For the record, I never said that. (The Twitter handles of those who sent it will go unmentioned in order to protect the guilty.) That’s a Tweet I saw, and to which I responded this way: “Obama wasn’t referring to greed. He was referencing FDR’s 4 Freedoms Speech. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Freedoms”
What upset me more than the sarcasm was the ignorance it showed. I couldn’t decide what surprised me most; that “freedom from want” could be so easily misinterpreted as ‘freedom from desire’, or that the phrase “freedom from want” didn’t immediately spark recognition of an allusion to one of Franklin Roosevelt’s most famous speeches?
The banner on my website, which I seem to quote with annoying frequency, is, “An educated electorate is a prerequisite for a democracy.” This is a prime example of why that’s so.
A culture is more than the latest fashion in shoes or electronics, or the latest celebrity gossip, or even the most recent salacious political scandal. Those are all things which come and go.
A culture is everything its been, everything its done, everything its most recognized citizens — whether leaders or celebrities or criminals — have said or written. It has touchstones. Those touchstones may be commercials, TV shows, movies, speeches, or great deeds, or even great crimes. A culture is all the things which become societal shorthand for longer, more complex ideas.
Agree or not with the sentiments, but calling Bush’s vice president “Darth Cheney” means nothing, if you’re unaware of “Star Wars”. Referencing “malaise” or “morning in America” should recall Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan. “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” should instantly call John Kennedy to mind.
And referencing “freedom from want” should remind one of FDR. The absence of such recognition indicates ignorance on a basic cultural level.
To say that one is ignorant sounds harsh, but it’s really not. Ignorance is a simple and provable fact, when present. The best news of all, though, as has been said, is that “Ignorance is a correctable condition. [Only] Stupid is forever.”
It seems to me that our fellow countrymen are becoming increasingly ignorant of our culture, in the sense that I have defined it. This ignorance affects everything we believe, everything we discuss, and the very politics and parties to which we subscribe.
Ignorance leads to credulity; a willingness to believe uncritically whatever we hear from people we trust. The ignorant have no benchmarks to which they may compare small lies or huge whoppers. “I heard it on TV.” “I read it on the internet.” “Someone sent it to me in an e-mail.” “It must be true.” We’ve all heard people say these things when defending themselves against the properly incredulous.
There is only one solution to the national security threat which I may call “Creeping Credulity”, and it’s no quick fix. Ignorance has been a long time coming, and it will be a long time repairing. The answer, though, is ultimately simple: Education.
In my opinion, we need more emphasis on what is called a “liberal education”. This has political connotations, but I do not mean it in a political sense. I mean it in the sense of well-rounded. Math, science, literature, economic theory, comparative religion, non-propagandistic history (“Just the facts, ma’am”), etc.
We need specialists in this world. Information is too massive to be of value without specialists, but specialists are also citizens and voters. Citizens and voters should have enough educational background to know that “freedom from want” is an oratorical allusion. This would prevent them from making silly statements which demonstrate not their wit, but only their ignorance.