Knowledge, opinion, and a Pew Research study

Figures published by the Pew Research Center, published this week, undo illusions that Americans are in the aggregate informed or aware of world events.

It doesn’t bother me personally that approximately 52% of Americans know nothing of the events taking place in Egypt. Yes, it is appalling, especially insofar as Americans might pretend to any interest in issues of ‘freedom’, ‘liberty’, or ‘democracy’ (whether in the abstract or in concrete terms). Not everyone is capable of fully grasping, let alone understanding, how this will affect the interests of individual Americans; the significance of what will happen in the transition; or what role people in the Egyptian military will fill. I suppose I could ask whether people who are not Egyptians should be paying much attention.

It is arguable that the other 48%, who may think they understand the significance of events, if they have their facts straight, actually have no clue either. As I said, people have to live their lives. I shouldn’t expect non-Egyptians (just to continue with the Egyptian protests, as an example) to be intimately aware of all aspects of this revolution, of its history, or of the implications upon and relationship with regional events. Egypt is actually and metaphorically on the other side of the planet for most of the people of the world. Egypt, too, is just one country. Isn’t this similarly true for most issues, after all? We all live our lives locally.

Here is the appalling point to this, the point I am most concerned about and one that can be extended to so many other issues: It is the scale and application of that ignorance. It doesn’t surprise me, but it still sort of disgusts me, just from what I know of my fellow citizens: A similar survey concerning movies and television would reveal, I think, that most people would have a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of the latest “Hollywood Magic Story Night”, or whatever, while having absolutely no clue about the single biggest piece of news on the planet. Never mind that fully half of all Americans can’t find Egypt on a world map; one-third can’t find America on a world map. Are they the same Americans as in this Pew Research Center study? I don’t know. But, the same 52% who are so unaware nevertheless still have an opinion about those things which they admit knowing nothing about! Personally – and this is just a funny quirk of mine – I prefer to consider the opinion, right or wrong, of the 48% who at least know a few facts.

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