Ok, I admit, I live in Missouri. For many years I justified this existence by saying I was close to my family. That defense is losing ground. Missouri is not an unusual “Red State” (meaning it votes new age Republican). My thought is that Missouri is representative of that whole block of right wing fanatics that celebrate ignorance and a complete lack of critical thinking skills.
My current example sprouted life after a rafting trip down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The trip was a planned 275 miles over 25 days. (My journey was cut off at 225 miles for a medical evacuation). Our expedition consisted of five older people such as myself, and eleven in their 20’s. I found myself the least formally educated of the older group. The younger folks were professional river guides, ski instructors, mountain climbers, and one research biologist. The young folks were a hearty bunch for sure.
A couple of the younger men lacked formal education beyond high school – their education centered on the life skills of hiking the Grand Canyon and river rafting. Simply put – they were outdoors-men. One was a powerfully built young man with extraordinary skills with rafts in rivers. He respected the power of the rapids yet loved the challenge. He hiked the most rugged side canyons. He shirked no task. And he possessed minimal verbal skills. He was my ‘boatman’ for the first half of our trip. I will call him Paul for the purpose of this essay.
One evening after supper, while relaxing around a fire, one of the other older men made a comment about Paul, “Paul sure is dumb.”
I said simply, “I’ll tell you what. If I get stuck in this canyon with one other, and the choice is between Paul and you, I’ll take Paul. He will get me out of here alive.” There was a laugh of acknowledgement. I was serious – the bowels of the Grand Canyon is the most remote place one can find in the continental United States. The environment is harsh and unforgiving. Only a very robust person, skilled in the ways of that desolate place, should ever attempt a confrontation with a powerful river in a desert canyon. Rescue is days away.
All of us on the expedition took pictures with our digital cameras. Upon returning home all of us uploaded our pictures to Shutterfly – an online picture sharing site. I culled through the nearly 3,000 pictures and downloaded 647 – Sounds like a bunch but it is only half a gob. I loaded the pictures on my laptop so I could take it to visit family members (particularly my mother who just turned 90) – to report on my adventure in the Grand Canyon.
As I narrated the slide show for my mother and some brothers I recounted the story of choosing the informally educated over the formally educated. My mother affirmed me with, “That’s right. That good old boy will get you out of there!”
A week later I stopped by mom’s house. She exuberantly told me that she had told everyone at her church about me picking the man with no education. She said my brothers were telling that story also. The slide show had lasted a couple of hours, with my stories of hiking side canyons and jumping off waterfalls and rafting the most daring rapids in north America – stories of camping and cooking and fellowship – stories of shared sacrifice and rescue – pictures of the most grand outdoor spectacles ever witnessed – stories of a great expedition. The one thing my family took away was that the less educated man was the most important and vital to the whole experience.
It is almost classic. Cheer for the underdog. Root for the home team. Everyone loves the Cinderella story of the poor maiden who finds happiness. Snow White was a princess because she cleaned and cooked for the dwarfs. Rudy was the undersized football player who finally got in the game. The romantic ideal of the good but underfunded, undereducated guy winning over the establishment is cherished as the greatest mythology.
My family was right about one thing – Paul was a vital component to our survival. So what is the problem? The problem is that this same reasoning is applied to everything. The less educated man somehow has more common sense, will make better judgments, does not ‘over think’ everything, and has courage in his heart. Two people running for President?- vote for the guy with the least education.
What is it with this celebration of ignorance? Why is there such resistance to critical thinking? Why must education be rebuked as unworthy of real men and women?
There is a possibility that this worship of the underdog is some form of unconscious universal hero myth. Carl Jung noted in “Man and His Symbols”:
The universal hero myth, for example, always refers to a powerful man or god-man who vanquishes evil in the form of dragons, serpents, monsters, demons, and so on, and who liberates his people from destruction and death. The narration or ritual repetitious of sacred texts and ceremonies, and the worship of such a figure with dances, music, hymns, prayers, and sacrifices, grip the audience with numinous emotions (as if with magic spells) and exalt the individual to an identification with the hero.
I live in St. Joseph, Missouri. This community of about 75,000 has a small upper class, a small middle class, and a large lower class. (When I speak of class I speak of economics. A few of the rich folks have no class at all). The Chamber of Commerce is proud to advertise consistently low wages as sound reasoning for companies to come to our town. The working man has been stifled for many generations in St. Joseph. OK- to be clear – that is my opinion. The working class in St. Joe has become bitter and resentful – and to whom do they focus their resentment – the educated middle and upper class.
Again, this resentful attitude is not unique to St. Joe or even to Missouri. The appalling degradation of the working class of society by the Chamber of Commerce and really BIG money has resulted in a great divide in our country. I find the arrogance of the big money garnering votes by taking advantage of ignorance to be historically short sighted. Oppression of the masses has never been a sustaining solution to a stable future. Using the false pretense of social conservatism to gain votes is borderline fraud. There is no real intention to stop abortions. There is no real intention to promote Christianity in our schools. There is a definite intention to keep the masses ignorant by denying Public Television and Planned Parenthood.
But we cannot excuse ignorance as being merely naive. The intentional degrading of education by masses of uneducated fools leads to a reverse discrimination and unjustified animosity. There is a large group of people in Missouri who think education reform means putting God back in the schools. It is as if there is an intentional effort to not think – or to think in really stupid terms. I find it amazing how many people choose not to use their minds. The problem with the modern Republican Party is that they have institutionalized ignorance and placed it on their party platform as solid political reasoning.
This problem has legs because our popularly elected representatives are not leaders. They are merely elected. There is no intention of progress. There is no intention of doing the best job. There is specific intention to be reelected. I would not care but I sure wish they would leave my family alone.