Friday, July 30, 2010

"Klaatu barada nikto"

If you are not familiar with this phrase, you should be – these are the words one must utter to prevent the earth from being utterly reduced to a burned-out cinder. At least, that’s the story line from the classic 1951 science fiction film, "The Day the Earth Stood Still".

For those not familiar with the film’s plot; an alien ship from a far away solar system is dispatched to inform the Earthlings that their progress has not gone unnoticed among the Community of Planets. In actually their message for the inhabitants of Earth is a bit more draconian: they are compelled to deliver a stern warning to the aggressive and warlike human race against expanding their barbaric proclivities to the other peaceful planets. Oh and in case further admonishment proves inadequate for Earthlings to fully grasp; constable Gort, here (a robot), will ardently and dispassionately enforce the intergalactic law with absolute and devastating consequences.

The rather dire plot from “The Day the Earth Stood Still” was a product of our national fears of mutually-assured nuclear annihilation during the height of the Cold War. It was a time when many of my generation were taught to Duck and Cover in response to a surprise nuclear attack on our country.

But in thinking about this film I was drawn recently to ponder the method that space visitor Klaatu engaged in his attempt to convey his message to the whole of earth – he chose to seek out the best minds, the top scientists, the brightest intellects, in the hope that THEY would be the ones most likely to comprehend and successfully convince the global population of the dire nature of the message. It made me wonder – now, at a time when it seems we need it more than ever, where are the voices of the best minds, the scientists, the intellectuals today?

We are supposed to be living in The Information Age, yet our mass media is awash in an unmilled proliferation of facts, lies, opinions, conjecture and utter nonsense. Much of it is packaged as entertainment; quite often it is difficult to sort out which is which. Add to that the desire to pander to the lowest common denominator, packaged in sound bites, blurbs, jargon and catch phrases.

It’s no wonder we have trouble reconciling the limitless spectrum of ideas floating around. Recently the Boston Globe published a story (which was picked up by National Public Radio) reporting how facts SELDOM change people’s minds and can actually instead further confirm incorrect information in people’s minds.

There are hundreds of scientific, psychological, economic, sociological and other research organizations throughout the world which appear virtually untapped. Add to that the universities and foundations doing serious work (and I am not talking about political “spin” factory think tanks). Yet instead we are awash in the sea of banal talk show blather, profound stupidity and outright disinformation. And frankly, I’m getting quite fed up with the ubiquitous idiocy of Sarah Palin at every turn.

The base elements who have garnered most attention as of the last decade are blatantly anti-intellectual. Indeed, one of the prime “criticisms” leveled toward Obama during his campaign was that he was an “intellectual” (like that's a bad thing???) Twice the electorate demonstrated that Americans apparently preferred someone who was just like them; a dolt who they could share a beer with. (Unbeknownst to most of them, George Bush was a recovering alcoholic; he didn’t drink beer. But again, who needs facts!) These are now the very same simpletons who are decrying that the current administration is leading us into Communism or Fascism… complete with poster pictures of Obama with a Hitler moustache.

Yet frighteningly history records that the first steps that all Fascists regimes took on their road to power was to round up the intellectuals. Hitler did it, Stalin and Pol Pot as well… the list is long and it continues in areas of this globe even today. The intellectuals represent thought, reason, critical thinking – in short, potential opposition to those who would truly oppress us.

So that’s my question:

WHERE ARE THE VOICES OF THE BEST MINDS, THE TOP SCIENTISTS, THE BRIGHTEST INTELLECTS? And more importantly, when will they begin to become more fully engaged in the process of stewardship over our nations and our future?


Gorilla Bananas said...

Yeah, but brilliant people can still support ignoble causes. Stalin and Mao had no shortage of intellectual admirers while Ezra Pound was a fascist. An open mind is more important than a brilliant one.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Bananas Quite true, I recall my dad telling me that San Quentin was full of geniuses. But my point is that the groups of people who KNOW something are not being heard.

Global Climate change is believed by the public to be 50/50 split among scientists.

Or consider that childhood diseases are INCREASING in America because people now believe (because a celebrity promoted it) that vaccinations cause autism. Why doesn't the AMA make a distinct public stand that this belief is wrong and dangerous, for example? Instead: Silence from Science.

It drives me nuts when I see/hear/read the opinion of some housewife on where she believes the economy is headed. Who the hell cares??!!!

Ignorance seems to be good enough. The result is we will continue to schlog in Afghanistan (and elsewhere) and throw millions away on huge and growing police-addicted drug interdiction habit and countless other fruitless pursuits until people with brains can break through the din of the latest bullshit about Lady Gaga.

Rain said...

There is no avenue for them. The media prefers showy and superficial and the media determines whose ideas we hear...

The Mother said...

I think you only have to spend a few minutes surfing the web to find many of the great minds dishing out their thoughts--either on their own sites or through interviews, books, etc.

The problem isn't with the intellectuals or with the dissemination of information--it's with the public. They don't wanna listen.

THe public wants sanitized stuff that agrees with their world view. Challenge that, and the ego-dystonia turns their little heads to goo. Can't have that, now can we?

The Mother said...

BTW, don't diss the housewife. Some of us are actually pretty smart.

(But I agree with you on most of the mom blogs out there. Terrifying.)

Robert the Skeptic said...

Rain Indeed, though I sometimes wonder if the cart isn't before the horse, perhaps they feed us what most of us demand.

Dr. Mom No dig on housewives meant per se, though I do wonder what the average-Joe-on-the-street's opinion is worth when the media can avail itself of any number of experts in the field.

But yes, as Rain also pointed out, the public's eyes glaze over like Homer Simpson. Still the media COULD begin to outright dismiss the "alternative position" with respect to issues such as climate change, evolution, and dozens of other topics. By presenting these silly positions they give them credence.

Kay Dennison said...

I loved that film! I remember watching it with my dad.

And yes, I share your pain on this. Common sense isn't common anymore and when I hear allegedly intelligent people swallowing everything that comes out of Glen Beck or Sarah Palin's mouth, it scares the you-know-what (I only cuss on my own blog) outta me.

Can you imagine Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley spewing the nonsense we hear every day? I think critical thinking died -- and we didn't even give it a decent burial.

Murr Brewster said...

I have my moments when I think democracy isn't all it's cracked up to be, given our levels of education. And I'm real tired of politicians being stupider than I am. It's not like I'm that high a bar.

secret agent woman said...

It was astounding to me to watch us make the sift to denouncing intellectuals. Obama's intelligence was a big selling point for me and Bush/Palin/etc.'s ignorance scared the hell out of me. I heard an interview at a state fair where some goombah was saying he planned to vote for Bush because he had failed as a governor but he was sure he'd be better as a president. Logic no longer even plays a role.

Jerry said...

Wow. You touch on something that has really troubled me for quite a while. There are too many voices, and the ones that are chosen to be heard are the sensational ones -- the voices of either bland pap or inane intensity. Yes -- this is what the information age gives us....useless, frightful information.

I can only hope that somewhere at the core that logic and intelligence will prevail....although I am not too hopeful.

Entre Nous said...

"THEY" are in a cave somewhere depriving us of their expertise whilst we wither... I LOVE the movie, have it in my collection.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Kay Before he died Cronkite was particularly outspoken about the decline of journalistic quality. It is my understanding that much of the Network News viewership is eroding.

Murr I often wonder if politicians are all that stupid or they "play" dumb to pander to their constituent- then again, some of them do indeed seem rather illiterate.

SecretAgent I never understood why having the best intellect in charge of the most powerful country in the world was a drawback either!? We tried having a dope and look where it got us. There is a song out called "We're too stupid for Democracy". I should see if it is on YouTube.

Jerry There is such a thing called the "knowledge of the masses"; it has been demonstrated when you ask a number of people to estimate the number of marbles in a jar or the height of a tree; you take the statistical mean of that number and it is pretty close to the correct figure. Whether that can be applied to abstract and complex multi-leveled problems does not seem very practical, though.

Entre Nous I love the movie as well, however when the space ship leaves earth at the end of the film I can't help thinking to myself: "So it's all up to us to figure out for ourselves? I guess we're screwed then!!"

Marylinn Kelly said...

It baffled, and saddened, me to hear intellectual used as an insult, the same voices calling "socialist" any attempt to make life better for our fellows in need. It was during the GW Bush years that I began to think of our country as the setting for the "The Emperor's New Clothes," mythical kingdom of nitwits. I know the great minds, the questioners, are there, but are derided as conspiracy theorists or crackpots by the very loud voices of misinformation. I don't have the answer but I share the sense of alarm.

The Mother said...

Secret Agent Woman:

This is not the first era when intellectuals were dissed. It happens over and over again, down through the centuries, whenever any faction decides that they have to marginalize the intellectuals to get what they want.

Rome threw the philosophers out. Twice.

nic said...

I say there have to be blogs out there by them. Somewhere, someone has something intelligent to say, and they ARE saying it, but not through widely known channels like the news media.

I feel like going off on my "Librarians Can Save The World From Drowning in Useless Information" soap box, and while I do believe this is true, ignorance keeps us from having a brilliant effect on critical thinking/reasoning and education as a whole.

Woe to our people.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Marylinn I don't recall who but someone on the media was relenting how we (as a nation) have become quite focused on our own self-interests over the last decade in particular. Selfish people do not make a viable society.

Dr. Mom Sadly history seems to repeat itself.

Nic The thing is people have to search for the meaningful and intelligent answers; they are not presented in the mainstream media. It is all pandering.

There are several things I like about the Libertarian stance however their position on Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid and social services are surprisingly head-scratching naive.