How dumb are we?
When NEWSWEEK recently asked
U.S. citizens to take America’s official citizenship
Since World War II, yearly shifts in public knowledge have averaged under 1%. But the world has changed, and it's inhospitable to incurious know-nothings—like us.
In March 2009, citizens of Britain, Denmark, Finland, and the U.S.
were asked to
answer questions on international affairs. The Europeans
clobbered us. When asked to identify the Taliban, for
example, those who did:
To appreciate the risks of our ignorance, we must understand where it comes from. Most experts agree that the complex U.S. political system makes it hard for Americans to keep up:
“Nobody is competent to understand it all, which you realize every time you vote,” says Michael Schudson, author of The Good Citizen. “You know you’re going to come up short, and that discourages you from learning more.”
Civic ignorance is a big problem. We can't afford to mind our own business. What happens in China, India, or a nuclear power plant in Japan affects a Detroit autoworker. What happens in the statehouse and White House affects competition in China and India.
Before the Internet, brawn was enough; now the
information economy demands brains instead. We used to
rely on institutions such as organized labor to give us leverage.
Now we now have nothing.
The result is a society of wired activists with extreme views who dominate politicaldebates. They also lead politicians astray at precisely the wrong moment.
One current example of our ignorance is the conflict over government spending:
But polls shows that voters have no clue what the budget actually looks like:
While we'll never balance the budget by listening to these people, politicians pander to them anyway. As a result, we’re now arguing over short-term spending cuts that impair
our long-term recovery and ability to compete globally.
What Fiskin has learned is that people start out with deep value disagreements. But after learning the ins and outs of the issue, they most often agree on rational policies.
“The problem is ignorance, not stupidity,” Hacker says. “We suffer from a lack of information rather than a lack of ability.”
This is the time to search for a cure.
Backgrounds: Robert Kaufman Fabrics: http://www.robertkaufman.com/
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