Should we penalize willful ignorance?
It’s not without precedent.
Austrian authorities sentenced right-wing British historian David Irving to three years in jail for denying the Holocaust and the existence of Nazi gas chambers at Auschwitz.
Most Americans would oppose incarceration for unpopular beliefs as a denial of free speech. Perhaps, but is there a distinction to be made between ignorance and willful ignorance? How do we battle the forces of self-inflicted blindness that have taken over our media and swayed a third of our citizens to believe that black is white and bad is good? How do we pull America’s corporate CEOs back from the dark side of capitalism to a place where civic responsibility and the common good are part of the contract for doing business? Prior to the 2004 election, Viacom executive Sumner Redstone remarked, “The Democrats aren’t bad people…but from a Viacom standpoint, we believe the election of a Republican administration is better for our company.” No mention of what’s better for the country.
Most of us would unhesitatingly advocate education over punishment. Yet the people who run our corporations, edit our newspapers, lead our religious organizations, create our energy and manage our money are educated, often highly educated, with degrees from prestigious universities. A bachelor’s or master’s degree may not make them intelligent (our President being a case in point), but they are not stupid.
Their crime, in my opinion, is consciously turning their back on the truth for a galaxy full of personal and professional reasons. In other words, putting “me” before “us.” The willfully ignorant, armed with rationales, think tanks, polls, research, beliefs and superstitions, continuously strive to fit their square view of the world into the round hole of reality. Like Redstone, they see themselves or their company or their party or their church as the center of the universe, around which everything else revolves.
The willfully ignorant, with their personal agendas, are co-conspirators in the dismantling of American democracy. Lacking any inspiring national vision from our leaders in Washington D.C., Americans have turned inward in their search for what’s important in life.
Of course, I don’t advocate locking up the ignorant bastards, but at the same time, they do pose a genuine threat to the America we have taken for granted.
One step in the right direction would be for Democrats, and especially Democratic candidates, to start refocusing the attention of the willfully ignorant away from themselves and out toward larger inspirational dreams about America’s potential. Reclaim the party’s heritage as progressive thinkers who strive to make the world a better place. As Republicans use fear and terror as an organizational strategy, let Democrats motivate with visions of progress and great achievements.
After all, nothing short of a New Deal-size effort will even begin to undue the damage of Bush and his band of lunatics.