BY EDWIN E. VINEYARD
Those who think that the killing of Osama bin Laden took out the chief enemy of American democracy are all wrong. Of course, bin Laden was our avowed enemy, and he had successfully plotted killings and mass destruction against us. Bin Laden has been the enemy we can see.
Americans are much better at detecting and going after its enemies which manifest themselves in ways we can easily discern – ways which are obvious to the most simple among us. When our buildings are blown up by hijacked airplanes full of passengers, it becomes pretty obvious. But there may be a more devious, more formidable enemy lurking in, around, and among our people. This destructive force is ignorance.
It has been said that democracy has within it the mechanisms for its own ruin. The people hold the keys to success or disaster.
Various theories have been offered for the failure of the Roman Empire after some 400 years. No doubt several of these offer valid contributions to understanding history. But one of the more interesting theories is the notion that the people themselves brought on failure.
In that day common people were referred to as “the rabble.” Some say that Rome had become a “welfare state,” and the rabble had become the spoiled beneficiaries of the largesse of the Empire. It is said that they demanded more and more from the emperor, whether in everyday needs or coliseum entertainment.
That theory holds that the insatiable demands of masses of people can bring down a government or an economic system.
On the other hand, there is a contrasting view that weakness and corruption of the empire system – the accumulation of great wealth and land holdings by the nobility in contrast with the masses, and the failing military establishment brought on by its own decadence of that era.
But it is clear that a government cannot long endure which does not see to the education and prosperity of all of its people.
It was Thomas Jefferson who said something like this: “The key to maintaining our democracy is an educated citizenry.” That philosophy led Jefferson to be quite an educational activist in his day. Not only was Jefferson a champion of early day public schools in Virginia, but he was a founder of the University of Virginia. Certain campus landmarks still bear his architectural design.
Ignorance may be thought of as either lack of information or misinformation. People who lack formal education often make up most of what we term as the ignorant. However, there are other ways to acquire knowledge. We once referred to bright, articulate, and knowledgeable people who lacked in formal education as “well read.” They read books, newspapers, magazines, and other material to become quite literate. With the advent of the computer, the Internet, and video, there are now many other avenues for acquiring knowledge, and some might well use these to build their knowledge base – or to corrupt thinking.
Ignorant people are easily misled. But educated people may also be misled, thus becoming ignorant because of their lack of critical thinking skills. “Give me a person who knows he doesn’t know, anytime, over one who thinks he knows and doesn’t.” How often have we heard that old saying?
We have hosts among us these days who just think they know, and who are quite adamant. Yet they know not, nor do they understand that it is they who may bring about this nation’s failure in its long experiment with democracy. With the advent of mass communication, the ignorance of misinformation is being spread far and wide. It is being absorbed by an unsuspecting populace.
Knowledge without an accompanying system of human values is a dangerous thing. Religious passion without an accompanying sense of common humanity can be dangerous. Both these phenomena are observed far and wide in America.
“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” should be modified to add, “but wrongful knowledge and twisted logic are more dangerous.”
Too many in our voter population in this country are gullible to misinformation being peddled. This is another way of saying that we have a lot of ignorant voters. Voters who are ignorant are potentially hazardous. They can unknowingly become transformed into enemies of our constitutional democracy.
Many have already achieved that distinction, and they are alive and well.
– Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, AKA The Militant Moderate, lives in Enid, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer