Thursday, November 6, 2008

Some musings on ignorance and stupidity

Michael Crichton died yesterday from cancer at 66 years old. Nowadays, that's very young.

Crichton wrote a lot of very successful semi-scientific thrillers. He was considered a best-selling author and not a science fiction author, and that distinction may have come from his excellent sales numbers and his ability to get his books made into major motion pictures.

I only read a little Crichton, and what I read did not make me want to read more. Einstein said that everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler. Crichton was a big proponent of simpler than possible. It was what put bread and butter on his table. When I read Jurassic Park, I knew that cloning from single cells found in blood in mosquitos encased in amber was damned unlikely, but I don't know enough biology to say it is completely impossible. What I do know is math, and the explanation of fractals in the book was just stupid cocktail party talk, a complete distortion of the concepts of Mandelbrot, which I will discuss next Wednesday.

Crichton recent book State of Fear was from the perspective of denying global climate change. He views environmentalists as members of a fundamentalist religion, and in his world, their religion includes an efficient death cult, like Earth First! combined with the Mossad.

While we are all ignorant about some things, I don't consider Crichton an ignorant man. To me, he was more of a huckster. In his early books, he made some pretense at having scientific underpinnings, though I've talked to many evolutionary biologists who despise Crichton's early success The Andromeda Strain with a white hot hate. As he got older and saw how little work had to be done to sell his readers on his premises, he evolved into a singularly lazy organism. This is a fate that can befall anyone, and when laziness is still bringing in the big bucks, it takes a person of real character not to succumb.

Michael Crichton, dead at the age of 66, was not a man of real character.

While he has nothing like Crichton's educational resume, I don't consider Bill O'Reilly either stupid or particularly ignorant. His intellectual problems run much deeper, and are much harder to cure. On the Huffington Post, there is a story about the back biting inside the McCain campaign with many lurid details. Reporter Carl Cameron, who was recently highly praised by O'Reilly's arch rival Keith Olbermann as the best reporter Fox News has, talks to O'Reilly about the things that people on the staff are saying about Palin now that the slow motion train wreck of a campaign is finally over and mercifully buried.

From staff reports, we get a picture of a woman whose sins include a nasty temperment, unseemly greed with other people's money and a vast well of ignorance. She thought Africa was a country, not a continent. She couldn't name the countries of North America. She didn't know what three countries signed the NAFTA agreement.

O'Reilly's believes it is his job not to report the news as much as to debunk it if it goes against his world view. When Cameron brings up the reports of Palin's ignorance of basic geography, O'Reilly finds these details unimportant, and says she can be brought up to speed quickly. "This is not a stupid woman." he opines, and Cameron is forced out of politeness to agree.

Is she a stupid woman? As I said before, we are all ignorant of a lot of things, but after a certain age, aren't we expected to know some stuff? Personally, I think a lot of Americans would have trouble naming all the North American countries off the top of their heads, probably forgetting a Belize or Guatemala, maybe throwing in a Caribbean or South American country by mistake. But for an adult not to know the basics about Africa or NAFTA, that's a sign of someone seriously not paying attention, which is both worse and more common than people with limited intellectual capacity. Like with Bill O'Reilly, the problem with Sarah Palin is that there are none so blind as those who will not see. (I would also put a certain troll many of my readers are acquainted with on that list, who, if he were a man, would have come to my blog and admit he lost a bet by now.)

So what is my "certain age" when people are expected to no longer be ignorant of the world around them? I don't have a number set in stone, but it's well after graduation from high school. Another story on The Huffington Post is from Scott Kesterson, who interviewed soldiers in Afghanistan deeply depressed about Obama's win. These guys completely buy the crap on right wing talk radio, but what choice do they have? Armed Forces radio doesn't let a lot of voices to the left of Rush Limbaugh on the air, so Rush has taken the role of a modern day Tokyo Rose demoralizing our troops by lying about motives and plans of Obama, trying and failing to scare a public that is harder to scare these days, but putting doubt in the minds of our citizen soldiers as to their role under the new administration.

And while we are talking about ignorance, somebody at HuffPo should work a little harder at editing Mr. Kesterson's prose. It's Commander-in-Chief, not Commander and Chief. I found your report interesting, Kesterson, but I had to push past feelings that I was reading the work of a fucking idiot.


Jess Wundrun said...

Matty, my undergraduate emphasis in International Studies was Latin America. So when I read your post I thought, what's matty 'splainin, we all know that North America is the US, Canada and Mexico. But rather than just be snotty, I wiki'd it.

Sure enough, North America can be pretty much what you want it to be. It could, for example include Greenland, which I usually put in a European sphere of influence.

Having said that, all they were looking for from Sarah was my big three, which she could not name.

Thanks for the post on Michael Crichton. I read Jurassic Park and I enjoyed it from a pulp fiction angle. Someone gave me 'State of Fear' and the writing - totally aside from the plot or anything else - would've gotten this book rejected by any publisher short of a vanity publisher if it hadn't had Crichton's name on it.

But what was far far worse was how the moronic ideas from State of Fear were parroted all over the right wing webs. DDT:good. Global warming:fake. And people thought that because Crichton said them they were true.

This morning I thought that a great cartoon would show Crichton burning in hell for his crimes against nature. When he asks Satan "is this hell?" Satan says, "no, just global warming". Ha.

dguzman said...

I would've clicked on your link to Kesterson, but "Commander and Chief" put me off!

Thanks for your Crichton obit. He was a ham-handed writer with some good ideas. I too enjoyed Jurassic Park. Back in my teaching days, a colleague and I even designed a composition course around some of the themes of the book (along with essayists like Thorstein Veblen, Steven Jay Gould, etc.) for context.

I hope the bar is permanently raised back up to the "educated and worldly" level by our new president. We can't afford anymore stoopid.

Karlacita! said...

Yes, please let's raise the level of public intelligence and understanding, starting with compulsory showings of The Wire on all channels!

And The Tick.

CDP said...

I'm borrowing "Rock F*#king Stupidity" occasionally; with attribution, of course. I might abbreviate it as "RFS". You're right about O'Reilly; he's neither ignorant nor stupid; he's just dishonest and disingenuous.

No lie: My word verification is "ousta". Awesome, right?

Matty Boy said...

Thanks for all the comments. I didn't want Crichton to die, but I would have been happy if he stopped writing without dying. That was probably a pipe dream. I hope he doesn't have as much of a posthumous career as Tupac.

Karlacita! You know Barack's fave show is The Wire and his favorite character is Omar? We may have a president who is smarter than I am, and that would be a good thing in my book.

CDP, you are welcome to it. I am very proud of it and it needs to be spread throughout the land, not unlike Padre Mickey's spelling of "Gibita Me!"

A dear friend of mine teaches high school, and she wishes she could use R.F.S. during parent-teacher conferences. "Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, your boy Timmy has been diagnosed with R.F.S." she would say sympathetically, trying her best not to crack up.

Anonymous said...

I never considered Crichton to be a heavy weight on science, but I do admit I enjoyed a couple of his books and certainly the movies from them. It was just plain good fun.

As to Palin and the level of her stupidity. She may not be stupid but she is vacuously unconcerned with knowledge and that is disgusting in a person who has such ambition. Most ambitious politicians are willing to put in the time to learn the information needed in their chosen profession. It's down right criminal to be purposefully so lacking in basic knowledge. It confirms that Palin is just into blatant blind ambition for it's own sake, and has zero interest in doing anything for the world she exists within. She is a thorougly disgusting person in my opinion. Did that come thru? lol.

Karen Zipdrive said...

Palin may have innate intelligence but she's obviously academically lazy.
I think she's got Borderline Personality Disorder and Nascissism. Those afflictions give the individual a sense of specialness that precludes the need to learn or study or have natural curiosity about anything other than self.

Karen Zipdrive said...


Matty Boy said...

Hey, kz! I'm with you all the way on the narcissism diagnosis. If you'll recall, I blogged about it on the Tuesday after she was introduced, and you put up an "attaboy" comment.

I have another post coming about the Divine Ms. Sarah which will address this possible pathological explanation of her crazy ass ways.