In a recent article in The Nation Magazine, Katha Pollitt wrote about a new Gallop Poll that reveals quite a lot about American society. As Pollitt eloquently recounted the poll shows that 46% of the U.S. population believes that God created humans sometime in the last 10,000 years, and plopped us down here on Earth in one swoop. A little thought – that she provided – reveals just how incredible this is. 

You are in a stadium with 100,000 randomly selected folks. Someone is sitting to your left, your right, immediately in front of you, and immediately behind you. The poll tell us that on average two those folks think that essentially all physicists, chemists, biologists, geographers, archeologists, and more, are either willfully lying in the mother of all conspiracies – or are sadly deluded by the mother of all conspiracies. If you think about that, it is very serious indeed. People go to doctors when sick – trusting them with life and limb – but then they don another hat and say that doctors are deluded or deluders. I know the truth and the truth is that not just evolution but virtually all hard science is nonsense only meant to deceive. 

Another point to note. Popular culture is in on the conspiracy. This is not a case of the dominant mainstream newspapers or TV or movies lying and people believing it. These vehicles only in very rare cases convey anything even consistent with much less seriously advancing the disturbing beliefs.

Sadly, it gets worse, as, again, Pollitt eloquently conveys. One might think the 46% who believe people have been on Earth for 10,000 years or less, put here in one leap, not evolved but created whole cloth by God – are overwhelmingly folks who have as an excuse that they have virtually no education and a ton of indoctrination from somewhere – though not mainstream popular culture (thus, presumably, religious training). But it turns out that this explanation is quite wrong. The Gallop Poll instead reveals that for college graduates – these are people who have been in the American educational system for 16 years – the percentage who deny biology, chemistry, physics, etc. etc. is, I kid you not, again 46%.

It is graduation season. Go around the country and randomly select 10 graduates from each of 10,000 colleges. Put them all in the stadium. Look to your right and left, to your front and rear, on average two people you see despite sixteen years of schooling, polled by Gallup, indicate that they believe utter tripe and that they deny that modern science is anything more than a scam.

What does this say about our schools – and colleges, and for that matter, our teachers? To me it says, not only are we a paranoid nation in which one out of every two people thinks science is a giant lie, we are also a nation in which education does very little, maybe nothing, to yield different thoughts. Either educators are too cowardly to address such matters, or they too believe nonsense.

Set aside deep analysis of economic and social institutions. What does it do to the overall prospects for trust and communicative exchange that the public is so utterly ignorant and, even worse, that what methods exist for tapping people's capacities for thought instead overwhelmingly crush those capacities?

These are sad thoughts that anyone, with any values and politics, who can think – ought to arrive at and be shocked by. 

A few minutes after I read Pollit's piece, I came upon another nugget of horrifying news. A study of 2,000 people in the UK found that on Facebook 80% confessed (and how many more would have if there were lie detectors in place?) that they doctor their photographs, link to articles to appear intelligent, or tag themselves at locations they have never visited. They routinely enter fake relation statuses and fabricate status updates. Users apparently feel "relentless pressure" to give the "impression that they lead more exciting lives than reality." People use Facebook to mediate their interrelations – and are "happy to create fake portraits of themselves." 

  • "Over half those polled said they removed anything from their pages that looks boring." 
  • Two thirds have written a status or tweet purely as a call for attention from others.
  • One in ten "check into places just to show off and make friends jealous"
  • A quarter will only reference being places "that look cultured or interesting."
  • A quarter "has linked to an article purely because they thought it made them look intellectual or read a story on a newspaper app because they knew it would show up on their Facebook Wall."
  • 42% post pictures in "the hope they will seem arty."
  • A quarter admit "altering a photo of themselves to look better."
  • Only 20% said their Facebook profile is "an accurate reflection of who they are" which means 80% acknowledge using Facebook to deceive others.

And so on.

Surely the UK is not worse in these regards than the U.S. So now it is not only true that if you are in an American shopping mall the odds are exceptionally good that one out of every two people you encounter there believes that people arrived on earth by God's placing us here sometime in the last 10,000 years and therefore that almost all of modern science is rubbish (since there are countless ways that that claim being true would contradict virtually every natural science to its roots), but also that one four out of five you encounter are perfectly happy to themselves lie and manipulate to seek to appear other than who they are. 

Should we look at everyone in the mall – and perhaps at ourselves – with dagger stares, conveying disdain and disgust? Not so fast. Where does the real fault lie? What does it say about our culture, our educational institutions, our economy and polity, that these observations about widespread moronic beliefs are not only true, but I would guess a very large portion of the population even including those who are not actually in the sectors discussed, would simply say, well, sure, of course this is the case, so what? 

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