Exposes a Major Crisis in American Civilization
Of the myriad joys New York City affords its residents, the beautiful public parks scattered about the five boroughs is at the top of my list. In densely populated Manhattan these well-planned public spaces reflect the philosophy of the city planners that designed them. The most important of whom was Frederick Law Olmstead, the designer of Manhattan’s beautiful Central Park and its Brooklyn offshoot, the Majestic Prospect Park. Olmstead’s paramount objective was to create beautiful public spaces in the heart of the evolving concrete menagerie of New York City, where Mother Nature could thrive, and the haves and have nots could congregate and cogitate on equal ground.
I love New York in all its many splendored manifestations, the parks prominently among them. Within these leafy arboretums I have communed with nature and conversed with a wide variety of New Yorkers, what the late David N. Dinkins, the first Afro-American Mayor of the Big Apple, called the “gorgeous human mosaic.” For here, within these forested and flowered sanctuaries, wisemen and fools, highbrow ladies and streetwise shrews, princes and paupers, those born to the purple and the public projects, can meet without regard to one’s station in life. Like the ever-insightful Black Bard Paul Laurence Dunbar who declared, “I never believed in aristocrats,” I value character infinitely more than class, and candor more than pretension. Hence, I carry on lively conversations with all kinds of folk in the park.
Thus, I found myself in a strange argument with a couple of people that I was working out with in the park the other day. One a black male, a splendid physical specimen who we shall call “Sepia Samson,” the other a Hispanic housewife putting in work to maintain her hottie status, both of them mid to late thirties intelligent New Yorkers. We were having a pleasant time until the Samson announced: “Dr. Fauci is a criminal!” I cannot remember what prompted his comment, but it shocked the shit out of me. My surprise was prompted by the fact that I knew him much better than the lady, whom I had just met, because we had become workout buddies over the course of the past few weeks.
A level-headed personable entrepreneur and creative artist, who also works with children, I had come to view Samson as a thoughtful, progressive, young man. Hence his pronouncement hit me like a kick in the head, because it is a point of view that originated among the far right-wing lunatic fringe of the Trumpanzee and Qanon cults. Two of the most backwards, dangerous, racists, fascists, destructive movements in contemporary America. Since I do not suffer fools nor damned foolishness gladly, before I knew it I loudly declared: ”That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard!” Since it was not only dumb but very dangerous; I saw no need to pull punches, absolute candor was needed here. Sepia Samson was taken aback by my response.
It was obvious that nobody had ever spoken to him like that, because, among other things, he is a physically intimidating character. But the relationship between us had developed to the point where he views me as a wise elder and mentor, so there was never any thought of any sort of violent response from him. He knew that I had held professorships in history and Journalism, and had even read some of my writings, aside from the fact that I had been droppin science on Samson in weighty conversations about politics and science.
Hence, I expected him to reply with something like: “Well school me on it OG,” which is his informal name for me. But to my surprise, he doubled down on his ignorant outrageous slander against Dr. Fauci, the humble and brilliant scientist who has led the nation – and much of the world – through successive outbreaks of deadly viral epidemics from Aids, to Ebola, to Saars, to Covid 19. Bearing in mind that he did not know me well enough to be aware of the fact that I am a compulsive pedagogue, genetically programmed to fight ignorance everywhere I encounter it if I believe the fight is worth the effort, I decided to take it easy on him.
When he said with great indignation,” You ain’t never gonna convince me of nothing talkin to me like that!” I decided to take a different tack. After all, I was the master teacher in the situation, and I have a cardinal rule: “If there is no learning going on…there is no effective teaching going on.” Hence, instead of saying what I would have said if he didn’t matter to me: “I got the knowledge you trying to get it…so go on and a stay a dummy Mofo!,” I attempted to win him over by changing my pedagogical strategy.
First I hit him with some real old school rhymes from back in the chicken shack down home in Florida. Samson is an artist/producer in the Hip Hop game, who spits some witty rhymes over funky beats, so I thought he would dig it. “Yo Dog! Take a chill pill. You gon still be my horse if you don’t never a race/ my Dog if you don’t never catch a rabbit/ and my Nigger if you don’t git no bigger! I’m down with ya and can’t quit ya! And befo I shit you I won’t even much fuck wit ya!” That brought a ready smile to Samson’s face as he said “Alright OG.”
Then I explained to him that just because we were not in a classroom didn’t mean that he wasn’t in school, pointing out that Plato routinely taught his acolytes in an open garden, not unlike our surroundings. I explained that when I shout at him during heated intellectual arguments, it was not to be taken personal, because my outrage was against the dangerous assault on reason and logical discourse that an argument innocent or contemptuous of facts represented. I hated the game not the playa!
I demanded that he present the evidence for his outrageous attack on the reputation and work of Dr. Faucci, and when he pleaded that he didn’t have it with him, I told him he could e-mail it to me. He then protested that the issue was not that important to him. I told him the Covid 19 Pandemic and Dr. Faucci’s role in fighting it was one of the most important issues of our times, literally a life and death matter for millions of people. And if he didn’t think that was important enough to produce evidence for his slander against the good Doctor he should just STFU!
Then Samson, strongly supported by the Hispanic hottie, vociferously declared that they had the right to their opinions! Sooner or later, when people are unable to defend their arguments with facts, it always comes down to their right to free speech, which is accompanied by a grievous misunderstanding of the powers and prerogatives of the First Amendment. I explained to them that the First Amendment does not apply to interpersonal relations, then I explained the difference between evidence and hearsay.
These are common misunderstandings, we can see this in Dirty Don tha Con’s absurd suit against Twitter, You Tube and Facebook claiming they are violating his First Amendment rights because they have kicked him off their platforms. However, there is every reason to believe this is just another con by Dirty Don. For as First Amendment and Media Law Expert Frank La Monte, a Professor at the University of Florida, in Trump’s adopted home state, tells us:
“The protections of the First Amendment are triggered when a public agency exercises governmental power to restrict people’s speech – what is known as “state action.” On rare occasions, private organizations can be considered “governmental” – for instance, when a private hospital or university is given police power to make arrests on its premises. But operating a video-sharing platform is not a “governmental” function – and judges have said so, unanimously.
Alas, we can also see this pervasive misunderstanding about the right to free speech in the burgeoning belief that one person’s opinion is just as good as another, regardless of the differences in qualifications. Hence, while Sepia Samson and the Hispanic Hottie viewed the matter as a question of their right to express an opinion for which they had no qualifications, or could cite no evidence by qualified experts, I had ceased to care about their individual concerns.
For me, the important issue was that they were compelling examples of the extent to which certain malignant ideas have gained traction among large segments of the US population. These ideas are rigorously examined by Professor Tom Nichols in his insightful, learned, pathbreaking book: ”The Death of Expertise.” Nichols – a Professor of National Security Affairs at the US Naval War College and an adjunct professor at the Harvard Extension School – sums up the present crisis in the sociology of American knowledge thusly:
“For laypeople to use expert advice and to place professionals in their proper roles as servants, rather than masters, they must accept their own limitations as well. Democracy cannot function when every citizen is an expert. Yes, it is unbridled ego for experts to believe they can run a democracy while ignoring its voters; it is also, however, ignorant narcissism for laypeople to believe that they can maintain a large and advanced nation without listening to the voices of those more educated than themselves.”
As a professor at two of the world’s most advanced institutions of higher learning, Tom Nichols certainly knows something of expertise, and thus recognizes it when he is exposed to it. Thus, he also recognizes the danger posed to modern civilization when it is ignored on a mass scale. One clear and present danger is that a great nation can elect an odious buffoon like Dimwit Donnie Trump to the highest office in the land, and the most powerful position in the world! To put a clueless dunce and moral cripple like Donald Dimwit, a New York real estate flim flam man, in command of America’s nuclear arsenal, a doomsday force capable of destroying the world, is irrefutable evidence of the existential danger posed by the epidemic of ignorance that presently infects our body politic. It has the potential to become far more deadly than the Corona virus!
Alas, the elements of this crisis that may yet prove a terminal affliction for American civilization were all present in my workout partners in the park. Disregard for expertise; inability to recognize or believe reliable news sources, relying instead on subjective social media sources that are unmediated by professional fact checkers; inability to distinguish personal opinion from objective truth; refusal to concede that truth objective is even possible.
The result of this toxic combination is the insistence that one’s uninformed prattled be accorded the same weight as learned opinion because it is “their constitutional right.” The fact that no such right can be found in the US Constitution dose not faze them because they have never actually read the Constitution. That these impassioned ignoramuses are undeterred by the absence of evidence for their beliefs is at the root of the “Stop the Steal” movement that resulted in the greatest assault on the US capitol since the British sacked it during the War of 1812.
The belief that the presidential election was stolen from Don tha Con by the Democrats continues to fuel a dangerous nationwide movement. This bogus claim persist in spite of the fact that has been rejected in 60 federal courts, dismissed by a Supreme Court whose Justices are largely appointed by Republican presidents, certified by Republican election officials in disputed states, sparked multi-million dollar law suits against lawyers arguing in favor of Trumps “big lie ” – a tactic invented by Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda Dr. Joseph Goebbels – and resulted in the disbarment of Rudy Guliani aka “Rudy Rotten,” a former titan of the legal community.
The embrace of a post truth anti-fact/science perspective, when combined with white supremacist ideology and anti-government paranoia – a malignant trend that has its roots in the axioms of Ronnie Reagan – “Government is the problem” – gives rise to anti-rational fascist cults like Qanon, which is spreading like wildfire across this nation. Given the fact that Americans are the most armed civilian population in any advanced nation in the world, many with weapons that should be confined to theaters of war, Americans shooting each other down in the streets over political difference is a real possibility.
In such a civil crisis, the chances of our multi-racial popular Democracy being replaced by a fascist plutocracy ruled by white supremacists become a real possibility. Thus, Jefferson’s warning about the importance of an enlightened electorate to the success of democracy has proven to be not only insightful but prophetic. “A democracy cannot work with an ignorant electorate, because they will elect and return the worse people to power.” Which explains the election and lingering devotion to Don tha Con. But Jefferson issued an even more ominous warning, of which Americans should take serious note: “There never was a people who were ignorant and free, there never was and there never shall be.”
Playthell George Benjamin
Harlem, New York
September 26, 2021
Explain how I decided to come at him with some street rhymes, challenging him to present the evidence upon which he based his slander of Dr. Fauci.
When he began to bullshit about the source of his claim, I turned the fire up on his ass. Then the Hispanic housewife came to his aid spouting spurious prattle. Since she did not know me from Adam’s house cat I saw that it would be futile to argue with her. So I just told her he was a grown man and was perfectly capable of defending himself and dismissed her.
- However, as I listened to their arguments, I became quite alarmed. For here on bold display were all the major factors that contribute to the dangerous and increasingly deadly epidemic of ignorance emanating from the Republican right that gave birth to Qanon and the White supremacists movement that led to the attack on the capitol on Jan 6. And what was most frightening is that it was obvious that they had no clue about the origins of their arguments and inept critical thinking. This is an epidemic of ignorance in tandem with self-righteous arrogance that is more deadly that than the Covid Pandemic!