In “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” Jared Diamond examines the decisions that various cultures have made that have led to their own extinction. He famously wonders what went through the mind of the guy who cut down the last tree on Easter Island - if you ask me it was probably something about how his god had ordained that man would have dominion over the Earth.
He also quotes one of the survivors of the Rwandan genocide, who explains the killings in his village, including the murder of his wife and four of his children, this way:
“The people whose children had to walk barefoot to school killed the people who could buy shoes for [their children.]”
Readers, if that statement doesn’t send chills down your spine, then you haven’t been watching enough Fox News.
The genocide in Rwanda wasn’t just a centuries-old tribal conflict taken to its terrifyingly logical extreme, it was also a culture war; a war in which politicians, motivated by a desire to stay in power, urged the Hutu majority to rise up against the Tutsi, a tribe they characterized as privileged snobs who were attempting to take over and impose their elitist agenda on the hardworking regular Joe Hutus.
Yes, if the Tutsis had lattes, they would have been swilling them. Consider them the liberal elite in this cautionary tale. And while you’re at it, consider that Rwanda was a land in which a growing populace found itself in constant competition with each other for a dwindling amount of resources: money, land, food, jobs. In a situation like that, it became advantageous for the rulers to designate one group as an oppressive “other,” and set about to blame the country’s problems on that other, rather than work together to sacrifice and conserve what resources they had, and to agree on methods to renew resources for the future.
Got the chills yet?
And once all the Tutsis in any particular village had been rounded up and killed, the mobs would then turn their machetes on fellow Hutus that they didn’t like: those who owned land or cattle that they coveted, those who were educated in far-off places…
Those whose children wore shoes to school.
Apparently the leaders of Rwanda had to do little more than point and say “he thinks he’s better than you,” for gangs of murderers to turn and converge with a force deadly enough to rank Rwanda as second only to Cambodia in terms of percentage of the populace killed by their own countrymen since the end of WW2.
Now, I’m not, I swear, attempting to force some overworked comparison down your throat. I’m not saying that what happened there could happen here. I’m just saying that…well…I’m just saying.
I’m just saying that, as Jon Stewart pointed out, one of the most successful contributors on Fox News, Gretchen Carlson, attended Oxford, graduated from Stanford with distinction, plays classical violin, and yet on television, she pretends that she doesn’t know what the word “czar” means. She also emphasizes that she has to Google economic terms in order to understand them. Now, why would she do that? Why would someone who is paid to talk about politics and policy on television want to behave as though the only thing she brings to the table is the ability to navigate a QWERTY? Is it because she understands that it wouldn’t do to appear to have more going on upstairs than the average viewer of her network?
Unfortunately, Fox News isn’t alone in fetishizing ignorance. I mean, come on, we live in a country where we are gleefully admonished for being dumber than 5th graders by a man who's made his fortune unironically espousing the charms of living a life of unapologetic ignorance and bigotry.
Even on NPR, a news organization so obsessed with neutrality that even their test of the emergency broadcast system is followed by an opposing point of view, in a story about an “emerging leader of the Dallas Tea Party,” that "leader" was given whole minutes of national airtime to enlighten us with the following explanation of why Obama “annoys” them:
"You know, it's like I wake up every morning, and there's something new on the news that's upsetting that I read about that he does. I mean, if you said, Lorie, list for me everything that he has done that has upset you since he's become president, I don't think there's any way I could list it all. There's so much. You know, the fact that he apologizes for our country every time he goes overseas. I don't know that I've ever heard him say anything good about America. If you look at the way he speaks, the way you - he talks about our country, if you look at the programs and the things he tries to put into place, it really appears that he does not love our country like most Americans do, and like past presidents do."
And the reporter interviewing this emerging political "leader" responds by saying what, do you think?
a. Can you give an example of an Obama administration policy that you oppose and tell us why you oppose it?
b. When, or during what overseas speech, did you feel that Obama was apologizing for our country?
c. Other presidents have advocated policies very similar to Obama’s. What specifically has he done that you would characterize him as not loving his country?
If you guessed “d,” you’d be right. The reporter had nothing to say. When faced with an alarmingly colossal show of ignorance about things that really sort of matter from someone they themselves refer to as a local political leader, they opted not to follow up. Why? Did he think that he had stumbled into some kind of political Special Olympics, where everyone gets to win?
Readers, I had dared to believe that the Age of Ignoramus might be on the wane. After drinking deeply from the golden chalice of stupid for eight long years, I thought that maybe, MAYBE we had finally figured out that “CEO presidents” were about as swift as most CEOs are in real life – which is to say, pretty fucking stupid. I mean, look at the U.S. auto company CEOs. In a market where American consumers are clamoring for innovative vehicles such as Toyota Priuses and Smart cars, our home-grown titans of industry decide it’s time to…rerelease the Ford Fiesta?
And I dared to think we were on the intellectual mend because at least that willfully moronic Mike Huckabee had been defeated for the 2008 presidential nomination. I dared because while I believed McCain to be an unabashed butt boy for unregulated capitalism disguised as a reformer who gives a shit about anyone other than himself, at least he wasn’t running on a platform of God Hates Book Learnin’.
But I had dared too soon. Because McCain brought to the national stage a running mate so dim that she made the Three Stooges look like Nobel Prize Winners - and not Peace Prize winners, either – I mean one of the hard prizes. The very personification of the blind, the halt, and the lame, this woman captured the heart of about half of America. Unfortunately, it’s the half that’s armed.
Just like her intellectual doppelganger George W. Bush, the jokes about the stupidity of Palin could not compete with the reality that assaulted us like so many drunken baby daddies every time she opened her mouth. Palin’s mental shortcomings were not so much epitomized by her failure to, at Katie Couric’s urging, name one publication that she read, but by the fact that she later characterized the query as a “gotcha” question.
Stupid people love Palin, and it’s hard to imagine a reason why other than she makes them feel less stupid. She also tells them that their dumb-ass religious bigotry is straight from the mouth of God. You can just imagine how relieved they must feel, hearing that! She’s also the living embodiment of the notion that it’s okay to suckle at the government teat, as long as you simultaneously condemn everyone else who wouldn’t mind a squirt or two.
Yes, it’s the numbskull triple-play, the George W. Bush hat trick, and it hasn’t gone out of style at all, not even close.
Tammany Hall was a corrupt political organization that ruled New York City for decades, and it was the poor that suffered under it the most. But Tammany leaders continued to be elected by the very people they victimized. The same men who let the docks rot and the buildings collapse and the dead horses pile up in the streets, also came down into the slums before every election, and handed out pennies and glasses of beer. And all the Joe Six-Tankards decided that hey, those politician guys might not be so bad after all. They understood their needs. They were just like them: concerned about negroes being able to marry, worried about illegal Irish immigrants taking over their culture, and convinced that the Italians were religious extremists beholden to a foreign leader who wanted them murdered in their beds.
And so it goes, readers. So it motherfucking goes. For all our steps forward technologically, we still fall for the same shill every goddamn time.
We’re about to cut down the last tree on our own big Easter Island, but we don’t care, because we heard somewhere that those liberal pro-tree scientists are conspiring to exaggerate the benefits of trees, anyway.