The War on Knowledge

Updated: May 26, 2020

File Photo: It took 359 years before the Catholic Church acknowledged the teachings of astronomer Galileo Galilei.

When I was in high school in the early 1990s, I read an article that, at the time, I thought was one of the funniest things I had ever seen: The Vatican acknowledged, in 1992, that Galileo was correct. The Earth revolves around the Sun.

Exactly 359 years after the Catholic Church forced the famous astronomer to recant what we now consider obvious, under threat of torture, it felt secure enough to admit the error.

As a society, much to the horror and dismay of the educated, we seem to have regressed to a world that the inquisitioners in 1633 would be proud; one in which science, enlightenment and facts are being summarily dismissed with alarming regularity. There is a war on knowledge being fought in this country, and the ignorant are winning.

A pattern has emerged that has become entirely predictable. Whenever anything newsworthy happens, a host of conspiracy theories will immediately sprout, supercharged by a legion of imbeciles spreading the nonsense far and wide through their social-media channel of choice. Sept. 11 was an inside job. Sandy Hook was a hoax. Bill Gates and 5G towers are somehow responsible for a global pandemic. Every mass shooting becomes a “false flag.”

It hardly stops there. Vaccinations cause autism. A random pizza parlor secretly hosts a pedophile ring. The Deep State. George Soros. Chemtrails. Plandemic. QAnon. And on and on and on.

The cavalcade of absurdity never stops, and people believe it. It shows up on my Facebook feed. I get YouTube videos texted to me by well-meaning but uninformed individuals. People have lost the ability to differentiate between reputable and unreliable news sources.

It’s as if we have been transported into some kind of pre-Enlightenment era. During the Black Death, a popular conspiracy theory was that millions of people were dying as a result of Jews poisoning wells. Nearly 700 years later, we view that as ridiculous. And yet, here we are today, watching arsonists in the same part of the world burn 5G cell towers to the ground, much like their ancestors armed with similar disinformation carried out pogroms against Jewish communities.

None of this happens in a vacuum. The vast majority of the perpetrators, believers and enablers of all the nonsense have one thing in common. They are populists and in this country vote Republican. After the 2012 election, former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said that Republicans needed to “stop being the stupid party.” Instead, they took their war on knowledge even further. They embraced conspiracy-theory gold mine InfoWars and its fearless leader, Alex Jones, who apparently has never seen a slander or libel lawsuit that scares him.

They attack universities and institutes of higher learning. Evangelical faith trumps science. For years, they have stoked the flames of everything anti-knowledge, so should it come as a surprise that this country’s population has been so dumbed down that it is susceptible to all the bullshit? The groundwork has been laid for years.

Even when the right doesn’t start an anti-knowledge movement, it doesn’t seem long before Republicans take the baton and run with it. The anti-vaccination campaign was originally the domain of wacky liberals. In an episode of the popular sitcom “Last Man Standing,” that ran in 2014, it is actually the conservative father played by Tim Allen who is flabbergasted when he learns his liberal daughter never had his grandson vaccinated. Today, only right-wing politicians vote against mandatory vaccinations, citing individual choice, which has led to measles outbreaks across the nation.

According to a Yahoo News/YouGov poll, conducted May 20-21, a full 44 percent of Republicans, and 50 percent of individuals who get their information from Fox News, believe that Bill Gates is preparing to use a vaccination campaign against the novel coronavirus as cover to microchip billions of people and track their movements. So much for not being the stupid party.

Basic knowledge is under such attack right now, not even a fact as simple as the Earth being round has escaped recrimination.

It’s as if the same individuals who convicted Galileo of heresy in the 17th century have risen from the dead and proliferated across the planet.