In exactly one week, I will be shoving my meager possessions and cat into the smallest rental truck available and driving 1,899 miles. GayProf should be spending his last week in Texas packing. Why, though, alter my usual method of waiting until the day before the move? So, in lieu of being reasonable, let's chat about some conservative silliness.
Claiming a conservative ideology does not necessarily imply a lack of intelligence. Likewise, the left can claim some pretty darn dim-witted people (that is another entry entirely). Still, it just seems to me that the modern U.S. conservative movement seems to almost take pride in being, well, kinda dumb.
Little Georgie Bush’s recent mishap with open microphones not only suggested his crassness, but again showed his basic lack of knowledge. When he wasn't sexually harassing the German Chancellor, he came to an astounding realization. Discussing the travel times of his fellow world leaders, Georgie seemed totally amazed at the literal size of the globe. He was shocked – SHOCKED – that others, like Russian Federation President Putin, could travel the same amount of time as he but not end up in the U.S. Georgie only represents the most visible component of this phenomena (though Ronald Reagan certainly used to give him a run for his money).
A strong wave of anti-intellectualism exists in the U.S. For all the reverence given to Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and the other eighteenth-century thinky crew, many modern American conservatives seem to disdain critical thinking.
GayProf can’t claim to know everything – yet. The emerging Israel/Lebanon war, for instance, is well beyond my ability and knowledge to discuss at great length. However, I want to know more and like to hear a variety of ideas. I also like to think that I am open to revising and changing my lefty ideas when I find better, smarter ideas.
Even conservatives might have some valid things to offer to these types of discussions. It’s hard to take conservatives seriously, though, when they actively despise learning and intellectual inquiry. Perhaps I have a personal failing, but I just won't seek out conservatives' opinion columns or blogs for this reason. If their ideological position can’t withstand intellecutal interrogation, perhaps they should not cling so tightly to it.
Conservatives have become so fearful that their ideas won’t standup in the face of actual thinking that they are now trying to legislate against critical inquiry. Florida’s legislature recently passed an education bill, signed into law by Governor Jeb Bush, that “American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed.” The law further names that history as “knowable, teachable, and testable.” Keep in mind that Jeb was supposed to be the smart one. Scary, isn't it? You can read more about this measure here.
Florida’s legislature responded to all of those pesky historians who have demanded that we interrogate the master narratives of U.S. history. Rather than presuming that U.S. History should only be the singular story of dead, white, straight men, these historians have the audacity to claim that others have influenced the course of human events both locally and globally. Moreover, they have an annoying habit of pointing out that inequality and injustice plagues the history of this nation. They ask their students to understand the past by interpreting events and a variety of view points.
Florida’s state government, however, took a bold stance against all of that. “No longer,” they more or less stated, “shall we suffer the hard work of having to think about things that challenge our assumptions. History shall just be about important names and dates and will never, ever question the rightness of the U.S.”
We on the intellectual left have a much harder case to make. The right calls ours vision of history an attack and a plot to split a common culture. We, on the other hand, question the assumption that a comon culture exists (or ever existed). Our position seems a lot less happy in comparison. Note to self: No job applications for GayProf in Florida this year.
Of course, conservative state legislatures don’t get all the conservative dumbness. The web-based group Protest Warriors claim to be battling us tricky and sanctimonious leftists. This right-wing group argues that leftists’ “self-righteous messages go silent quickly when the truth of history and reality is thrown back in their face.” Here, again, the right wants history to be equivalent to unquestioned “truth.” Yet, they also show that they know little about the actual complexity of the past.
Let’s take one of Protest Warriors’ t-shirts entitled “What has Western Civ Ever Done?” This little ringer-t celebrates “Western Civ” [read: White Civ] by listing its allegedly exclusively developments in world history.
At the top of their list, not surprisingly, appears “monotheism.” Obviously, one has to start out with a certain assumption that monotheism is automatically a good thing to even be persuaded by this t-shirt. That, much to their horror, is open to debate. We can set that aside for the time being.
What I find dumb about the shirt, however, is that they opted to put an image of the Parthenon on it. Greeks built the Parthenon in honor Athena, just one of their many, many, may gods. Using the Parthenon on a shirt celebrating monotheism strikes me as, well, dumb. Great Hera, what other word can I find?
Likewise, this same shirt claims intellectual developments that “westerners” actually borrowed from other groups of folk. Chemistry? Well, one might consider looking at ancient Persia first, after the rise of Islam. Early-modern Europeans certainly did.
How about literacy? Well, some South-Asian Hindu texts are at least eight thousand years old. Of course, China also has one of the longest, continuously used written languages in the entire world. I suppose 6,000 years of successive state organization will do that for you. China also provided the world with paper and printing (hey, they needed to use that paper for something). Literacy kind of needs paper and printing to work well.
Some time later, of course, Islamic tradition put a religious imperative on the ability to read the Qur’an. As a result, Arabic-speaking countries have most often had higher rates of literacy than elsewhere in the world for the past twelve centuries. So, claims of “western” literacy seem to be in their infancy.
One has to wonder if Protest Warriors would see these types of statements as “the truth of history and reality” being thrown back in their own self-righteous faces. I, however, am not interested in pointing out their lack of knowledge. That’s like shooting fish in a barrel, or something.
Rather, I am disturbed that they have a willful ignorance to the complexity of the world and its past. They don’t want engagement, but rather want to dictate what people should and should not know. They want history to be about them feeling good about their own identity and assumptions. They wish to silence dicussion over anything in the past that doesn't jive with their rosy view of the U.S.
Like Georgie Bush, these folk would be astounded by the size of the world. Moreover, they show themselves intellectually unprepared to grapple with its complexity.