False Knowledge is Our Fool’s Gold

At the end of 2023, I was talking with a man who has a PhD in one of the hard sciences and happened to mention deaths from the experimental Covid injections. In surprise he responded, “Wait, people died from the vaccines?” I was astonished that this person was still unaware of the fact of Covid injection fatalities.

However, his case is not unique. Along with an inability to do critical thinking, many have exhibited conspicuous ignorance of the facts about Covid, despite the great amount of information readily available. Furthermore, as a general rule, many people nowadays simply do not know enough about various fields of knowledge necessary to form intelligent opinions and make sensible decisions.

When I returned to the US after several years in Japan during the 1980s, I was taken aback to discover how many believed that they already knew a lot about Japan, when they obviously did not. At the time, Japan’s booming economy had garnered a lot of worldwide and journalistic attention. For example, I once saw a well-known American TV reporter interviewing a Japanese Zen priest, who explained that Japan’s economic success was due to Zen’s reverence for the material world. The reporter then endorsed that idea.

That explanation was clearly nonsense. Most in Japan are not Zen Buddhists, since a wide variety of Buddhist groups exist here. It is next to impossible to generalize about their beliefs. Moreover, much of Japan’s business success has been due to implementing lessons learned from abroad. For example, Japanese corporate leaders learned to prioritize quality control from the American W. Edwards Deming. From that time I began to realize the unreliability of the mainstream news media as a source of knowledge.

Ignorance about other countries is certainly not rare, even when those places happen to be much in the news. For example, while teaching a course about the Arab-Israeli conflict to junior college students in Osaka in the 1990s, I was shocked to discover how little background knowledge they actually had.

Handed maps of the Middle East with national borders but no country names, most could not put names on any of the countries, except for Egypt. Furthermore, they knew hardly anything about Jews, Arabs, Islam, and other elementary matters essential to understanding the course material.

On top of that, most did not have much of a grasp of the history of the world in the 20th century. For instance, my students knew little about World War I, which Japan participated in. However, since that time widespread ignorance of history has probably become even more commonplace in the world.

Drawing on many large-scale surveys of American youth, Mark Bauerlein’s 2008 book The Dumbest Generation reveals how little knowledge of the world could be found among students in the US. Unlike my Japanese students, most could not even identify Egypt on a map. On a 2001 history exam, 52 percent of high school seniors thought that Germany, Japan, or Italy were American allies in World War II. As Bauerlein points out, many of their elders can certainly be blamed for failing to give them real knowledge about the past.

Even more alarming for advocates of free speech, in a 2003 survey by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, only one in fifty college students knew the main right protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution – the right to free speech. Bauerlein’s follow-up effort in 2022, The Dumbest Generation Grows Up, paints an equally grim picture of the former students as adults, who for the most part continue to be influenced mainly by social media and online entertainment rather than reliable information.

Broadly speaking, many people have become victims of their limited knowledge of history and other subjects. Because of ignorance about the history of the earth’s climate, including fluctuations such as The Little Ice Age and The Medieval Warm period, they fret over climate change. In the same way, multitudes panicked over Covid, falsely believing that it was unique and unprecedented. In reality, the Covid phenomenon had been preceded by a history of exaggerated disease scares

False Knowledge

By the “knowledge of history,” I mean real knowledge, in contrast to false knowledge, which is often simply political propaganda dressed up as information. An example of the latter would be Howard Zinn’s fake history textbook demonizing the US. Another is the New York Times’s “1619 Project,” which connected all of American history to the establishment and support of slavery. One might as well implicate all world history for slavery, since it has been almost universally practiced, including in Japan and Korea.

People often mistakenly look to academics as authoritative, informed sources of knowledge about world events and controversial issues. Actually, professors are usually individuals with highly specialized knowledge of one very narrow field of interest, in which they obtained their doctorate. In other respects, they often just pick up scraps of dubious “knowledge” from the mainstream news media and like-minded academics around them.

Despite not really knowing much, many of them tend to think that their views are more insightful than those of others. For example, at a conference about human evil in Prague I attended in 2012, most participants evidently did not really know much about the basic issues of ethics and reduced the topic of evil to current-day politics and pop psychology. That ignorance did not stop many from being very opinionated.

Most appeared unaware of the considerable investigation into the nature of evil by philosophers and religious figures like Augustine of Hippo and Jonathan Edwards. Appalled by the superficiality and ignorance on display, I wrote an article describing my experience in detail, titled “Are Modern Professors Experts on Good and Evil?”

During the Covid mania, many politicians, bureaucrats, academics, and international organizations acted as creators and facilitators of false knowledge, abusing their positions as authorities. While aggressively doing this, they branded anything that conflicted with their messaging as “misinformation.” Obviously, that campaign hindered many people from arriving at reliable knowledge on the subject of Covid.

Culpable Ignorance

Nevertheless, many ordinary people also cannot be considered innocent about their ignorance. In his book about the recent widespread Covid-related medical malfeasance, What The Nurses Saw, Ken McCarthy observes, “Amazingly, all these years later, many still claim they know nothing of what happened and how it came to be. This would fall under the category of aggressively willful ignorance.”

Indeed, among the unknowing there has often been a smug complacency (or even a stubborn hostility), a refusal to look any further into a matter of life and death for themselves and their loved ones. On a number of occasions, I tried to warn university colleagues about the dangers of the Covid injections, only to have them turn their backs and walk away in the middle of the conversation. This is very rude behavior in a Japanese context.

Many others, including Brownstone writers, have met with far worse treatment than that, including threats, insults, punishments, and the loss of jobs for sharing helpful information. Understandably, it is hard to admit that one has been ignorant or duped. However, the acquisition and propagation of real knowledge is immensely preferable to a pandemic of ignorance, especially when the ignorance may have very dire consequences.

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