Donald Trump was recently elected President of the United States of America on the slogan “Make America Great Again.” Few thought he would win for most of his 18-month campaign. Then he won. Donald Trump – the huckster Donald Trump, who doesn’t read a book and doesn’t appear to know anything at all about, well, anything except his own branding, is now President of the United States of America.
Trump won for many reasons, but one compelling reason was the use of the word ‘again’ in his primary slogan. We human beings long for the past. When someone promises the past to us we believe him, no matter how incompetent he appears. Why?
“Common Sense isn’t common.”
We’ve all heard this refrain. I hear it at my work every time someone does something we collectively deem idiotic. I’ve heard this said about people doing inane, silly things and heard this said about people who’ve died. Hell, I’ve said it. When someone does something stupid that we swear we’d never do, we think it even if we don’t say it.
It implies a strong judgment: I’d never do that, I know better, I understand the rules of our society because I belong. But is that really true?
Superstition, belief in the unreal and belief in thoughts being made reality have always been human characteristics. We humans are far more inclined to believe something that fits with our existing view of the universe than something that doesn’t. When I knock on wood, I believe on some level that this act is having an actual effect on the world – that it can determine whether or not my hope comes true. This made sense once upon a time, when we didn’t know enough about the universe to know otherwise, to know better.
Literacy was supposed to change this, to make all of us better people, more credulous and more capable of critical thinking. It did not. Public education was supposed to do what literacy could not, but likewise did not. Improved access to higher education was supposed to succeed where widespread literacy and public elementary education failed, making us less superstitious, less gullible, less prone to believing we can will reality. It did not. And the internet was supposed to open up the world so that information would be democratized and we could all reach our potential as smart, rational, critical thinkers. So far it has not resulted in that world. (#Dontreadthecomments)
Though each of us has access to more information than ever before, it feels like anti-intellectualism is as strong a human characteristic as it’s ever been. Some superstitions might be dying out, but they are being replaced by more widespread beliefs in fanciful nightmares about how the world supposedly works. Conspiracy theories have been around for a long time, but they appear more widely believed than ever before (though that could be just a result of the echo chamber that is the internet).
Why is it that, when we have more information at our fingertips than any previous generation could have even imagined, most of us still believe nonsense? Many of us cannot figure out the difference between a fact and an allegation, between the truth and an appealing lie, between a verified story and an unsubstantiated rumour?