How Sex, Politics, Money and Religion are Killing Planet Earth

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Literacy, Belief and the Environment - Part I

ProLiteracy Worldwide is an international nonprofit organization with a stated purpose of:

“Sponsoring the educational programs and services that help adults and their families acquire the literacy practices and skills they need to function more effectively in their daily lives and to participate in the transformation of their societies.”

ProLiteracy Worldwide also offers the results of the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) released in December 2005. The NAAL defines five levels of literacy as follows:

Nonliterate in English – individuals who cannot understand enough English to take part in the assessment.

Below Basic – individuals range from being non-literate in English to having the ability to find easily identifiable information in short text or a form and to follow written directions to complete that simple form. Below basic individuals cannot read an informative article and answer basic questions about what they have read.

Basic – individuals are able to complete simple, everyday literacy tasks, such as reading and understanding information in short, commonplace texts and simple documents. However, when given a chart to interpret, only 4% of people with basic literacy skills could effectively interpret the information on the chart.

Intermediate – individuals at the intermediate level can complete moderately challenging literacy tasks including consulting reference materials and reading maps. They are also competent in basic problem solving skills.

Proficient – proficient individuals can read long sections of complex and abstract text and integrate that information and make references from it.

After testing a random sample of more than 19,000 adults above the age of 16, the NAAL found given the above definitions, a mere 13% scored in the proficient range. 14% of adults scored in the below basic range. Basic and intermediate scores were 29% and 44%, respectively. The inference from this study is that almost half of the adult United States voting public cannot read a moderately technical news article and make an informed decision based on what they have read.

So how does the voting public make decisions if they are clearly not making them from a position of possessing knowledge and facts regarding a specific issue? The answer, well known to political strategists is they respond with their emotions rather than their intellect. Instead of the nation as a whole progressing towards a bright future that serves the interests of democracy, humanity, the environment and global stewardship, in the game of emotional politicking, the argument with the best propaganda and most money to spread it, wins.

Examples of political emotional manipulations are the far right’s use of the issues of abortion and gay marriage. While we live in a world where the global economy is collapsing, climate change threatens the very existence of life itself and wars rage across the globe, citizens of the most powerful nation on earth base their vote on giving civil rights to embryos and denying basic civil rights to gay adults. Ironically, those same people who would impose their values onto the lives of others claim a moral and religious high ground. In the misinformed and ignorant world of the citizens manipulated by the right wing platform, embryos are babies and homosexuals are choosing a life of sin. Neither of these misconceptions is remotely true, but to an individual unused to thinking critically, the far right’s simple, emotional interpretation of the issues is the often easiest to digest.

Unless we have received a good education, we won’t have an understanding of exactly what an embryo is. Right to life advocates further their cause with propaganda showing fully formed human fetuses in the womb complete with fingers, toes and functional nervous system to emphasize their argument that abortion kills babies. A visual including an embryo of less than 100 cells with no discernable human-like features and no discernable nervous system (hence, no ability to feel pain), would probably not arouse the passion of countless millions of right to life advocates, but in overwhelming majority of cases of abortion, it is the embryo not the fetus that is being aborted. A cow suffers significantly more when we slaughter it than the embryo, but we happily munch away on our McDonald’s hamburgers without a second thought of ethics.

Once diagnosed as mental illness, homosexuality has long since been recognized by the psychiatric community as a normal, congenital characteristic that simply exists within a population like green eyes, dark skin or attached earlobes. How can we deny people civil rights simply based on their biology? As a nation, we would be better served denying the ignorant the right to marry; thus, preventing the spreading their shallow minds to their potential progeny.

Adding to the absurdity of the fundamentalist stance against gay marriage is the staunch insistence that God prescribes marriage between one man and one woman. In typical ignorant fashion, it is obvious that these extreme right wingers have never read their own bible in its entirety. If they had, they would note that nowhere in the bible does our contemporary version of marriage appear. Instead, Yahweh dictates that marriage is a financial agreement between a man and his wives’ (note the plural) fathers. One man plus one woman is never cited as the optimum nuptial condition. The more enlightened Jesus is completely mum on the subject of marriage except to note that once married, one should stay that way.

The same conservative politics of emotion that now seeks to withhold the right of gay people to marry the people of their choice once forbade interracial marriage claiming the same religious moral high ground. Even though the man Jesus would never have offered any form of discrimination as acceptable, the ignorant fundamentalists discriminate freely against all who do not share their opinions in His name.

When it comes to the complex issues of saving the planet from total environmental destruction, those without basic scientific education are incapable of making reasonable voting choices. The combustion of fossil fuels that fire our power plants, automobiles and airplanes results in the emission of many waste products including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ozone, nitrogen compounds, sulfurous compounds and volatile organic compounds to name a few. Each of these emissions has a plethora of environmental consequences of which global warming and acid rain are only two. Without an adequate scientific education, however, the public can be easily persuaded that it is all a great conspiratorial lie. Even as the increasing frequency of raging storms, melting ice caps, floods and drought display daily truths about climate change, those who don’t understand the science find it is easier to believe that global warming simply isn’t true. It is much easier and emotionally reassuring to simplistically believe in a God in heaven who is in control of everything rather than face the horrific truth that we are destroying ourselves and our planet.

In Germany after to World War II, it was considered taboo to teach the details of the Holocaust to German children in public classrooms. Consequently, an entire generation of Germans grew up not having any awareness of the great atrocities committed in their country in the name of public interest. When the information did start to work its way into mainstream curriculum some 15 years or so later, many people were unable to accept this information as fact. It was and continues to be easier for them to believe that the Holocaust was a Jewish conspiracy rather than an appalling act carried out by their own people. When education is lacking, facts become subjective.

To be continued...

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