Isaac Asimov

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What point does Asimov make in "A Cult of Ignorance" and how does it relate to current events?

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Isaac Asimov states that the United States has a long tradition of anti-intellectualism, and notes that when the term "elitist" has begun to be employed as a pejorative to describe the well-educated and particularly those with domain expertise.

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Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

In our current condition in the United States, we immediately suspect that these words cannot be of recent vintage, and in fact, were written nearly two...

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centuries ago by James Madison.

In fact, as Isaac Asimov points out in the 1980 essay "A Cult of Ignorance," America has a long tradition of anti-intellectualism. Indeed, as he says,

The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that, "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."

As a result of this belief, he states, the quality of American education has remained lackluster, producing a populace with little ability to read anything beyond the simplest type of material.

And, at the time of the inception of the Reagan presidency, he notes that the term "elitist" has begun to be employed as a pejorative to describe the well-educated and particularly those with domain expertise. "Don't trust the experts," has become a rallying cry. The problem with these beliefs, he says, is that they inherently disenfranchise those who hold them and insist on remaining ignorant. As Asimov puts it

I contend that the slogan. "America's right to know" is a meaningless one, when we have an ignorant population, and that the function of a free press is zero, when hardly anyone can read.

We now have a president who has an administration dedicated to the reduction of funds for scientific research, the elimination of scientific criteria for environmental research, and a drastic curtailment of educational funding, in general. One could argue, then, that a "cult of ignorance" arguably even worse than that described by Isaac Asimov, is thriving in the United States. One may hope that the nation will soon return to the control of those who believe, with Madison, that knowledge should forever govern ignorance.

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In Asimov's "Cult of Ignorance," what point is he making? How does his point relate to current events? This is for an essay.

Isaac Asimov published the essay in January 1980, during the Jimmy Carter presidency. He was not only alarmed about what he saw as an anti-intellectual climate in his day but concerned that U.S. politicians had always praised ignorance over education. He phrased this as their positing that democracy means equal opportunity not to know.

There is another central argument, however. Asimov is an optimist who sees democracy as equal opportunity to learn. He also claims that education should be more highly valued.

I believe that every human being with a physically normal brain can learn a great deal and be surprisingly intellectual. I believe that what we need badly is social approval of learning and social rewards for learning.

An effective essay that analyzes Asimov's main point and joins it to current events could take one of several directions.

You might agree that there is a current cult of ignorance, or you may not. If you agree, you might further concur that there has always been such a cult. If you endorse both points, you could likewise argue that we can change it through education.

Of course, you can also opt to disagree with any of his points.

In relation to the current state of U.S. affairs, you might focus on politics or education. In 2018, teachers went on strike in several states. Do their low salaries indicate the United States doesn't value education? Yet a higher percentage of Americans have college degrees than ever before. Perhaps that shows the high esteem in which education is held.

The direction you take will largely depend on which, if any, of Asimov's arguments you find persuasive.

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