I think the greatest impediment to building an ethical culture is the relentless dumbing down of the culture, a process now driven as much by political factors as educational ones and Honey Boo-Boo. The last election showed that ours politicians fhave decisied that they only benefit from misleading and frightening the ignorant and logically impaired among us—all the better to persuade them to elect leaders not much smarter than they are, but probably more ruthless and dishonest. In so many corners of our society, there are no consequences for demonstrated intellectual incompetence.
The news media is a prime example. CNN’s Deborah Feyeric actually asked, on the air, whether the approaching asteroid last week was “the effect of, perhaps, global warming.” She is too ignorant to be on television: this is signature significance. I know science isn’t her usual beat, but nobody this incapable of basic logic should be interpreting news on the airwaves about anything. If she had announced the moon was made of cheese, or asked if anyone had ever found that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it could not have been any worse. CNN doesn’t care: she still has a job. Being jaw-droppingly stupid—the worse kind of stupid, so stupid you don’t even know how stupid you are—is no longer a bar to permanent employment in national media, in teaching, in business, in government. Probably Feyeric’s bosses thought she asked a reasonable question.
One of the main catalysts for dangerous stupidity and cognitive impairment is partisan fervor, which too often functions as a substitute for original thinking. I read what I would have thought was an ethically clear and uncontroversial story, certainly apolitical, about a foolish father who cornered a baby manatee in Florida and had his kids playing with it, even riding it at one point. This fool posted the photos on Facebook, and sure enough, was arrested for violating Florida’s Manatee Sanctuary Act, which protects the endangered sea mammal and says in part, “It is unlawful for any person at any time, by any means, or in any manner intentionally or negligently to annoy, molest, harass, or disturb or attempt to molest, harass, or disturb any manatee.” Of course he was arrested. It’s a law, and he broke it. This isn’t even an especially obscure or surprising law. If you don’t know manatees are endangered, you need to read more. If you don’t know that using wild animals like they are toys is cruel, stupid and wrong, you were raised in Dogpatch.
However, I made the mistake of reading the comments to the story. At least half of them were like these:
“Do the police have an affidavit from the manatee stating it felt “molested, harassed, or disturbed”? The creature might have been enjoying the attention.”
”He pets a manatee and gets booked into jail charged with “molesting” it? This is a good example of why we need less government in our lives. Legislate less and go do something useful.”
“Molesting is a strong and misleading word… He should sue the state and news agencies for defamation. This makes him sound like a deviant.”
“If their stupid enough and have so little knowledge as to reelect Obama how would he know this is a No-No.’
“Our tree huggers who think nothing of aborting a baby in the womb (because it’s human and you hate humans) are just showing your hypocrisy again, as usual.’
”The Governments of this land are getting so they intentionally make secret laws that will catch you.”
“Who knows every law or should be expected to? That was appropriate when there was basically the 10 commandments to go by.”
“Overthrow the environmentalist wacko dictatorship! Ecofreaks! Enviromaniacs! Pointing guns at Americans, kidnapping them and incarcerating them! Disarm the eco-gunmen and then beat them senseless. No, wait! That’d be redundant, wouldn’t it?”
” START A PRAIRIE FIRE! START A TEA PARTY TSUNAMI! START A TAXPAYER REBELLION AGAINST THE TAX-EATERS! SHARE THESE SENTIMENTS WITH YOUR FAMILY, FRIENDS, AND NEIGHBORS, TODAY!”
”Protect the Manatee, but abort the unborn child.”
”We live in an upside-down era. Liberal/leftist logic rules in our public life. Lets keep it entirely out of our private lives.”
”Apparently this is easier than going out and busting the meth labs, the crack hos, and they pimps. I feel much safer knowing that the cops are out to protect the manatees.”
”Do manatees pay taxes and are they US citizens under the US Constitution which the Democrats now despise?”
”You can murder your unborn child until the third trimester but sitting on a manatee gets you arrested. God will judge us all”
”Of course if some super rich politician or maybe Obama did a photo op with the creature then it would be a different story. No arrest, no fine, no big deal from the politically correct gotcha police. Country is looking more like the Soviet Union than the land ‘of the free’. “
This was about manatees!
Yet here is reasoning by anger, free-association, hatred, logical fallacies, civic deficiencies, rationalizations and partisanship as a substitute for thought. How can any society with a significant proportion of its members addressing issues–heck, daily life—with this quality of analysis make progress, reach consensus, or enforce coherent values?
We have to make it a cultural priority to stop encouraging Americans to be stupid, empowering them to be stupid, tolerating them when they are stupid, and training them to be stupid.
And I have no idea how to do that.