Ignorance Is Bliss !

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stevencarry
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2006/03/05 18:59:59 (permalink)

Ignorance Is Bliss !

If I didn't know Sid Caesar was one of the Kings of Comedy
I too would have thought he was a Roman Emporer
Or at least invented the Caesar salad in Tijuana.

We're a proud people, proud of our ignorance
Jaime O'Neill

Sunday, March 5, 2006
According to a survey published last week, Americans don't know squat about the First Amendment, but they are adept at naming members of the Simpson family of cartoon characters. They know all the judges on American Idol, but they can't name the rights guaranteed to them in the Constitution.

This is the nation that is actively exporting democracy around the world, and democracy runs on the idea of an informed electorate. As it turns out, we have an informed electorate; it's just that the things those voters tend to be informed about don't appear on ballots.

We've misplaced our attention span somewhere, along with our history, our literature and our understanding of where we are in the world, geographically speaking. To our credit, though, most of us can name that girl who disappeared in Aruba, though we're foggy on just where Aruba might be. Ditto Iraq.

We will, however, fight for our rights anywhere in the world, including places we can't find on a map, even though we are not at all sure what those rights are.

In that recent survey, for instance, 1 in 5 Americans believed that the Bill of Rights protects our right to own pets. That's a right worth importing to nations far from our shores, even if it's not a right guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. In fact, rumors are circulating about plans for American intervention in Iceland, a nation believed to be actively hostile to pet ownership.

The survey did not cover some of the other beliefs held by Americans. For instance, 1 in 6 Americans believes that the Constitution guarantees the right to have a Wal-Mart within 20 miles of every inhabited dwelling. And 1 in 2 Americans believes that the Constitution requires that we must remove our shoes before being allowed to board an aircraft, a ritual derived from the world of magic. And a majority of Americans believes that the Founding Fathers mandated that basic cable had to include the Larry King show. Half of the population under 30 believes that gravity is just another scientific "theory," like evolution.

But seriously, folks, there's nothing new about American ignorance, which may be why the news media hasn't made much of this story.

Twenty years ago, I surveyed my college classes in Washington State and was surprised to learn all the things they knew that weren't so. I had students who thought Heinrich Himmler dreamed up the Heimlich maneuver, and others who thought J. Edgar Hoover invented the vacuum cleaner. Camp David was in Israel, according to some, and a majority of others could not correctly identify the century in which the American Civil War took place. One student thought Sid Caesar was a Roman emperor and, inexplicably, a student who was always proclaiming his status as a born-again Christian thought Christ had been born in the 17th century. When I suggested that he, of all people, should have known the answer to that question, he replied: "It's not important that I know when Christ was born, only that he is my savior."

Some readers may remember the "cultural literacy" fad of the 1980s, an attempt to reform education that went pretty much nowhere. The idea was that there should be some base of common knowledge bestowed upon all students, and the arguments began about just what that base of common knowledge should be. For almost a decade, academics fussed about this question in their journals, at their conferences and in their committee meetings, and then, when they couldn't agree, they just sort of said "the hell with it."

So, as the French say, the more things change, the more they remain the same. A survey taken by the National Geographic Society in 2002 revealed that 30 percent of young Americans thought the United States had a population of 1 billion people or more. Fewer than half could pick out France, the United Kingdom or Japan on a blank map of the world. And young Americans were the least likely of students tested throughout the Western world to know that al Qaeda and the Taliban were linked to Afghanistan, not Iraq. Lots of our military people still believe that, according to a recent news report.

Abraham Lincoln, a president of some country or another at some indeterminate time in the fog-enshrouded past, once said, "You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time." Let's hope Honest Abe was right about that, but it surely gets easier to fool more of the people more of the time when they are as ignorant as Homer Simpson, the cartoon character who is more recognizable to most of us than our most-sacred rights as citizens.

Jaime O'Neill, a retired college teacher, is a writer in Magalia (Butte County). Contact us at insight@sfchronicle.com.

#1

13 Replies Related Threads

    lleechef
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    RE: Ignorance Is Bliss ! 2006/03/05 19:43:01 (permalink)
    zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
    #2
    MilwFoodlovers
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    RE: Ignorance Is Bliss ! 2006/03/05 19:49:15 (permalink)
    Arrrgggghhhh!

    Hey I thought the quote went, "There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."

    Now what Simpson character said that?
    #3
    roossy90
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    RE: Ignorance Is Bliss ! 2006/03/05 20:30:19 (permalink)
    I saw that just the other day on TV... Most people knew the Simpson.. They were testing people on the street.
    #4
    EliseT
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    RE: Ignorance Is Bliss ! 2006/03/06 05:29:45 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by lleechef

    zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz


    He didn't wake you up by mentioning the French?

    C'mon, wake up, Lleechef!!! Baguettes! Pot au Feu!!! Ped or Pied Thingees de Cochon!!!!

    #5
    Tedbear
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    RE: Ignorance Is Bliss ! 2006/03/06 06:40:51 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by MilwFoodlovers

    Arrrgggghhhh!

    Hey I thought the quote went, "There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."

    Now what Simpson character said that?


    Nice try, MilwFoodlovers! It was not any of the Simpsons characters who uttered that immortal quotation. It was none other than the leader of The Free World, George W. Bush. You could at least add one of his other memorable thoughts which relates to this topic, such as "only rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?".
    Please show some respect for the man who leads us!
    #6
    MilwFoodlovers
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    RE: Ignorance Is Bliss ! 2006/03/06 06:54:14 (permalink)
    You're right you know. I really should show the man the respect he's earned.

    See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.
    -- Social Security "conversation," Greece, New York, May 24, 2005

    This isn't political talk. This is true.
    -- speaking to seniors in Maple Grove, MN, June 17, 2005

    ... ometimes when you don't measure, you just shuffle kids through. Then you wake up at the high school level and find out that the illiteracy level of our children are appalling.
    -- speaking to the US Conference of Mayors, Washington, DC, January 23, 2004
    #7
    sizz
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    RE: Ignorance Is Bliss ! 2006/03/06 11:41:16 (permalink)
    quote:
    lleechef Posted - 03/05/2006 : 19:43:01
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    Sorry to awaken you Miss lleechef but some folks in Washington thought it would be nice to bring you folks into the 21st century................ but not to worry dear, I fixed this thing to bring you the Jerry Springer Show instead ............
    #8
    Pwingsx
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    RE: Ignorance Is Bliss ! 2006/03/06 19:01:20 (permalink)
    This reminds me of the statistical story that went around setting people on fire some years back. They released some numbers on the amt of money spent on pet food versus baby food and tried to draw all sorts of conclusions about the downfall of civilization, failing to draw into account the fact that pets eat pet food ALL THEIR LIVES, while babies grow up and start eating regular food.

    If we had sitcoms about the Bill of Rights on five nights a week, plus syndication, think we might know about them then?

    Who remembers the last time listing the Bill of Rights showed up in normal conversation?
    #9
    Bushie
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    RE: Ignorance Is Bliss ! 2006/03/06 19:54:07 (permalink)
    D*mn y'all for using Bush's own quotes against him!!!

    LOL

    #10
    felix4067
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    RE: Ignorance Is Bliss ! 2006/03/06 20:59:23 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by Pwingsx

    This reminds me of the statistical story that went around setting people on fire some years back. They released some numbers on the amt of money spent on pet food versus baby food and tried to draw all sorts of conclusions about the downfall of civilization, failing to draw into account the fact that pets eat pet food ALL THEIR LIVES, while babies grow up and start eating regular food.

    Not to mention the fact that WAY more people have pets than babies.

    As for the Bill of Rights coming up in conversation...perhaps I'm just talking to geeks a lot, but it comes up fairly regularly around here.
    #11
    EliseT
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    RE: Ignorance Is Bliss ! 2006/03/07 02:43:08 (permalink)
    ...well, at least the 1st ammendment gets alot of play around here.

    #12
    Extreme Glow
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    RE: Ignorance Is Bliss ! 2006/03/07 06:25:06 (permalink)
    Please feel free to use the following line wherever appropriate.

    "If ignorance is bliss, you must be the happiest person on earth."

    #13
    Fieldthistle
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    RE: Ignorance Is Bliss ! 2006/03/07 08:25:42 (permalink)
    Hello All,
    I am a true believer in educating everyone in civics, history, math, etc., to the
    fullest.
    The problem is so many don't see the sense in learning, especially civics when they
    can't see the reality of the laws or promise of the laws in their lives.
    (oh my god, Dana Reeves, wife of Christopher Reeves has died according to Imus in the Morning,
    so sad)
    I don't know.
    I can't write more now.
    Take Care,
    Fieldthistle
    #14
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