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American Stupidity

“Stubbornness and stupidity are twins.”

Sophocles

What is it about Americans that they have so much going for them, yet they can be so very stupid?

Two stories in the Sunday New York Times jumped out as a sad backdrop to our misguided War On Terror.

The first is about the bigoted anti-Muslim xenophobia in New York over a proposed mosque some blocks from the site of the former World Trade Towers. The emotional volatility is being fueled by the usual Fox News agitators, and Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich stirred up the pot for their demagogic needs.

Even the Jewish Anti-Defamation League took off after the mosque and condemned it. Here’s the Anti Defamation League’s mission statement at the top of their web page:

“The Anti-Defamation League was founded in 1913 ‘to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.’ Now the nation’s premier civil rights/human relations agency, ADL fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all.”

Don’t you just love bullshit PR?

The Times quoted the president of something called Former Muslims United, Nonie Darwish, who said this: “A mosque is not just a place of worship. It’s a place where war is started.”

Ms Darwish is also the founder of Arabs For Israel, and she has spoken before Rev. John Hagee’s group Christians United For Israel in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where Republican office seekers have stirred up the pot over a proposed Muslim religious center there.

Factor this kind of stupidity in with a recent report from The College Board that the United States is Number 12 and dropping out of 36 developed nations on the percentage of citizens with a college education.

Sure, not everybody needs to know about basic human psychology, Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative or William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. What’s scary about this American rush to stupidity, however, is it is usually linked up with the worst sorts of xenophobic fears and racism and our incredibly narcissistic feelings of American exceptionalism.

We are the best! Number One! The champions! We don’t have to worry about education. We got Apache helicopters and Predator Drones, and we got people who know how to use ‘em. Hear that, you ragheads! Hoo-ah!

This strain is then further exacerbated by forces out there in the world that, for their own interests, fuel our US home-grown stupidity. Take the Anti Defamation League’s decision to exacerbate anti-Muslim hatred in the New York case. What possible motive could “the nation’s premier civil rights/human relations agency” have for doing this?

We hear more and more that elements in the current Israeli militarist right wing think it can somehow bamboozle the United States of America into doing something really stupid like mount an aerial bombardment against Shiite Muslim Iran. Whipping up anti-Muslim hysteria in the United States is perfectly in line with this strain of international stupidity.

The reasonable people of America who still believe in things called Education and open-mindedness, and all those wonderful Enlightenment stirrings are being caught in a religious vice with willfully ignorant nutcases on either side.

Muslims can be stupid too

I believe in fairness, so let’s consider Muslim stupidity, certainly a very fertile area. The New York Times reports that in the industrial city of Faisalabad in the Punjab region of Pakistan, the minority Christian community is now under siege by angry Muslims. Several Christians have been murdered.

“There is a lot of anger among Muslims, and there is a revival of militant Islam,” said a local Catholic bishop. “Local Christians are seen as linked to the West and the United States.” Of course, these Christian Pakistanis may actually hate the US as much as most other Pakistanis do.

Pakistan is stirring these days with hatred of the United States for a host of reasons, the main one being we are actively killing, and encouraging the Pakistani government to kill, Pakistani people in the area just north of the Punjab along the Afghan border. While stupid Americans may see all Pakistanis killed by US death squads and drones as “terrorists,” to Pakistanis they tend to be seen as people just like you and me, albeit angry people.

No doubt stories from the United States of bigotry against Muslims adds to this craziness and hatred of Christians by Muslims. Then, in turn, stupid and demagogic Americans who hear about the stupid angry Muslims in Faisalabad killing Christians will have to intensify their vendettas against Muslim mosques in New York, Tennessee, California and other states.

Stupidity marches on, trampling the saner voices who timidly say maybe the best thing would be to defuse the cycle and welcome Muslim mosques.

Some stupid Americans will certainly point out that these stupid Pakistani Muslims are actually killing Christians, while they are only keeping Muslims from building mosques in which to pray. OK, but the American right wing from Reagan to Sarah Palin has enjoyed for years likening America to a “beacon” for the world, and religious bigotry is not the behavior of a great beacon. It’s the reaction of a stupid people.

Great beacons don’t do stupid things like confuse unfamiliar spiritual beliefs and practices with threats to their homeland. Think for just a minute: If these terrible Muslims are so bent on making war against us they certainly don’t need to build a mosque to do it from. They can do it just as well or better from their living rooms and their basements.

Falling back on Self Reliance

Sometimes we on the left get so disgusted with our own fellow Americans and the stupid delusions they can be so invested in that we forget there is the potential for greatness in America, that there are strains of great brilliance in our history that we might tap to get us out of the cycle of madness we are caught in. We could be a real beacon.

Lately, when the stupidity gets really thick and oppressive I pick up an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson. It somehow connects me to the Earth and Spirit of an earlier time in America. Here’s some thoughts from the classic essay “Self Reliance.”

“The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. He is supported on crutches, but lacks so much support of muscles. … His note-books impair his memory; his libraries overload his wit; the insurance-office increases the number of accidents; and it may be a question whether machinery does not encumber; whether we have not lost by refinement some energy, by a Christianity entrenched in establishments and forms, some vigor of wild virtue.”

It’s amazing that Emerson understood this without ever having lived with air conditioning or a garbage disposal unit or used a cell phone or tried to keep up with his e-mail and Facebook. Or never conceived of a lethal drone.

“I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions.”

“I ought to go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways.”

“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.”

And where does one learn such principles? By engaging one’s proto-American, Emersonian, self-reliant mind with Nature and a good liberal Education — not by capitulating to “badges” or listening to the ravings of “dead institutions.

JOHN GRANT is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent, collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper. His work can be found, along with that of colleagues Dave Lindorff, Linn Washington and Charles Young, at www.thiscantbehappening.net

 

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JOHN GRANT is a member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent, uncompromised, five-time Project Censored Award-winning online alternative newspaper. 

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