In Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace warned us about the insidious virality of popular entertainment, he also said: “Art must have a higher purpose than mere entertainment.” Now, 20 years later, the addiction to digital crap and redundant entertainment is dumbing us down more than ever.
Now, some would argue that nobody is forcing you to watch Housewives or to follow Kim Kardashian on Instagram. But if you, for example, find yourself in the middle of Time Square surrounded by commercials, and you feel like your already goldfish-level attention span just had a final stroke, you realize… yes, they do. But why do people value insubstantial entertainment over science, for example? Because it´s easier to understand? Sure. But is that really the only reason?
Let´s say you are a single mother of two, just getting home from a double-shift at your shitty job, so of course you don´t say: “Hey, I´m wondering if there is an update on string theory.” You feed your kids, you sit on your couch, and you fall asleep during an episode of Rich Kids of Beverly Hills complaining about how your life turned out. You simply don´t have the time or the energy anymore. That´s perfectly understandable.
Nonetheless, the commercial/entertainment industry has only one purpose: “Buy our stuff and shut up.” We have become mindless, binge-watching consumption-zombies. We camp in front of Apple Stores, we get run over playing Pokemon, and if we accidentally stumble into a bookstore, we buy 50 Shades of Grey.
How could this happen? Did we really give up on education, and in favor of what exactly?
Money, Money, Money
In a capitalistic society — and especially in America — money stands above everything. Some would call it The American Dream or A Way of Life, Noam Chomsky would call it Profit over People.
“We don’t educate people anymore, we train them to get jobs.”
— Catherine Liu, the author of American Idyll
Many Trump voters said that they voted for him because he is rich. Some of them even argued that you can´t be stupid if you´re that rich. Well, maybe not business-wise, but wealth says nothing about your ability to understand people or society in general. Others voted for him because they know him from his TV-Show Celebrity Apprentice, which brings us back to redundant entertainment. The mindset that wealth = intelligence is so fundamentally wrong that we have to take a look at some details.
What is wrong with the education system?
In January 2016, a survey from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) says, for example, that only 28.4% of college students could identify James Madison as the Father of the Constitution. 59.2% chose Thomas Jefferson.
In mathematics, 29 nations and other jurisdictions outperformed the United States by a statistically significant margin, up from 23 three years ago,” reports Education Week. “In science, 22 education systems scored above the U.S. average, up from 18 in 2009.
Was the education better 20 years ago? Not really. It´s stagnating since then. The first example, those are facts. Anybody can learn facts. Well, that´s the difference between knowledge and intelligence. Knowledge is about learning or memorizing, where intelligence is the ability of logical combination. A mix of those two is what makes us human.
“Education is not the learning of facts, but training the mind to think.”
— Albert Einstein
And that is the problem. We don´t learn how to think, we just learn facts (and not even that if you look at the survey). This results in an angry world full of people who feel they have the right and the need not only to comment on everything, but to make sure their voice is heard above everyone else´s. We find ourselves in a world where opinions are replacing science and real facts. People accept without questioning and believe without double-checking. Thinking takes too much time, it collides with the pace of the online world.
This lack of education led to a staggering number of fake news, alternative facts and conspiracy theories. So instead of making progress, we are forced to waste our time disproving false statements.
Would it be easier to spot fake news, if we would learn how to think?
Of course. Why? Because someone who has learned how to think would probably understand that an article from truthwarrior.blogspot.info (example) about Trump “offering one-way tickets to Africa and Mexico for those who wanna leave”, isn´t worth sharing. If you would know how to think, you would instantly get suspicious, then you would start reading below the headline, and then you would declare it as bullshit. And that´s how you stop fake news from being shared a million times.
In the age of alternative facts, it´s more important than ever that we fight for a free and good education — take a look at Europe, it works. Proper education should not be limited to the Ivy League, it should be accessible to anyone. Well, Trump´s pick for Secretary of Education isn´t exactly helping that case. It´s just one more reason to fight even harder before we lose another 4 years.
Stop wasting your time believing, start thinking.