Back when I lived in Illinois, the University of Illinois led in the world development of supercomputers. It raised the prospect of using computers to create a new level of knowledge and communication and provide humankind with advances that would increase the overall intelligence of the species. Then in the early 1990s, it produced the precursor, Mosaic, to the search engines that we tend to take for granted, and its scientists and engineers created new prospects for human intelligence. Professors throughout the nation and the world grew excited in anticipation of realizing prospects that up to that time had been presented in works of science fiction. In our anticipatory excitement, it never occurred to us that computers could create new dimensions of stupidity that could take us back to the 19th century and beyond.
We like to celebrate the human capacity for creativity and invention, and assert America's claim to be preeminent in those endeavors, but we turn our backs on the great human capacity for stupidity and perverse meanness. When we browse through the internet, there is more evidence of stupidity and meanness than there is of humanity transcending its propensity for intellectual failure.
This past weekend it was hard to miss the triumph of the stupid and the mean. And it was hard to miss that stupid and mean have become the standard of our political culture. When the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly report on employment which indicated that the unemployment rate finally fell below 8 percent, the immediate response by America's right wing, that great preserver of the great tradition of stupid and mean, was to accuse the BLS of cooking the numbers at the behest of the White House. Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch led the charge.
This example is one of the reasons I distrust CEOs. For some years, I covered business for a newspaper. There are some CEOs who are smart, industrious, and knowledgeable about what it takes to lead a company. Most CEOs I found, however, were poseurs whose main talent was bluster, bluff, and bullying. There was no reason other than the gullibility of the sucks who groveled before them to hold the status and jobs they did. That is one of the reasons I do not like Mitt Romney. He is not even good at blustering because he does little but deny, lie, and alibi. But that is part of his appeal, because he is kindred to so many people who have found a comfort zone among the stupid and mean. Jack Welch's outburst about the labor statistics reveals a person who cannot take facts that run counter to the agenda of discrediting Barack Obama. In that, he represents the failure of integrity and intelligence in which so many people find justification and comfort.
This kind of mindless rage is a staple of the Internet. I permit few comments on my blog because so many are utterly mean and stupid. Occasionally, I leave some comments stand as warning flags. The post before this one is an example. A commenter who posts as John put up a post that he thinks both Romney and Obama are liars because they are stooges for the corporate world. His post is:
I refuse to watch the staged theater of two mandarins beholden to the corporations. Obama brilliantly lied to us in 2008, and governed with about as much gusto in 2009-2012 as he exhibited in Denver. Now it's Romney's turn to lie - 1 every 84 seconds that he spoke.Following that post is one by Seamus, who must have been let out of his cage on top of the Romney car. Actually Seamus must be a South Dakotan because he resorts to the good old state line that if you don't like what is going on here, get out of the country. His post:
John, your assertions are offensive. Get the hell out of this country if you believe you are so useless here.The harsh fact is that influencing the citizenry through deception has become the convention and accepted standard of contemporary political discourse, George Orwell be damned. The real deterioration in our school system is the corporate-driven insistence to run schools like a business and create an obedient unquestioning work force. There was a time when a very significant portion of the electorate would criticize and ridicule glib falsehoods from candidates and influence their fellow citizens to take a closer look at what passed for rhetoric. But now we have an entire profession of campaign consultants who measure and feed the ignorance of the electorate, and the successful politician is likely to be the one whose bluff and bluster fools the most people.
Obama has been caught making unqualified generalities, but his transgressions against truth and accuracy have been much less than Romney's. And part of what is thought of as lies is his failure to do the things he vowed to such as rescind the most onerous portions of the patriot act and switch priorities in the matter of Guantanamo. Other things he has not accomplished are those that the GOP has obstructed. The GOP would rather destroy the country than allow Obama to put some of his reforms in place.
The real issue taking shape in our country is a regrettably dismissed portion of the electorate who, like John, are just fed up with politics as they are currently practiced and who see nothing positive in any of the alternatives being offered. Most Americans take comfort that the Occupy Wall Street movement seems silent, mostly because the press is not tracking their activities. They are in operation, not in noisy street demonstrations, but in quiet examinations of what corporations have done and intend to do to our country. They have been muzzled by concerted policy action against their demonstrations, but, unlike the trolling fools who haunt the Internet, they are using the new media to exchange information and inform those who care to listen.
On this Native American Day, a friend named William put up this post: "Columbus was a genocidal maniac who raped and enslaved the people he encountered in an effort to steal gold and other valuable goods. I'm glad South Dakota celebrates Native American Day today. Mitakuye oyasin."
Many folks will probably tell William to leave the country, but William has it right. As the 500th anniversary of Columbus' "discovery" of America approached, I spent a summer with colleagues from throughout the nation studying Columbus' ventures at the Newberry Library. When I returned, NSU sponsored a summer institute for teachers on that episode. They were a bit chagrined when they covered the information that Columbus was not a brave and gallant explorer. HIs major search was for gold, he took Native Americans to be sold into slavery, and the logs of discovery do not reflect a savory character. Our Native American population already knew this, and it was a hypocritical embarrassment to celebrate Columbus Day in South Dakota. Rather than dismiss our indigenous people with "if you don't like it here, leave," the emphasis 9f the day was changed to reflect the facts.
Many of my professional colleagues use the Internet only to locate information. Once they find it, they are careful to verify its authenticity. There are people out there like John and William who eschew the popular falsehoods and send those occasional signals that they aren't buying into the false information manufactured and disseminated under the auspices of corporations.
The American right fights against big government and its intrusions into the lives of people. They ignore the intrusions of big corporations who are doing more tracking and identifying of people to target than the government. They ignore the fact that the private health insurance that has a lists of approved health care providers, and the insured gets penalized for going to practitioners not on their list.
The world of electronic communications is one of falsehoods, deceit, and avaricious control. A growing number of people like John and William will not play its games. And therein lies the real American dream.