Monday, October 4, 2010

Are Americans Idiots?

It's tempting to draw that conclusion, and many of my liberal and atheistic friends believe it. Bill Maher was on O'Reilly in a fairly interesting interview and in that interview where Maher scoffs a little at religious belief O'Reilly charges him with elitism. Maher thinks he's so much better than typical Americans according to O'Reilly. O'Reilly paints himself as if he's in league with the so called "rubes" that Maher would ridicule.

The fact that 44% of Americans in a 2006 poll believe that man was created by God as is less than 10,000 years ago doesn't help matters. Another 2006 international poll on beliefs regarding evolution had the US second to last, worsted only by Turkey.

I happened to be at a church last night that was spending the evening showing that the whole universe was created about 6,000 years ago. It was very much geared towards children. I spoke with some of the members after the talk and told them I was an atheist interested in understanding their viewpoints. They were very much warm and otherwise reasonable people explaining to me how the evidence really does show that the universe is young. Look at the limited amount of river deposits at places like the Mississippi River. Look at the earths gravitational field and how it couldn't have decayed to the present value over billions of years.

The correlation I tend to expect would be that as a nation becomes more industrialized and more prosperous it becomes less fundamentalist. But that's not true in the United States. We're an extremely fundamentalist country. You'd probably have to go to Saudi Arabia or Iran to find a similar level of widespread religious dogmatism and the shunning of science. Why is that? Are Americans simply idiots?

I don't think that is correct. As I continue to peruse the results of polls I'm surprised to find over and over that the American people hold views that are quite sensible. This is often in the face of intense propaganda meant to convince them of other views. So take NAFTA, for instance. I recall the wall to wall cheer leading on behalf of NAFTA both from Democrats and Republicans. The media was lock step. Somehow the American people as a whole recognized that it wasn't good for them and didn't want it. They opposed it at a 2 to 1 rate. The general consensus as I understand it is that NAFTA has been harmful to the poor of all countries involved. But not for the rich. The income gap between rich and poor continues to grow as a consequence of NAFTA and other policies. Income gaps in the United States set another record in 2009. It appears to me that Americans understood that this would happen even in the face of intense propaganda. How did they know that?

Or take the war in Iraq. The media was generally uniform in accepting governmental claims regarding the war. Even still the American people supported the war as implemented by Bush at only a 33% rate (sadly I must admit that I would have been among the supporters). The view of the American people is pretty sensible. They supported war with UN authorization.

The United States, being the most powerful country in the world, naturally is subjected to propaganda to an unusual extent. Naturally many powerful people have a vested interest in controlling the will of the world's most influential public. So for instance when a UN fact finding mission reports that the IDF shot an American citizen in the head execution style, this simply is not going to be widely reported. The reason is because many powerful and wealthy people (such as those that belong to AIPAC) prefer that this story not be told because it doesn't serve their interest. Americans are often uninformed about basic facts known widely throughout the world. But the rest of the world is not subjected to the kind of intense propaganda the US is subjected to.

So what about this belief that mankind is no older than 10,000 years or that evolution is false? Why are these opinions so widespread in the United States despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary? The answer is probably somewhat complex, but I tend to think that powerful and wealthy interests have something to do with it. Religion is largely thought control. Wealthy interests naturally benefit from certain kinds of thought control. And also from keeping the population ignorant. I'd be curious to understand if this plays a part in the off the scale non-scientific beliefs held by Americans.


Darf Ferrara said...

So Americans believing in something that is possible and unfalsifiable (an all-powerful deity who can create a world any way he sees fit) is an indication that Americans are idiots. On the other hand, when they see through comparative advantage, a "theory" that requires "math" to show that trade is mutually beneficial they are prescient?

It's almost like you are defining idiot to mean someone who doesn't believe what you do. You probably think that because powerful people are controlling your mind.

Jon said...

Do you expect that I think the opinions I hold are false? This is my blog, so often I post thoughts as understood from my perspective. That means my thoughts are directed at people that think like me. This is not really a thought experiment for a young earth creationist or someone that supports NAFTA.

Many people that I know that think like me (liberal an atheistic-note the opening sentence in my post here) likewise think the American people are generally morons. Take Bill Maher as an example (note my second sentence). Instead you pretend this post is directed at liberterians.

But to follow your rabbit trail anyway, I didn't say the American people "see through" comparative advantage or even reject the principles of comparative advantage. NAFTA has pretty much nothing to do with free trade as even Ron Paul recognizes.

Darf Ferrara said...

NAFTA does have something to do with free trade since it eliminated tariffs.

My point is that young earth theists have arguments in their favor. People that favor protectionism haven't had any legitimate arguments since Ricardo. The wrong group is put in the idiot category.

Jon said...

The wrong group is in the idiot category from your perspective but I'm not writing from your perspective. I'm writing from a Bill Maher/atheistic/liberal perspective. Did you read my prior comment?

This reminds me of Dutko's discussion about how Jesus will be visible to everyone during the second coming. Will he use video technology, mirrors and refraction, etc. Would it make sense for me to call in and say "This is all bogus. Jesus is a mythical character." No. The question being asked is from the perspective of someone that already accepts that Jesus rose from the dead. If I want to participate in the discussion I need to adopt the assumptions of the target audience. This is not the time to debate the merits of the Jesus as myth view.

From the perspective of the atheist/liberal, are the American people idiots? I say no, even though often atheists/liberals regard the American people as idiots. If you are not going to adopt that perspective of the target audience I'm addressing then your comments are not going to be germane to this post.

Darf Ferrara said...

I didn't read the whole comment, but I skimmed it. I just refuse to believe that all atheist liberals can't do basic arithmetic, and they look down at those who can.

Jon said...

I think liberals let real world consequences inform their mathematical models instead of living in a logically circular cocoon. When they do that they come to conclusions such as what Bill explained earlier when he wrote:

There is empirical evidence to suggest that free markets aren’t the panacea you seem to imply. Check out the book “Economics and World History: Myths and Paradoxes” or at least read what you can on If you search you can find the quote:

“It is difficult to find another case where the facts so contradict a dominant theory than the one concerning the negative impact of protectionism; at least as far as nineteenth-century world economic history is concerned. In all cases protectionism led to, or at least was concomitant with, industrialization and economic development. Also, in the four examples of liberalism, three had negative or very negative consequences.”


“There is no doubt that the Third World's compulsory economic liberalism in the nineteenth century is a major element in explaining the delay in its industrialization.”

You might not agree, but then my post here is not intended to argue the merits of this liberal perspective you don't share.

Darf Ferrara said...

You seem to imply that there is some mathematical model that liberals use to justify protectionism. I don't think so. If you were consistent you might blog about how the American people fight against free trade even though the vast majority of economists are for it. Instead you blog about how Americans aren't as dumb as you originally thought because they deny a result that follows from basic arithmetic. It just seems strange.

Jon said...

What's this basic arithmetic that shows how NAFTA is good?

Darf Ferrara said...

Here is a mathematical proof that you will find unassailable.

"Hi, I'm Noam Chomsky. NAFTA is good"

Jon said...

Seriously, let's see this basic arithmetic that shows NAFTA is good and the American people (as well as liberals generally) in rejecting it show they can't do basic arithmetic. I'd like to see how the expanded copyright protection and patent protection is factored in.

According to this article Banks and Wall St Securities firms would be the expected big winners. The losers are semi-skilled workers, women, blacks, and Hispanics. This in an article with a very cheery headline. The main losers are women and minorities. Are these people unable to do basic arithmetic?

Darf Ferrara said...

You have the resources you need to understand free trade. I've linked to books on Price Theory before, and you could read Exchange and Production chapter 6 if you chose to. With an engineering degree you should be able to understand the simple arithmetic. Even if it is a mechanical engineering degree.

I find it interesting that you would link to a powerful interest, mind-control newspaper article. Journalists have even fewer basic math skills than most Americans, and they are serving their corporate masters, but you would rather believe that than learn basic economics.

Jon said...

Does chapter 6 deal with the benefits of expanded copyright and patent protection? Or the effects of the imposition of US subsidized corn and how the lack of protection would put a million farmers out of business, driving down labor costs for unskilled production workers, and how that would affect unskilled labor in the US? All just very simple arithmetic, right? You'd have to be an idiot to oppose that, right?

Darf Ferrara said...

If you ever read it let me know. It's much easier to be outraged than to read.

Jon said...

I'll read it if you'll read Manufacturing Consent. That will help you avoid the caricatures of my views on the media such as what you offer above.

Darf Ferrara said...

Send me a copy. But I can tell you that I won't stop caricaturing your position. Because of the computer chip that our corporate masters have implanted in my brain.

Paul said...

Jon -

This is a copy/paste from a friend's posting on facebook.

I think you are fairer than I. Thus I am curious to hear your perspective.

"1st one:
How about a new regulation on voting... If u don't pay taxes u don't vote! I'm tired of those who never suffer the consequences making decisions that affect those of us paying for everything in this increasingly socialistic country.

2nd one:
Maybe all the freeloaders on welfare should be forced to sign a legally binding contract to start contributing within 6 months or be deported? At some point the 80% in the cart need to get out and start pulling!

3rd one:
Watching the news the other day and the president of some organization for mentally ill people says "we r really encouraging all mentally ill people to get out and vote this November"... Really? Cause things aren't bad enough we need to round up all the mentally ill so they can vote? I wonder if shes mentally ill? What an idiot!

Jon said...

Hey Paul,

I like in the first line how it's about "people who don't suffer the consequences." Poor people don't suffer the consequences? A lot of people that are poor are poor because of governmental policies. That's why they opposed policies like NAFTA. They didn't want to make so little money that they didn't pay income tax. Of course they still pay sales tax, Social Security on any income they might earn, etc. It's not like they pay no taxes. But they shouldn't have a voice in policies that have huge affects on them?

The logic is that if it doesn't affect you then you shouldn't have a voice. That sort of makes sense. If the only costs were the costs that come out of my wallet, then that would be true. Why should a person have a voice when the decisions don't affect them, since the only affects are out of pocket ones. But there are other costs. Big ones.

But the decisions are already made by the super wealthy anyway, if that's what your friend is going for. Contrast public opinion as I've blogged about with actual policy. The poor are quite irrelevant already. That's what got us where we are today. The consequence is massive war, banker bailouts, looming environmental catastrophe, extremely expensive health care, etc. This is a consequence of what your friend is suggesting.

The largest welfare queens are wealthy corporations. I think the majority of Fortune 500 companies have experienced some sort of government bailout. Look at the financial industry. It's interesting that there's so much hostility to the gifts given to the poor whereas the gifts given to the rich are hardly noticed.

I kind of doubt the veracity of that third statement.