injustices, this one falls especially hard on non-whites. “Today, one in every two African-American Michiganers live in cities that violate their human rights to water and sanitation,” the service committee reports. Detroit and Flint, whose water problems have made national news over the past year, have majority black populations, as does Lowndes County, Ala., which has no functioning sewer system.

From an article at GRIST

The Decline of Play and Rise in Children’s Mental Disorders

The Decline of Free Play May Have Caused a Decline in Sense of Control and in Intrinsic Goals, and a Rise in Anxiety and Depression

Children’s freedom to play and explore on their own, independent of direct adult guidance and direction, has declined greatly in recent decades. Free play and exploration are, historically, the means by which children learn to solve their own problems, control their own lives, develop their own interests, and become competent in pursuit of their own interests.

The Decline of Free Play May Have Caused a Decline in Sense of Control and in Intrinsic Goals, and a Rise in Anxiety and Depression

One thing we know about anxiety and depression is that they correlate significantly with people’s sense of control or lack of control over their own lives. People who believe that they are in charge of their own fate are less likely to become anxious or depressed than those who believe that they are victims of circumstances beyond their control. You might think that the sense of personal control would have increased over the last several decades. Real progress has occurred in our ability to prevent and treat diseases; the old prejudices that limited people’s options because of race, gender, or sexual orientation have diminished; and the average person is wealthier than in decades past. Yet the data indicate that young people’s belief that they have control over their own destinies has declined sharply over the decades.

By depriving children of opportunities to play on their own, away from direct adult supervision and control, we are depriving them of opportunities to learn how to take control of their own lives. We may think we are protecting them, but in fact we are diminishing their joy, diminishing their sense of self-control, preventing them from discovering and exploring the endeavors they would most love, and increasing the odds that they will suffer from anxiety, depression, and other disorders.



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