Education in America has done a fine job. “Despite nearly constant news coverage since the war there began in 2003, 63 percent of Americans aged 18 to 24 failed to correctly locate the country on a map of the Middle East. Seventy percent could not find Iran or Israel,” reports National Geographic. “Young Americans just don’t seem to have much interest in the world outside of the U.S.,” mused David Rutherford, a specialist in geography education at the National Geographic Society in Washington. Young Americans are so ill-educated, half of them can’t find New York on a map, let alone Iran and Iraq. “Many young Americans also lack basic map-reading skills…. Told they could escape an approaching hurricane by evacuating to the northwest, only two-thirds could indicate which way northwest is on a map.” But it is not simply geography.
“Three in ten respondents put the U.S. population between one and two billion (it’s just under 300 million, according the U.S. Census Bureau). Seventy-four percent said English is the most commonly spoken native language in the world (it’s Mandarin Chinese).” Considering the widespread ignorance of the American public—and older Americans are not much better when it comes to finding countries on a map, or for that matter naming their state representative—it makes perfect sense a gaggle of neocons, espousing what amounts to fascist authoritarianism, were able to capture the government, invade two countries in six years, and now threaten to attack a third.
As John Taylor Gatto writes, “the once mighty reading Samson of America was led eyeless to Gaza with the rest of the slaves.” Gatto points out a few astounding facts. “Looking back, abundant data exist from states like Connecticut and Massachusetts to show that by 1840 the incidence of complex literacy in the United States was between 93 and 100 percent wherever such a thing mattered,” writes Gatto, a former New York teacher of the year.
According to the Connecticut census of 1840, only one citizen out of every 579 was illiterate and you probably don’t want to know, not really, what people in those days considered literate; it’s too embarrassing. Popular novels of the period give a clue: Last of the Mohicans, published in 1826, sold so well that a contemporary equivalent would have to move 10 million copies to match it. If you pick up an uncut version you find yourself in a dense thicket of philosophy, history, culture, manners, politics, geography, analysis of human motives and actions, all conveyed in data-rich periodic sentences so formidable only a determined and well-educated reader can handle it nowadays. Yet in 1818 we were a small-farm nation without colleges or universities to speak of. Could those simple folk have had more complex minds than our own?
Dictatorship and despotism thrive when ignorance and stupidity rule societies. “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be,” Thomas Jefferson declared in 1816. At the time, the populace of America understood the powers of sovereignty are vested in the people and are exercised by the people, not the government. Americans read and comprehended the Preamble of the Constitution, where specific tasks are assigned to government. In the early 19th century, John Locke’s “liberal” philosophy of natural rights (universal rights derived from natural law) inspired and guided many Americans. Now most Americans follow the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, although they have no idea of Hobbes or what he wrote about government. Hobbes believed that sovereignty was vested in the state. As an example of the Hobbesian state, consider that most Americans believe only the government may grant “civil rights,” when in fact rights are natural, much like the physical laws of nature, and inalienable, that is to say the government cannot take them away.
In 1810, an editorialist for the Portland Gazette and Maine Advertiser wrote in response to Napoleon Bonaparte’s banning of printing presses: “When people are … determined to be ignorant, what is the use of printing? When a man is determined that he will not receive information, it is of very little use to lay it before him…. You may talk to him, and print for him, he will still be ignorant…. An ignorant man is easily led astray—he envies the man of enlightened mind, and would sooner vote for an unprincipled blockhead, than an honest and upright man of talents and learning. This kind of system leads to riot and anarchy—anarchy leads to absolute despotism, and ignorance fits the people to bear that despotism.”
In Napoleon’s time, “prefects of departments and special censors” micromanaged news and information. Now we have the corporate media releasing select government propaganda to masses dumbed-down by decades of public education. Many people are functionally illiterate and unable to navigate the written language. Knowing the characters of American Idol is more important than knowing the names of state representatives. In such a fetid environment, tyranny grows quite naturally and unopposed—and thanks to the corporate media and state administered education, most people do not know their country is now a dictatorship, or dangerously close to this condition, and the situation will be nearly complete after our Napoleon and his minions ban the equivalent of the printing press.
Of course, for our neolib rulers and their bankster handlers, widespread ignorance—especially ignorance of geography and, more importantly, igorance of the concepts of our one-time constitutional republic—is the preferred state of existence, for chattel unenlightened make for