Tea Party spell check?
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The problem here is misplaced pride, and it is probably at the root of an American tradition of anti-intellectualism. People know that all of us are fundamentally equal: It is this understanding that forms the philosophical infrastructure of democracy. But many mistakenly assume that equality implies functional identity — that we all ought to be roughly equal in all areas, and that any evidence that one person is better than another in one area is a comprehensive refutation of equality and a proof of the general superiority of the former.
Thus, if they don’t know the correct answer and someone else does, or if someone catches them in an error, they tend to perceive it as a pervasive indictment of their personal worth and resent it accordingly. This was a lesson I learned through being cornered after school by the larger and more aggressive of the pupils whom I dared to outdo in the classroom and hit, pushed around, insulted and threatened — not that I ever heeded this lesson in tyranny, or ever could. Similarly, when I have ventured to correct people of this outlook in online chat rooms, they have uniformly reacted by calling me a nerd and a Nazi, and going on defiantly to misspell, mispunctuate and generally abuse the language to the extent of their capacity.
(There is, incidentally, a rational way to reply when corrected: “Thank you.” Gratitude, not resentment, is due someone who has added to one’s store of knowledge and saved one from continuing to put one’s ignorance on public display. Admittedly, however, this is not always easy to say.)
Essentially, there are two kinds of ignorant people: those whose lack of knowledge is the result of lack of opportunity to learn, who will gladly accept correction when it is offered; and those who refuse to learn anything that contradicts their convictions. These latter — whom I believe to be disproportionately common in the Tea Party and related “movements” — are a real danger to representative democracy, for by their willful ignorance they make themselves easy targets for manipulation, and thus become weapons in the hands of pathocrats, to be used as shock troops to suppress the rest of us should we ever become surfeited with oppression and contempt and arise as have our peers in Egypt to demand recognition of our fundamental and inalienable rights.
Our only hope is that the Tea Partiers’ ignorance is not, after all, as bulletproof as it appears. There comes a time when even the most obstinate defender of the status quo begins to realize that he is preserving precisely what oppresses him, that by doing the bidding of those who manipulate him for their own gain, he contributes to his own loss. I do perceive much ignorance among followers of this right-wing creed, but I am not convinced that it always represents actual stupidity.
When conditions pass a certain level of intolerability, I predict that all but an obtuse and characteropathic minority will awake to their peril and join with us in demanding regime change and a restoration of the egalitarian ideals by profession of which America’s founders reshaped their world.