Righteous Stupidity is now more Harmful than Wickedness

Scott Deshefy


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Luckily, in the 1950s, fostering knowledge was a promotional hook luring parents into stores. Drugstores sold Classics Illustrated and, around 1959, grocers began selling weekly/bi-weekly installments of reference books for students. Among them were Golden Book’s Encyclopedia, its subsequent Home and High School Encyclopedia and an Encyclopedia of Natural Science. To say they were transformative is understatement. My parents shopped at the participating First National Store, and each week I couldn’t wait to pick the latest Golden Book out of its bag. The introductory volume, covering “aardvark to army,” sold for 49 cents. I was age seven. As I turned the encyclopedia’s pages, I suddenly came upon the drawing of a battle scene with the caption, “Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie died with the defenders of the Alamo.” I was stunned. At four years of age, I had idolized both TV-depicted frontiersmen. Scott Forbes portrayed Bowie on television for years. Fess Parker as Crockett became an icon. So, Crockett especially was a childhood hero. Even at age 4, when the Wonderful World of Disney first aired its Davy Crockett trilogy, I was all in. At the Battle of the Alamo, as Buddy Ebsen (who played sidekick “Georgie” Russell) gets shot firing a cannon, gasping “Give ‘em what fer, Davy,” I somehow suppressed the obvious reality Crockett would die there as well. As the camera panned from Fess Parker, totally surrounded, swinging his musket at Santa Anna’s troops, to the mission’s tri-colored flag fluttering in the gun smoke, I believed the impossible, as only a 4-year-old could do. Davy had somehow managed to escape. At 7, forced to separate myth from reality, I dog-eared my encyclopedia’s page and avoided it for days before accepting the truth and, ultimately, becoming an expert on the Alamo.

Austrian-British philosopher of science and social commentator Karl Popper once said: “Ignorance is not simply lack of knowledge but an aversion and refusal to acquire it issued from cowardice, pride, or laziness of mind.” Thusly, no rational argument will educate or reasonably affect someone who refuses to adopt a rational attitude. Truth is a direction, much the way science goes forward using parsimony and sequential simplification. Those who’ve trained as scientists are probably better defined, not by what we know, as by our persistence in seeking that knowledge. Those unwilling to accept facts, by contrast, are lost, dog-earing contradictions to their fantasies, recklessly accommodated by cable “news” outlet echo chambers.

Righteous stupidity is now more harmful than wickedness because extremists with talk shows use conspiracy and fear tactics to convince conservative whites we’re living in a “culture war.” One of their targets is critical race theory (CRT), perhaps traceable to early civil rights activists like W.E.B. Du Bois, but which fully materialized in the 1970s as an academic movement. U.S. social justice scholars argued racism (i.e. white supremacy) persists systemically, empowered by the law and ancillary institutions. As a racial construct, CRT is a logical offshoot of the sociologic philosophy that ideologies historically obstruct human liberation. Espoused by the 1930s Frankfurt School of philosophers, including Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Erich Fromm and later Jurgen Habermas, it drew on ideas of Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx. In theory, problems of society, such as class oppression and hierarchical bourgeoisie, are more results of systemic flaws and cultural assumptions than actual psychology.

All organisms seek a better world and loathe to err. CRT acknowledges systemic racism and seeks to understand its prolonged existence. At its core, CRT rejects the fallacy that what’s in the past is only in the past and totally detached from now, that laws and institutions arising from the past aren’t prone to recapitulate it. CRT isn’t about shaming, but truth seeking. Mea culpas and compunction about America’s history of racism can only improve our way of life, not threaten it. Doing less is just another dog-eared page of childish truth avoidance.

Scott Deshefy is a biologist, ecologist and two-time Green Party congressional candidate.