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We are devolving rapidly into America, the Ignorant. How does Democracy thrive in a nation of 344 million Americans when 2 in 10 of us take in any kind of newspaper, electronic news, or television news.  Another 2 in 10 listen to Right Wing Talk as their primary news source. The remainder who vote form their political opinions from the propaganda between their entertainment shows.

Fifty years of consumer conditioning and thirty-five years of political conditioning by the John Bircher stripe of Libertarians run by Grover Norquist for the Dead Billionaires Club and their junior league, the Club for Growth are coming to fruition.

It's much easier to throw a monkey wrench like the Tea Party's Teahadis in Congress into the wheels of government for these people when the governed can be easily swayed.

In the last election, 38% of Wisconsin union members, many affiliated with the National Rifle Association as well, voted against their own self interest for Scott Walker in the recall election. A large number told exit pollsters that NRA propaganda told them that a Democratic governor would take their guns away.

A California ballot initiative to raise the tobacco tax favored by 73% in March, 2012 went down to narrow defeat after Big Tobacco spent more than $43M to kill it with hours of TV propaganda.

Even with a 99% literacy rate in America, the kind of "literacy" we have is staggeringly poor. The National Center for Education Statistics conducted a comprehensive survey of Adult literacy.  It found that:

  • 21-23% percent demonstrated the lowest level of skills, performing simple, routine tasks involving brief and uncomplicated texts and documents. They could total an entry on a
    deposit slip, locate the time or place of a meeting on a form, and identify a piece of specific information in a brief news article. Others were unable to perform these types of tasks, and some had such limited skills that they were unable to respond to much of the survey.
  • 25-28% demonstrated skills in the next higher level of proficiency
    (Level 2) although their ability to grasp complex information was still quite limited. They were generally able to locate information in text, to make low-level inferences using printed materials, and to integrate easily identifiable pieces of information.
  • Individuals in Levels 1 and 2 were much less likely to respond correctly to the more challenging literacy tasks in the assessment -- those requiring higher level reading and problem-solving skills. In particular, they were apt to experience considerable difficulty in performing tasks that required them to integrate or synthesize information from complex or lengthy texts or to
    perform quantitative tasks that involved two or more sequential operations and in which the individual had to set up the problem.
  • The approximately 90 million adults who performed in Levels 1 and 2 did not necessarily perceive themselves as being "at risk."  
  • Nearly one-third of the survey participants, or about 61 million adults
    nationwide, demonstrated performance in Level 3 on each of the literacy
  • 18 to 21% of the respondents, or 34 to 40 million adults,
    performed in the two highest levels of prose, document, and quantitative
    literacy (Levels 4 and 5). These adults demonstrated proficiencies associated
    with the most challenging tasks in this assessment

So only 2 in 10 Americans are truly literate enough to read and understand the nuances of political journalism.  51% of Americans can't really synthesize information and digest it.

The Founding Fathers had no concept of a mass media that can hold powerful sway over voters who are so low functioning.  

What is more troubling, though, is that those who are well educated are becoming increasingly more ignorant, ignoring their civic life in favor of solely profitable or pleasurable pursuits.  Another subset of the well-educated narrow-bands their interest in public life to a single issue like abortion, gun rights, LGBT rights to the point that they do not engage in broader public issues.  

Many, particularly young adults, that do read news lack the attention span to even read through an article of any length.  The USA TODAY syndrome of "dumbing down" the news to appeal to readers with nano-second attention spans has further catered to our devolution.  America's reading habits belie its passion for entertainment and self-gratification, with no care for civics or how the world around them is being reshaped.

  • Of the top 25 magazines in this country the only news magazine in the list is TIME at number 12 or  13 most months.
  • The top 25 news sites in the U.S. recorded 342 million average unique monthly visitors in 2011 - up 17% over the prior year, according to Nielson Online. While that might sound like good news, unique visitors aren't unique, because many are one person on multiple browsers on the web, phone, etc, false page jumps are counted, and people who don't read the articles are also registered as having looked. That only equates to 123.1M actual readers, most of whom are already factored into the readership estimates of newspapers in their online editions. HuffPo's 35.5M unique visitors is more likely an estimated 12.7M people who actually read the articles. Drudge Report's 13.3M uniques is an estimated 4.8M readers. [1]
  • Only 12.5 million people read the top 25 newspapers in this country. Of them, Rupert Murdoch's Right-Wing Wall Street Journal is No. 1, The Daily News and the Post are 5th and 7th respectively. The Post and the News are Right-Wing spin rags hardly qualifying as newspapers with 2.35M readers between them. [2]

It isn't surprising, then that Americans have a staggeringly low understanding of civics, and how our government, which actually is US, not the enemy, works.  A National Civic Literacy study by Xavier University found:

  • One in three native-born citizens fail the civics portion of the naturalization test, in stark contrast to the 97.5% pass rate among immigrants applying for citizenship.* (Based on 6 of 10 questions answered correctly.) If the pass rate were 7 out of 10, one half of all native-born citizens would fail.
  • While native-born citizens do well on basic questions related to history and geography, the results reveal a low level of knowledge concerning the principles and features of American government that underlie our civic life. Gaps in familiarity and awareness are in two primary areas:
    The U.S. constitution and the governmental, legal and political structure of American democracy
    Basic facts related to current political life and identification of key political decision-makers
    In fact, in straight rank order, these questions elicited the highest incorrect scores.

We're a nation of reality TV watchers. Our television news has been reduced to infotainment, and it faces a shrinking viewership.

Democracy can't function without an educated populace that understands its role in civic life. Civics are taught in less than a third of American public schools, but they have a big impact, according to a Harvard University study.

"[S]tudents who complete a year of coursework in American Government/Civics are 3-6 percentage points more likely to vote in an election following high school than those without exposure to civic education. Further, this eect is magnied among students whose parents are not highly politicized. Among students who report not discussing politics with their parents, additional coursework is associated with a 7-11 percentage point increase in the probability of voting. This result suggests that civic education compensates for a relative lack of political socialization at home, and thereby enhances participatory equality."
The slide into a corporatocracy, controlled through easily digestible propaganda, is all but guaranteed.  Progressives are armed with the pop-guns of optimism and grass-roots communication against a behemoth of hundreds of millions of dollars, and decades of systemic changes to the fabric of this country from its educational system to its mass media.

I fear for this nation. You should too.

My shiny two.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (12+ / 0-)

    "There are two types of people in this world: Those who like delis, and those with whom you should not associate." - Damon Runyan

    by Brian Ross on Mon Jun 25, 2012 at 02:00:06 PM PDT

  •  The lack of journalism (7+ / 0-)

    can also be seen in the TV news magazines whose stories seem to be based on: (1) books published by the corporate owners, (2) sports stories about teams owned by the corporate owners, (3) entertainment stories promoting movies, music, and TV programs owned by the corporate owners. In other words, much of today's news is really a kind of corporate commercial.

  •  The "ignorant" American public (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    voted for Barack Obama in 2008. They probably will re-elect him in November.

    A proud member of the Professional Left since 1967.

    by slatsg on Mon Jun 25, 2012 at 02:43:39 PM PDT

    •  Far Left, Far Right (0+ / 0-)

      They all take the weird shots and then just evaporate. Speak up for yourself and explain the remark.  

      "There are two types of people in this world: Those who like delis, and those with whom you should not associate." - Damon Runyan

      by Brian Ross on Mon Jun 25, 2012 at 05:02:04 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  This isn't a slam on the President (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        You claim that the American public is ignorant. The RW made the same complaint when President Obama was elected. Democrats, on the other hand, applauded the decision of the voters.

        My question: Is American ignorance a new phenomena and if it isn't, how does one explain the election of President Obama. If the public is ignorant, please explain why they will likely choose the President over Romney in November. You realize that when that happens the RW will again revile large sections of the American populace as being too stupid to be allowed to vote.

        IMHO the American public is smarter than either its critics here at DK or the RW claim.

        Finally I have been listening this negative analysis of the public's intelligence since I was growing up in the 50s. I remember some survey back in the 60s or 70s that indicated that a significant segment of the population incorrectly identified the preamble of the US Constitution as coming from the Comunist Manifesto.

        The more things change ...

        A proud member of the Professional Left since 1967.

        by slatsg on Mon Jun 25, 2012 at 06:13:32 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Brian - a few thoughts on Prop 29 (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pluto, RichM

    Yes, the tobacco companies were against Prop 29 because it would have added $1 per pack to the cost of cigarettes.  However, it was a very poorly drafted Constitutional Amendment with all of the money going to a new independent state organization and exclusively funding cancer research. I had many problems with Prop 29.

    Cigarette taxes are highly regressive.

    With a shortfall of many billions, none of the new tax revenue went to the general fund to help close the budget gap.

    There was no provision that any of the research money be spent within California.

    There was no money for smoking cessation, or treatment of people with smoking related diseases.

    A better drafted bill would have passed, but for the reasons above I voted NO.

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Mon Jun 25, 2012 at 02:56:28 PM PDT

    •  A thinking approach (0+ / 0-)

      is good. I applaud your reasoning, and respect your decision to vote no.  I would tell you, though, if Big Tobacco hadn't spent the money, and it was just up to people like you, based on what we've seen, at least in the trend research, your principled opposition would have notched it down to 60-65% passage.  

      In truth, it wouldn't matter where the money was spent since the point was cancer research, not jobs for California.  Had the authors placed those kind of limitations in the bill, the Tobacco Industry surely would have run the floor with it as a back-door tax and jobs bill.

      The authors intent was to keep the increase as apolitical as possible. I should add that it was backed by Left and Right leaning organizations because of its relative neutrality.

      Whether tobacco taxes are regressive or not, they seem to be very effective at curbing smoking, and, higher in most other states, they have been successful.

      "There are two types of people in this world: Those who like delis, and those with whom you should not associate." - Damon Runyan

      by Brian Ross on Mon Jun 25, 2012 at 05:06:56 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  VClib's comment gave me something to chew on... (0+ / 0-)

        but I am still amazed that this Proposition failed.

        I voted for it, because as you say:

        Whether tobacco taxes are regressive or not, they seem to be very effective at curbing smoking, and, higher in most other states, they have been successful.
        Also, thanks for the post... We need to raise the bar however possible!

        I kinda screwed up with a careless uprate so (for now?) I'm a "No Rate" pariah. So when I give a comment "+110% n/t", please consider that a recommend. (That's my workaround fix to participating in this community!)

        by The Angry Architect on Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 08:34:15 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  How true (0+ / 0-)

    I wholeheartedly agree, and it is truly scary.

    "Three things cannot be long hidden: The Sun, The Moon, and The Truth." Buddha

    by Grandson named me Papa on Mon Jun 25, 2012 at 07:34:37 PM PDT

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