Planned Ignorance

Two stories today highlight another common theme in conservative American politics: the intentional withholding of information in order to prevent people from making proper decisions on public policy.

First is the continued attempt by (mostly Southern) Republicans to whitewash American history textbooks. The latest version of this is McGraw-Hill’s interpretation of slavery as “immigrant labor”, which is predictably causing outrage:

Book publishing giant McGraw-Hill is saying it will rewrite a textbook after a Pearland mother voiced concerns on YouTube about the portrayal of slaves as immigrant “workers” in her son’s school book. In the video, Texas mom Roni Dean-Burren calls out the textbook, “World Geography.” Dean-Burren pointed viewers to a section called “Patterns of Immigration.” Reading from the book, she notes the inclusion of slaves as immigrants.

That’s just a minor data point in a broader movement to promote theocracy and remove references to major social justice issues in American textbooks. After all, if kids don’t grow up learning about the reality of their history, they’ll be less likely to support solutions that address long-term iniquities and promote religious and cultural diversity.

Also, of course, there’s renewed interest in the House Republicans’ continued refusal to allow the CDC to study gun violence:

In June, the Appropriations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives rejected an amendment that would have repealed a ban on scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducting research to study the relationship between gun ownership and gun violence. Supporters of the ban, including current House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) argue that the CDC shouldn’t study these questions because “a gun is not a disease.”

Arguably, though, CDC researchers have studied other kinds of environmental factors that play a role in human health and in human behaviors with implications for human health. Are alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs of abuse diseases? Is a faulty ventilation system, of the sort that might provide a hospitable environment for the bacterium that causes Legionnaire’s disease? Is a hurricane? If you think, given its scientific mission, that the CDC is the wrong group of government scientists to study the connection between gun ownership and gun violence, fine. Allocate funding to the right government scientists, those working in the appropriate scientific disciplines to conduct the research. Establish research grants to support academic scientists studying this question. Do something to mobilize scientists to address this problem.

Conservatives don’t want to do that, of course. They know exactly what results the studies would show, because the problem is obvious on its face. We can see the difference between what happens in other countries and what happens here, and the common denominator of difference isn’t our culture but access to firearms.

So the Republican solution is simply to make sure there’s no data available with which to make intelligent decisions.

The modern conservative ethic is one of planned ignorance. They know they’re wrong on the issues, so they simply hope to limit the public’s access to information.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.