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by Donald B. Ardell, Ph. D.
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Wellness in the Headlines
(Don's Report to the World)

How to Make America Great? Identify and Promote Qualities Conducive to Greater Americans

Friday June 23, 2017

Introduction: Ignorance Versus Intelligence

In an 1896 speech entitled, How To Reform Mankind, Robert Green Ingersoll said, "There is no darkness but ignorance."

There is a lot of darkness in contemporary America; ignorance may or may not account for all of it—that’s debatable. But there’s little doubt that ignorance warrants a share of the credit.

Ignorance and intelligence are not the same and must not be conflated. Ignorance is being uninformed, unaware or, more pejoratively, clueless; intelligence is having the inclination and capability to process information and comprehend causes versus associations. Or, in the context of current times, discern fake versus real news.

Reason: A Small and Feeble Flame

A three-year Wall Street Journal research project found that seniors at about 200 colleges, many top-tier institutions, lacked fundamental analytical reasoning and problem-solving skills. One-third of the seniors were unable to make a cohesive argument, assess quality of evidence or interpret data.” (Source: Douglas Belkin, “Many Colleges Fail to Improve Critical-Thinking Skills,” Wall Street Journal, June 6, 2017, p. 1.)  

This brings to mind another Ingersoll observation:

Reason is a small and feeble flame, a flickering torch by stumblers carried in the starless night, blown and flared by passions storms and yet, it is the only light. Extinguish that and nought remains.

That reason is but a feeble flame, now as in Ingersoll’s time, helps explain (along with Russian meddling in our election) why Donald Trump is president of the United States. It also explains why it is the least advantaged among us who constitute the one remaining bulwark of customers (victims) of the tobacco industry. And it demonstrates why religions persist. What else could be expected in cultures that discourage critical thinking, which in turn enables dogmas, anti-scientific belief systems and ludicrous product claims? In the case of religions, it matters not how preposterous the teachings when such unrelenting thought control is enforced from birth to young adulthood. After that, upon reaching an age sufficient for independent thought combined with changed environments and new associations, a fortunate few liberate themselves from mental bondage.

The Presidential Election, Smoking and Religion

Only ignorance (e.g., lack of reason, low regard for science and/or an inability to recognize manipulation) can explain why voters in red states turned to the king of IETs (improvised explosive tweets), a reckless man USA Today’s editorial board (and a host of others) have declared “unfit for the presidency, utterly lacking the temperament, knowledge, steadiness and honesty that America needs from its presidents?”

Give ignorance the credit it deserves. Trump voters are not necessarily dumb; they are, for the most part, ignorant and, as Hillary suggested, guided by “beliefs and prejudices that are deplorable.”

Trump voters truly are bitter, and they overwhelmingly, as Obama suggested, “cling to guns and religion,” as well as antipathy toward people who aren't like them. Furthermore, they are egged on, reinforced, manipulated and easily fooled. Primary promoters of bunk are the Heritage Foundation, the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Family Research Council, the Falwell and Robertson empires and the Council for National Policy. Oh, and lest I forget, the Republican Party.

Much the same applies to those who still smoke cigarettes. One recent story (William Wan, “America’s New Tobacco Crisis: The Rich Stopped Smoking, The Poor Didn’t,” The Washington Post, June 13) showed that while most American have quit smoking, those who are poor, uneducated or live in rural areas have not. The author concluded:

…cigarettes are becoming a habit of the poor…the socioeconomic gap has never been bigger. Tobacco companies target ads to this last remaining demographic stronghold - poorer, rural and often Southern states, where smoking remains highest.

And, where people voted heavily for Trump and cling tenaciously to guns, god and religion.

A poll by Kaiser confirms as much:

Rural Americans harbor deep misgivings about the nation’s rapidly changing demographics, their sense that Christianity is under siege and their perception that the federal government caters to the needs of people in big cities, according to a wide-ranging poll that examines cultural attitudes across the United States. (Source: Jose A. DelReal and Scott Clement, The Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation Survey, June 17, 2017.)

And then, there is religion.

Yes, religion is the third rail for Americans trying to keep “the feeble flame, the flickering torch” of reason alight, a truly desperate situation. You might, like the Queen in “Alice in Wonderland,” ask why people are willing to believe as many as six impossible things (e.g., religious fables) before breakfast? The principal reason, of course, is because religious propaganda is inherited and inculcated as part of one’s identity from parents and local culture. In addition, religions invite and suffer little to no conscientious deliberation over whether its claims are true, which is crucial during the early years. As Guy Harrison observed,

… a typical home purchase is given far more thoughtful analysis than the selection of a god to worship.

Religion persists because of the nature of societies in which we grow up. We are all products of our conditions—genetic, environmental, cultural and social. These conditions, in America and throughout the world, almost always entail extensive programming, from birth until a level of maturity allows a modicum of independent thinking, a smattering of reason. The latter does not begin to flower until nearly two decades have passed, if then. During the initial formative period, we are taught to seek supernatural help. As Ingersoll described it, “countless altars and temples have been built, and the supernatural has been worshiped with sacrifice and song, with self-denial, ceremony, thankfulness and prayer.”

Belief in the supernatural, that is, gods who meddle in human affairs and miracles, prayers, rituals, sacrifices, dogmas and myths that boggle the rational mind, will never make Americans or anyone else great. Joyce Carol Oates, in an interview published in Playboy in November, 1993, asked,

How can people still be superstitious, still believe in nonsense like astrology and grotesque demonic religions of every kind, every fundamentalist religion crowding us on all sides?

As King Mongkut of Siam (played by Yul Brynner in “The King and I”) remarked, “is a puzzlement.”

Qualities That Could Make Americans Great Again

The nation would be dedicated to teaching qualities conducive to better, higher quality citizens, that is, making Americans great again, regardless whether we were ever great to begin with.

Ingersoll’s speech Improved Man is one of my favorites of so many great speeches by the orator known as "His Magnificence,” "Colonel Bob" and “The Great Agnostic." A likely way to commence a campaign of improving men—and women, would be explaining the qualities that Ingersoll identified in that speech. 

The "Improved Man:”   

Will favor universal liberty.
Will give to all others the rights he claims for himself.
Will favor universal education.
Will turn his attention to the affairs of life.
Will do his utmost to see to it that every child has an opportunity to learn the demonstrated facts of science, the true history of the world, the great principles of right and wrong applicable to human conduct—the things necessary to the preservation of the individual and of the state, and such arts and industries as are essential to the preservation of all.
Will develop the mind in the direction of the beautiful—of the highest art.
Will believe only in the religion of this world.
Will know that everything that tends to the happiness of sentient beings is good, and that to do the things—and no other—that add to the happiness of man is to practice the highest possible religion.
Will know that each man should be his own priest.
Will have no confidence in the religion of idleness.
Will know that honest labor is the highest form of prayer.
Will appreciate all that is artistic—that is beautiful—that tends to refine and ennoble the human race.
Will enjoy not only the sunshine of life, but will bear with fortitude the darkest days.
Will be satisfied that the supernatural does not exist.
Will regard those who violate the laws of nature and the laws of States as victims of conditions, of circumstances.
Will do what he can for the well-being of his fellow men.
Will find no happiness in exciting the envy of his neighbors.
Will know that great wealth is a great burden, and that to accumulate beyond the actual needs of a reasonable human being is to increase not wealth, but responsibility and trouble.
Will find his greatest joy in the happiness of others.
Will believe in the democracy of the fireside.
Will reap his greatest reward in being loved by those whose lives he has enriched.
Will be self-poised, independent, candid and free.
Will be a scientist.
Will observe, investigate, experiment and demonstrate.
Will use his sense and his senses, keeping his mind open as the day to the hints and suggestions of nature.
Will always be a student, a learner and a listener—a believer in intellectual hospitality.
Will make facts the foundation of his faith.
Will carry the torch of truth in one hand and, with the other, raise the fallen.
(Source: The World, New York, February 23, 1890.)

Ignorance has brought us darkness, and what we need now is the intellectual light of reason.

Don’t look for Congress or the educational system to advance these or other reason-based qualities conducive to greater if not great Americans. Start with yourself. While at it, keep your focus on the bright side of life—your own efforts will enable you to advance along these paths well before the rest catch up.

Signed Don Ardell

(Ed. Note: Views expressed in this and other columns are those of the author and not necessarily those of the SeekWellness Editorial Board.)

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