Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Are 50% of Americans ignorant?

Ignorance is bliss, the proberb goes. Well, if we are to believe this latest Harris poll, at least half of the American people must be in a state of pure ecstasy these days.
  • Not only do 50% US adults think that Iraq had such weapons when the U.S. invaded Iraq but this is more people than in February 2005 (when it was only 36 %).
  • 72% also believe that the Iraqis are better off now than they were under Saddam Hussein (slightly down from February 2005 when 76 percent said this was true)
  • Over half (55%) think history will give the U.S. credit for bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq (down substantially from 64% in February 2005).
  • 64% say it is true that Saddam Hussein had strong links to Al Qaeda (the same as 64% in February 2005).
Now what I wonder if this is result of simple ignorance or if it is the work of right-wing neo-con propaganda? It certainly does not help when political leaders like Senator Rick Santorum, or Congressman Peter Hoekstra transform reality to make it fit their political agenda, or when FoxNews exploits those lies for more dramatic (and false) headlines. That has occured despite evidence of the contrary.
But still, to think that about half of the American people can buy into it just boggles my mind. I suppose it is too hard for some people to admit they may have been suckers and supported a war that was unfounded. Reality denial is a powerful thing.
It makes you wonder about how democray can exist with a majority of people so in denial yet my personal theory is that people are often stupid - and that work for any given country - and they are are so because they are lazy. A cynic would even say that 50% of morons is a pretty low number, but we won't go there....

One speck of wisdom though it seems:
  • A clear majority (58) does NOT think that invading Iraq has helped to reduce the threat of another terrorist attack against the United States.
Well, not so wise a judgement in fact, this is indeed probably because the fear played on by the current administration and that, as we know, is an even more powerful tool.

8 Comments:

At 01:31, Blogger Elvez73 said...

Very astute points, I would add that any people that would elect a cretin like GeorgeII must have a large portion of morons, halfwits, and reactionaries in the general population. I enjoy your blog by the way.

Cheers

 
At 02:41, Blogger Joker & Thief said...

I quite agree - unfortunately, I think there must be just as many "morons halfwits, and reactionaries" in other countries, given the imbecility of our current leaders (think of former PM Berlusconi in Italy, or Chirac in France or even Blair in GB - and I'm not even talking about Poland.).
Stupidity seems to be a share value in this world.
Thanks for your encouragement by the way. It is much appreciated.
J2T

 
At 18:30, Blogger DMcKeon said...

With the four bullets listed, I tend to agree with 1,2,3 but not 4. I suppose I'm one of the ignorant, simplistic Americans though.

I would have answered the question that way because I believe so long as Iraq was under Sadaam they had the potential to acquire WMD. I still believe they had them and they were either destroyed or moved to Syria. Not suggesting its a huge stockpile but I have no doubt they existed to some extent. Number 2 is kind of a pointless question. If you agree that Iraqis were better off with Saddam than stop shouting down Putin or whoever else is oppressing people in the name of law and order. Perhaps democracy doesn't work if you're going to maintain this point. Number 3 is still up for grabs. I think history will give the U.S. credit for at least trying to jumpstart democracy. But, at the end of the day, the Arab culture has fundamental problems that may not be easily remedied. Even a basic familiarity with the Old Testament highlights the brutality in the region for thousands of years. The only difference is that they now do it in the name of God thanks to chief warrior Mohammed.

 
At 19:04, Blogger Joker & Thief said...

Well, you made some interesting points.
1) "I am not sure you're "one of the ignorant, simplistic Americans though" and I guess my comment may have beena bit over the top. But on the other hand, one of us tends to be more a provocateur (yes, that would be me) but at least we did get a reaction.
As far as your other points are concerned, I have a few htings to sayd though:

2) "I would have answered the question that way because I believe so long as Iraq was under Sadaam they had the potential to acquire WMD."
Saddam Hussein certainly played a dangerous game by not being straightforward during the inspections to say the least. On this blog, we have had some suggestions as to why Saddam Hussein's attitude could have certainly raised suspicion but also why he played that game even though he didn’t have WMD. After all, it is his attitude which made a lot of experts believe he had something to hide.
The question is how much it takes to wage a war. The idea of pre-emptive war is also a dangerous game, especially when you make the intelligence fit your political agenda. As much as I can see why one could have believed that Saddam was dangerous back in 2003, I fail to see how people can sustain that view given what we know today.

3) "I still believe they had them and they were either destroyed or moved to Syria. Not suggesting its a huge stockpile but I have no doubt they existed to some extent."
My question is what facts sustain what you think? How can you be so sure as to say you have “no doubt”. It sounds almost like an act of faith. I think it is hard to be sure but given the lack of evidence, and given how much the Bush administration really wanted proof of their existence, I tend to think that by now, we would know.

4)"Number 2 is kind of a pointless question. If you agree that Iraqis were better off with Saddam than stop shouting down Putin or whoever else is oppressing people in the name of law and order."
I think it depends what Iraqi you’re asking. The Sunni might thing they were better off. The question is really whether one has to choose between plague and cholera – in this case between dictatorship and civil war? I really don’t know what is worse.
5)"Perhaps democracy doesn't work if you're going to maintain this point."
Democracy can only exist if you have both peace and economic stability. Most (if not all) Western democracies are the product of a large middle-class consensus. So yes, democracies work but I don’t think that the current political and economic environment make it possible in the Middle-East. In fact, many of those countries may have to go through a period of mild-autocratic regime before they can have western-like democracies. It worked in Singapore and on might even argue in Japan.
I don’t think most people in the Middle-East care about Western-like democracy. I think they want more personal freedom, that’s for sure. They also want more economic opportunities. But you can have that without a full-range democracy. Again, Singapore is an interesting case.

6) "Number 3 is still up for grabs. I think history will give the U.S. credit for at least trying to jumpstart democracy. But, at the end of the day, the Arab culture has fundamental problems that may not be easily remedied. Even a basic familiarity with the Old Testament highlights the brutality in the region for thousands of years. The only difference is that they now do it in the name of God thanks to chief warrior Mohammed."
Yes, it may be up for grabs... but I don't think the world is ready to give the US much credit for anything at this point. Maybe it'll change in a few decades but I still think this administration will be judged very harshly and the potential successes will not be attributed to its doing. I cant' say for sure of course... but it seems that the level of confidence the American people have in the judgement of history is very telling.
As far as you said about "the Arab culture", that’s a brutal statement. Of course, it depends if you mean "arab" or "muslim".
There are many schools in the Muslim world that do not ask for war against non-Muslims in a literal sense.
But I think this point is irrelevant anyway. I really don’t think that religion is actually the problem. I think that it is merely a tool used for political purpose or personal agenda. It is as if you said that Christianity is bad because of the Crusades or of people killing doctors in abortion clinics.
As you yourself pointed out, the brutality in the region back was great – even in the 7th century AD. So I think a bit of perspective is probably needed.

 
At 19:06, Blogger Joker & Thief said...

Oops, I forgot the link to our post on why Saddam may have been playing a game with the UN inspectors.
So here it is - for what it's worth:
http://jokertothethief.blogspot.com/2006/03/saddam-husseins-wmd.html

 
At 20:29, Blogger DMcKeon said...

Thanks for the response. All interesting points. Glad to no you're aware of the complexities and the fact that Americans are not always the simpleton thinkers Europeans think they are. Of course it's complex as you acknowledged in your reply to me but no so much in your actual post as the provocateur of course. I respect that because a good blog shouldn't be too heavy man!

We could even further deconstruct all your various points you know. For example, Arab vs. Muslim. The numerous shades within both are fascinating. Suggest your read Foud Ajami or Bernard Lewis for the details if you haven't already. If you have great. But one thing that is fairly common in all "Arab" culture (whether of Babylonian, Persian, Arabian, and all the shades in between from Assyrian to Palestinian in their ancient roots) is the pre-eminence of manhood, the lack of any appreciation of grace (the Christian notion that it made it possible to bring forth tolerance), and the integration of church and state (no such thing as separation of church and state anywhere). Brining in Singapore or Asian examples is borderline irrelevant. For example, the nature of the Arabs "gift" of Islam to Asia became fused with the mystical religions of Asia to form a more mystical type of Muslim in East Asia. That's why they're relatively less dangerous. On the other hand, where you have rationality fused with the belief it's like a fuse just waiting to be lit. The Muslim faith as practiced in the more conservative madrassas is actually highly rational (from where they get concepts such as the Triune God can't be one because 1+1+1 can't equal 3). Muslims have a hard time giving credence to the greek philosophical concept of "essences" so it's impossible to debate this.
So I am not harsh or brutal it's just a historical reality. There is a hard cold logic to the nature of how Arab culuture fused with Muslim thought (of the rationalistic and not mystical/personal bent) to cause what we're now seeing.

I could go into the complexities of the other 5 answers you provided. But my time is not unlimited. Suffice to say, don't poo-poo Americans. I personally find Europeans to be the most uniform thinking people I've met. The endless repetition of "The Enlightenment" or Karl Popper talking points can make one want to throw up.

 
At 21:34, Blogger Joker & Thief said...

Well, I am quite familiar with Bernard Lewis's theories but I tend to be more in agreement with Edward Said's criticisms of Lewis. (I would suggest his excellent book “Orientalism” in which he precisely deconstructs the points made by Lewis, if you haven’t read it). I am afraid, however, that I do not know Foud Ajami.
[I appreciate your use of the word “deconstructs” since that goes well with French philosopher Derrida]. As you may know though, the two authors (Lewis and Said) were frequently engaged in polemical exchanges and I am afraid we are not going to solve anything here. Said’s views are not without fault for sure but one good point he makes is that the poor understanding of the Arab culture in the West.
As far as the points you made are concerned;
the pre-eminence of manhood, the lack of any appreciation of grace (the Christian notion that it made it possible to bring forth tolerance), and the integration of church and state (no such thing as separation of church and state anywhere)
They could all fit the pattern of many Catholic countries before their democratic revolutions. Think of France – a country I know quite well – and you’ll see that all those factors can be found - including the lack of any appreciation of grace (a very Protestant notion). That does not in the least mean that things cannot change and those elements should prevent a more liberal system of government.
You seem to view things strictly from a religious perspective when I think the cultural, social and economic factors are more important. I also continue to think that there is no one Arab culture, just like there is not one European culture.
As far as Muslims having a hard time giving credence to the Greek philosophical concept of "essences", I would suggest to read the writings of Averroes. Sure, he wrote in the Middle-Ages but my point is that there is precisely no fundamental opposition between Islam and most western concepts of philosophy – including democracy.
And for a more modern example can look at Turkey and see that there is at least until now a Muslim country that has made clear separation between church and state.
now as far as "the Europeans being the most uniform thinking people I've met", I think that may be because you lack distance with your own country. I think this is just as true about Americans. No more but no less. the difference though is that the Europeans are usually more informed about the world simply because they have strong ties with their former colonies and because there are exposed to other languages and cultures more frequently. That is particularly true of Arab cultures and Islam in general simply because they are more exposed to Arabs and Muslims in their daily lives than most Americans. This is not to say that the Europeans are better or smarter or even more cultured, this is simply because having a great number of immigrants from those regions of the world makes it easier to develop an interest in them.

 
At 15:09, Blogger DMcKeon said...

Thanks JoTh. All good points. This will be my last point. I've been accused of having a juvenile tendency of always wanting to have "the last word". So forgive me in advance. That said :-)...

You may very well be right that I come with a little too much emphasis from the religious perspective or just maybe more than you would be inclined to do. I am an economist and as I get older I find myself veering away from the socio-economic factors. I find that religion (or lack thereof) tends to explain the world very well. The head very often follows the heart. And religious belief is where your heart is, for Europeans this takes the form of post WWII ideologies and in the 6th grade curriculum where you might learn why religion is a myth, causes wars, etc. Surely this sounds familiar to you. It's very clear to me that if you know how a person thinks about God you can begin to gain a better appreciation for how they're broadly going to behave and what they're going to tend to believe (BROADLY speaking of course because I don't pretend to know the nuance of what every unique person is going to think). The socio-economic view is a holdover from the material-deterministic type of theories of the 19th century. They only go so far...despite the fact they remain all the rage in most academic circles. Academics are usually behind the curve. For example, you still have Marxists on campuses even now!

Comparing Edward Said and Bernard Lewis is not really a comparison. Said seems to me an apologist. I never feel that I’ve actually learned why the world is the way it is after I read Said, just that I got beaten over the head by a dogmatic professor, same as when I read Noam Chomsky. OK America isn’t perfect, get over it already! OK Americans, generally, don’t understand the Muslim world (and vice-versa by the way). Nevertheless, those who do will find more of interest from Lewis.

As you survey the vast history of the world and culture and choose to pick the Catholic example in France, you might be wise to recognize as you spin your round globe and pick a place that it is still uncommon for strong institutions to take root. The Catholics only gave up because they seemed to be bled dry, they had no strong intellectuals arise to make arguments in the crucial 18th century that might have modified the course of history, and despite that Catholics do have a greater appreciation of grace vis-a-vie Muslims. Obviously it is not on a par with the Protestant emphasis on grace but its there if you happen to listen to the homilies at the Mass.

Turkey was only modernized because Ataturk was so strictly secular and enforced it by any means necessary. He rammed the separation of church and state down people’s throats. It wasn’t the result of a groundswell of support. In fact, from what I know of Turkey it is slowly moving back in the direction of less separation. That would only play out over years though. Anyway, Turkey is the way they are in spite of, not because of, their Muslim faith. As for Averroes, he attempted to put forth an apologia of the Muslim faith without referring to the Koran but in terms of Greek philosophical principles. He attempted to do what you say and broaden the horizons. Yet he is not a hero of modern Muslims. Islam did not go his way. He lost. So merely pointing out one example (there are others) of 11th and 12th century Muslim philosophers does not really make your point. Outlying examples are not what explain the rule or the world as it is now.

The problem with European attitudes is that every outcome of your analysis is made to fit within a very simplistic worldview of tolerance. So that what I’ve said, because it’s critical, generates the typical knee-jerk reaction. “Oh no religion is all the same”, “It’s not the religion it’s just outliers”, "it's social conditions and institutions" and so on… Of course, there is an element of truth to such an analysis in that part of who we are is defined by our cultural conditions, environment, and restraints. But you have to look at the order of causation. Institutions have a better chance of developing in certain societies than in others. For example in a highly tribal society it is not easy to allow for pro-free market, neutral legal institutions that would usher in prosperity and improve the social conditions you prioritize. For example, try opening a pizza place across the street from another in a village where the established owner is the brother in-law of the local warlord. See if he sits by in the name of fairness. Why would he not while we in the West would? Why is justice (supposed to be at least) blind here in the West? Try that over there? Or, try free speech. What's the danger of having one have a difference of conscience? Shall I pull out my Koran and point out some sections?

Europeans seem to believe in the very simplistic view that man creates God in every society, belief is speculative, there’s no truth or hierarchy in the taxonomy of religions because they’re all the same, so… let’s all just get along. This reduces your analysis to material conditions as the prime mover and cause of complex social problems and results in your “made to fit” type of analysis. I am encouraged in my view of this by the fact that European views seem to be so uniform. If there were more diversity of thought I’d actually rethink it. Pardon me for re-injecting the religion card back into it. From an empirical standpoint though, I find it to have a highly significant correlation with things as they are.

 

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