America’s ever-expanding knowledge deficit

At Salon, Justin Elliot reports:

An August Pew poll found that a growing number of Americans — 18 percent — falsely believe that President Obama is a Muslim. Why does that figure keep rising? It’s a difficult question, but it may partly be explained by the remarkable success of videos like this one, which has racked up over 2.5 million views in just three months on YouTube. It’s titled, “”BREAKING NEWS! – Is Barack Obama Really A Saudi / Muslim ‘Plant’ in the White House?”

The thrust of the video, put up by YouTube user ppsimmons, is this: The wife of an American-born Israeli author, Avi Lipkin, monitors the Egyptian media. She saw a broadcast in which the Egyptian foreign minister said that Obama personally told the him that Obama is a Muslim — and that the president is hiding that fact (and also that he is going to betray Israel).

All of this is narrated not by Lipkin, but by an unidentified man (possibly the YouTube user). Lipkin, who sometimes using the alias “Victor Mordecai,” is a former IDF spokesman and current right-wing speaker and writer on Islamic terrorism. He told Salon in an email that the YouTube video is an accurate portrayal of his beliefs.

“My wife, Rachel, has been listening to the Arabic language media from her office in Kol Israel Radio in Jerusalem, and this is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “It is ironic, because the whole Islamic world knows the American president is a Moslem. The only ones who don’t know it or want to know it are the Americans, themselves.”

There is no evidence presented that this Egyptian interview ever happened. And the YouTube video itself (which was apparently put up not by Lipkin, but by one of his fans) could well be the product of a lone conspiracy theorist. Which makes it all the more remarkable that it has racked up 2.5 million views.

The video does actually identify its narrator: PCG. That is, Pastor Carl Gallups from the Hickory Hammock Baptist Church in Milton, Florida. Online shoppers who want to accessorize their faith might enjoy visiting the church’s gift shop where they will find a fine line of “CHRISTIAN and GOD AND COUNTRY T-Shirts, Gifts Accessories and Home Items.”

Pastor Gallups was given national attention in late June when he was named as a runner-up in one of Keith Olbermann’s “worst person in the world” lists after the release another popular YouTube video: “EXCLUSIVE! OIL SPILL IN GULF – Hand of God? Connection to Israel?

To the extent that Gallups’ videos have gone “viral” (at least prior to receiving attention from MSNBC and Salon), the pathways of proliferation they have followed seem somewhat predictable. Spreading out from Pastor Gallups’ own congregation, along with listeners to his Freedom Friday show on northwest Florida’s 1330 AM Weby talk radio, these are messages spreading most likely among the already converted. Which is to say, people whose worldview is confirmed — not challenged — by claims such as that the Saudi Arabian monarchy is in control of the US government or that the BP Gulf oil spill was an expression of the wrath of God in reaction to the Obama administration applying pressure on the Netanyahu government.

Are these ideas that can only be accepted by people who have lost any grasp on reason? I think not.

The issue is the boundaries that circumscribe the pool of information that individuals draw upon as they form their understanding of the world. People like Gallups present a view of America and the world that has its own internal logic which holds up through the reinforcement of rigid definitions about what constitute legitimate and illegitimate sources of information.

Progressives, liberals, conservatives, evangelicals, and atheists, all employ the same form of prejudicial review in accessing the credibility of information, which is to attach weight to the source before assessing the value of the information. We attend to who is speaking before we hear what they are saying. Where we differ is in how broad and deep or narrow and shallow is the pool of imputed credibility we draw upon.

This is worth remembering at a time when it’s easy to believe that a wave of irrationality is sweeping across America.

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5 thoughts on “America’s ever-expanding knowledge deficit

  1. Vince J.

    The RealNews today has a shocking video of interrogation by the invaders and occupiers, US/UK/AU, torturing a prisioner who was held foe six months and released without any charges.
    The immorality of the West.

  2. Mr. Red

    Bear in mind that the only reason videos like this go viral is because like-minded people decide to point a spotlight on them. Stop shaking your head and gawking at how stupid some people in our society are.

    Heed Marcus Aurelius: No longer talk at all about the kind of man that a good man ought to be, but be such.

  3. Christopher Hoare

    Doesn’t your conclusion rather abdicate any attempt to hold people responsible for their opinions and actions? Anything goes?

    The science and philosophy I believe (part of a pool of information I choose to accept) suggests that none of us lives in the actual world and stores records of pure reality in our memories. Our contact with the world is through a model of reality we hold in our minds. Everything is moderated to conform to the model before installation in our store of ‘truth’.

    Insanity is the state of holding beliefs that conflict with the majority worldview to the detriment of the society and/or the believer. Since we’re talking Stalin’s show trials today, the KGB practice of committing dissidents to mental institutions was a purely rational response to the self-harming behavior of the dissident. They clearly were in error relative to the majority, authoritarian view.

    The fact that multitudes of citizens within the US believe these fantasies only establishes a norm for that society. The world as a whole chooses different models of reality and their model of rationality is more widely held as well as richer in content and more inclusive. The US is in trouble with its agreement about reality, but it’s somewhat of a self-inflicted injury. If Americans were not so self-absorbed they might notice this disconnect and actually think about it.

    The only way to draw the situation to their attention is to label it as irrational. And keep doing so as loudly as possible.

  4. DE Teodoru

    Thank you Avi, God bless you for saving us from a Saudi spy who would prevent Israel expanding its borders to 1/3 of Middle East and bringing about the End of Times– or is it the end of fools?

    But while you tell us about how the Muslims fool us per the Koran, please explain how it is that Israeli Zionazis use the Old Testament much like the Nazis used their race theory to exterminate Palestinians?

  5. John Somebody

    Your model requires that we live as though the majority around us, are integrated with reality, sustained by truth that is unchanging, (whether we believe it, or not), untill the rational of the wider world, somehow seeps through, and has an effect. But that would mean the anti-natzi resistance, in Germany, had to be “insane”, and we have to be insane, if we persist in behaving as though the majority around us are wrong. There was an American psychologist, (I think Ash), who recruited students for an experiment, where they, one at a time, would be directed into a room, amongst people, the student did not know, were actors. The actors were asked which of the lines, labelled, A,B,C, etc, were the longest. The students had been told this was a test of eyes. The actors had been directed to tell blatant lies about which lines were longest / shortest. And the students were tested as to how readily they would conform to the behaviour / apparent beliefs of the majority. The vast majority of the students, (I forget the percentages), conformed to the lie, and. But the truth, remained the truth, no matter what percentages, conformed knowingly to the lie. All of those, would have had to be confused to some degree, even if it was only as to why, the lie was being told. The fact remaines, that when we return to the reality which is sustained by truth, we escape from parasitic confusion / delusion, and become able to learn from our mistakes
    Nobody need to tolerate group psychosis, if we live by personal integrity, not group mentality. Yes individuals will experience confusion, and grow out of it. The truth really does set us free.

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