Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Puttin' On Airs

Timothy Noah at Slate thinks the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear should not be held because it smacks of elitism. He thinks it pokes fun at ignorant people like Tea Partiers and Glenn Beck's followers. And you know how ingorant people chafe at those elitists laughing at them.

How patronizing.

First of all, the Tea Partiers, Glenn Beck's followers, and other members of the activist right aren't stupid or ignorant. There is no biological reason for their lack of knowledge, as a movement. And they aren't ignorant, as they have been able to memorize entire universes of knowledge. If they were ignorant or stupid, it would be just plain mean to make fun of them, since they'd have no control over what they thought, bless their hearts.

However, willfull ignorance can be made fun of mercilessly, and is hardly an elitist gesture. As a matter of fact, doing so is incredibly important to moving politics forward. That's why it is a moral wrong to bully the kid with learning disabilites, but it is an essential cultural trait of functioning democracies to have individuals demonstrate in and to the public that the emperor has no clothes.

And let's face it, it isn't "elitist" to expect someone who considers themselves an expert on a topic to have at least basic reality-based working knowledge of said topic. It is high time this nation stopped turning its back on established history and fact because accepting established history and fact is somehow snobbery.

Die-hard members of any political movement are acting in willfull ignorance of at least some facts that either discredit their own arguments or they don't agree with. The thing is that right now, on a scale far greater than the politically correct mavens of the 80s and 90s, many Tea Partiers and the Glenn Beck followers of the world aren't just being willfully ignorant, they're actively celebrating it in front of the video cameras. They're so proud of their willfull ignorance, that they have become the elitists of a different universe. And they aren't content to just talk about it amongst themselves, they want to lecture everyone they know about it.

And the stuff they're lecturing the rest of us about are whoppers, let me tell you. Exposing them as whoppers is not "elitist."

I wouldn't take you seriously if you told me the Ohio State Buckeyes were still undefeated in football, so how can I take you seriously if you tell me the Supreme Court allows local school boards to inject religious doctrine into public schools; or not one drop of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico during the hurricanes of 2005; or that only Muslims can be terrorists; or that our President is a secret Kenyan anti-colonialist, who wasn't elected in free and fair elections in this country? That these are the same people who claimed the Dow would hit 30,000, that we would be "welcomed as liberators" in Iraq, and that we should do something about those pesky illegal immigrants who clean their homes.

Credibility, credibility, credibility.

But the problem does exist when your regular American-consensus conservatives start buying into these falsehoods, or when the media lets folks get away with those kinds of falsehoods without challenge. I expected real conservatives to be appalled by O'Donnell's butchering of concept, fact, and history, but that is just not happening.

We are now witnessing a wholesale destruction of the concept of historical fact, where self-proclaimed experts can say whatever they want, and people will believe them (or at least defend them) if it lines up with their political beliefs. That's not good, and it isn't OK when anyone does it.

Which brings me back to John Stewart and Stephen Colbert. At this point, satire and mockery are your last major outlet defenders of cultural democracy.


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