The Ignorance Gap Is Growing

by on August 20, 2019 · 2 comments

in Ocean Beach, Politics

By Joni Halpern

Dear Ohio,

We’re running out of time.  There is too big a gap between what Americans need to understand in order to make informed election decisions and what they believe are facts.  We could call this the “Ignorance Gap,” and it is growing by leaps and bounds.

Funny this is happening in an age when all you have to say is “Google (or Alexa or Siri or Ethel Crankenhouse, etc.], tell me…”

How many drops of water in an ounce of rain?  591.47 drops.

What is Himalayan salt?  It is a pinkish salt mined from the Salt Range Mountains in the Punjab region of Pakistan.

What is the United States National Debt?  As of February 2019, it was $22.012 trillion, the highest it has ever been in our history.

In a flash, you can find a fact you never knew before.  A fact for which your grandmother or mom would have spent days searching in the library unless they had books on hand that would answer the questions at home.

Today, we are awash in a world of information.  We are kings and queens of the factual world, our serfs the machines from which we may demand instant results.  Yet, we are not well enough informed to know if all of the results are correct.  Indeed, some of the most incendiary results we obtain are absolutely false.  Yet they are placed in the stream of public dialogue to incite our hostility and harvest our responses for the benefit of people much more powerful than we.

We are an easy target for manipulators of information.  Knowing as little as we do about each other, it is easy to misread the realities of other people’s lives.  Because of this, our opinions can systematically be molded, graded, stamped and stuffed into piles of market share or polling data, ready for sale to the highest bidder.  Once the sale occurs, we become the chattel of purchasers who continue to manage our thoughts by stoking the fires of our doubts, feeding our fears, and promoting the sense of foreboding that we are powerless against a dark future that will soon overtake us.

There is only one way to avoid this dismal spectre, Dear Ohio.  We must get to know our fellow Americans.  We must engage with each other, tell our stories, listen to the stories of others, and see our countrymen the way we see our loved ones, wanting their pain to ease, their worries to cease, their injuries to heal, their futures to be bright.

We should not relish a future in which we look back upon this time and admit that we didn’t give a darn about our fellow Americans.  If they were poor, we didn’t care if they went to bed every night fearing it would be their last hours with a roof over their heads. If they came to us from places of raging war or political abuse, we did not want to hear about their suffering.  We only wanted to know why they had knocked on our door so late at night when there must have been room somewhere else.  If they were lonely or old, sick or abandoned, clutching the last handful of their tattered belongings, we should not desire a future in which we would be proud to say we didn’t care.

We could try to make excuses for our part in the terrible mess we will create if we go on with our self-absorption.  “I was misled.  I didn’t know.  People in power told me the poor were not trying hard enough to work.  They told me  immigrants were criminals and freeloaders who were just trying to take advantage of American taxpayers.  They told me the polar bears would not go extinct, the forests would not be lost, the oceans would still have plenty of fish, and fresh clean water would be everywhere, but not enough to cause flooding.  They said we would be victorious over every challenge we faced, without any effort on our part except to mark a ballot.  I believed them, so I voted for them.”

Before we give in to this future, Dear Ohio, we should hear a few stories of our fellow Americans.  I will go first.  I will tell you the stories that I know, and you can see if they help close the gap between what you have been told and what is real for people you may not know in our great country.  See if these stories can resurrect the thread of compassion that has been missing from the modern tapestry our democracy.

Joshua’s story is first, Dear Ohio.  He was three years old when I met him.  Perhaps you will find him deserving of your tender concern.  His story might help us close the Ignorance Gap- my next column.




{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Judy Swink August 20, 2019 at 5:04 pm

Hi, Joni. I would rephrase this sentence of yours: “Ironic that this is happening in an age when all you have to say is “Google (…., etc.], tell me…” Ironic because that’s exactly why the ignorance gap is growing, as you make clear in your column. It’s because so many people believe what they read 1) because it conforms with existing beliefs and prejudices; 2) so few bother to double-check other sources to confirm accuracy of claims; and 3) many people have not and do not learn critical thinking. Point #3 is corollary to numbers 1 & 2.


Joni Halpern August 20, 2019 at 11:45 pm

Judy, your summary of our shortcomings in determining what is true among all that we see and hear is insightful. Let us hope we can begin to check our faulty information against the truth of each other’s lives. That won’t solve all our problems in processing information, but it will help ground us. Thanks for your insightful comment.


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