A tough week for those of us posing as ‘American intellectuals’, as our countrymen have once again lowered the bar on that standard, ever nearing the threshold past which the phrase becomes an oxymoron.
According to Time, a full quarter of Americans do not know that the Earth revolves around the sun – or at least they couldn’t answer such a question correctly on a recent survey. I know we have a lot of phrases in our language that are holdovers from an earlier age – sunrise, sunset, the sun will come out (pretty good songs actually) – showing that a belief in a geocentric universe was at one time common.
That it would be common today in any culture of people not running around in penis gourds is frightening. Poor Bill Nye the Science Guy – he REALLY has his work cut out for him. Trying to convince people that global warming is the truth and creationism is a lie – not the opposite – is a lot harder when your audience doesn’t have the capacity for abstract thought. What exactly are they teaching in science classes today?
Perhaps you’re thinking that science just isn’t our game, or that the question was biased by some trickery of phrasing. Well, apparently American history can be pretty tricky as well. Groupon, the social media equivalent to the coupon supplement in the Sunday newspaper, seems to think that Alexander Hamilton is one of our past presidents, and accordingly, launched a promotion in his honor for Presidents’ Day weekend. He must be a president, right? He’s on the ten-dollar bill, after all. A day after their faux pas, a spokesman for the company is claiming that it was tongue-in-cheek, meant to generate publicity – and since it did so, was a huge success. While I’m not buying that for an instant, even if I did, I wouldn’t be less offended. This is what corporations do in one way or another – parlay ignorance and fear into profits.
Moving up the stupidity scale a notch – from dumb to dumber if you will – is the tragic death of snake-handling preacher James Coots of Middlesboro, KY. He believed that the New Testament encourages Christians to show their faith by picking up snakes and sort of waving them around. This particular doctrine is taught in perhaps as many as 40 churches across the US, most of them located in the hills of Appalachia. The idea comes from Mark 16:18, which states that believers “shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover”.
On the one hand, my heart goes out to his friends and family. My first job out of high school was in Middlesboro, and I know for a fact that there are many fine people living in those parts who – gross misunderstandings of the scripture notwithstanding – are truly the salt of the earth. On the other hand, the inconsistencies of such a belief system are so obvious as to be laughable. If the parishioners of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name Church truly believe this verse is a command from Jesus, why don’t they just put acid or poison or something truly lethal in their communion cups? Why the tease, the drama of dancing around with a snake – drink a quart of antifreeze already and wait for Jesus to deliver you.
Of course this would never happen for the same reason that a faith healer would never call an amputee up to the front of the church and pray for God to heal him; it would be immediately obvious that God either didn’t hear, doesn’t care, or doesn’t exist. You would think that Darwinism would insure that these kinds of people become extinct before snakes do; I’m not placing any bets.
While the stupidity of a backwoods preacher primarily endangers only a handful of holy-rollers (mostly – more on that in my next post), society should shiver in fear when frighteningly bad ideas start their Sufi dance around Wall Street and Washington. We’ve had so many of these from both sides of the aisle in the past couple of decades – the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, NSA spying, Obamacare, drone wars, Citizens United – I fear that very many more will crush us under the weight of our own pride, greed, and ignorance.
And so a short article in The Atlantic, “Tom Perkins Has a Fascinating, Radical, Un-American Voting Plan”, is keeping me awake at night. Perkins, a retired ‘venture capitalist’ suggests that our democracy is broken in America, and he knows exactly how to fix it:
The Tom Perkins system is: You don’t get to vote unless you pay a dollar of taxes. But what I really think is, it should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars in taxes, you get a million votes. How’s that?
Well, Tom, since you asked, I think that, while you see yourself as the persecuted Jew in your Nazi fantasies – you are mistaken; your flippant half-assed ideas border on fascism, and are the kind that are running this country into the ground.
I am not at all surprised that an uber-rich guy like Perkins would spout such delusions (of course, like Groupon, he later claimed he was just trying to be outrageous). If you think that the rich are altruistic job creators, you are just a snake or two away from Beulah Land yourself. These movers and shakers see themselves as modern-day barons and dukes, and it sort of hurts their feelings that you haven’t awarded them their rightful titles. Like a half-senile uncle blurting out family secrets on turkey day, Perkins is just stating what America’s movers and shakers believe but are too discreet to say.
What horrifies me is no one has the guts to look at him and say, ‘Are you f$#%ing kidding me?” Which corporation would you like to see America run like, Tom – AIG? Chrysler? Lehman Brothers? That a magazine like Atlantic would treat this guy’s ideas as if there might be some merit in them – like they do not dangerously undermine our democracy – is appalling. Tom Perkins’ ideas are not ‘fascinating’, they are frightening. They are not ‘radical’, they are revolting and elitist.
And, in truth, his ideas are not un-American. Unconstitutional, undemocratic, yes. But being dumb and dangerous is anything but un-American these days – it’s downright patriotic. So grab a snake and dance til the sun comes up – don’t worry, Perkins and his friends will care of everything else.
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Also, check out my newest blog – nevercomingback – for tales from my travels abroad.