April 06, 2008

Nicholas Kristof has been on a roll in the New York Times recently, with several astute columns on race, gender and how they impact the 2008 election. On the subject of the controversial Rev. Wright, he wrote:
It’s true that conspiracy theories are a bane of the African-American community. Perhaps partly as a legacy of slavery, Tuskegee and Jim Crow, many blacks are convinced that crack cocaine was a government plot to harm African-Americans and that the levees in New Orleans were deliberately opened to destroy black neighborhoods.

White readers expressed shock (and a hint of smugness) at these delusions, but the sad reality is that conspiracy theories and irrationality aren’t a black problem. They are an American problem.

These days, whites may not believe in a government plot to spread AIDS, but they do entertain the equally malevolent theory that the United States government had a hand in the 9/11 attacks. A Ohio University poll in 2006 found that 36 percent of Americans believed that federal officials assisted in the attacks on the twin towers or knowingly let them happen so that the U.S. could go to war in the Middle East.

Then there’s this embarrassing fact about the United States in the 21st century: Americans are as likely to believe in flying saucers as in evolution. Depending on how the questions are asked, roughly 30 to 40 percent of Americans believe in each.


Only one American in 10 understands radiation, and only one in three has an idea of what DNA does. One in five does know that the Sun orbits the Earth ...oh, oops.

America is now ill with a powerful mutant strain of intertwined ignorance, anti-rationalism, and anti-intellectualism,” Susan Jacoby argues in a new book, “The Age of American Unreason.” She blames a culture of “infotainment,” sound bites, fundamentalist religion and ideological rigidity for impairing thoughtful debate about national policies.
Ecce Homo !!!

Of course, ignorance is not necessarily the basis for conspiratorial thinking, nor do conservatives have a monopoly on the subject; besides the numerous wackjobs who continue to support the Kennedy and King assasination industries, you still encounter people who believe the 2004 election resulted from computer hacking, who assert that the Reagan campaign in 1980 made a side-deal with the Ayatollah on the hostages just before the election, and who insist that the documents Dan Rather shilled for concerning Bush's absence from Guard duty in 1972 were authentic. There are good reasons for believing in each of the above, just as it is not unreasonable to believe that AIDS and crack cocaine are part of a racist plot. It isn't ignorance so much as it is an unwillingness to apply reason to those subjects that fuels conspiracy thinking.

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