I recently returned home after two weeks of engagements in New Zealand and Australia focusing on empowerment through reading. The Kiwis and Aussies are not very different from Americans, even though they inhabit the opposite side of the globe.
I was struck by the way many people perceived the political atmosphere in the United States. Although the well-educated individuals who have access to all of the American cable channels tend to be well informed on the issues, most people had only heard that America has finally repaired its broken medical system with the advent of Obamacare and now everyone, including the indigent, has excellent health care.
They were under the impression that most Americans are very happy with Obamacare and with their wonderful president, who had ushered in a great new day in America with his brilliance in many areas.
Many people were shocked when I relayed the facts about the deleterious effects of Obamacare on employment, skyrocketing insurance premiums and the displacement of health care providers.
Furthermore, they had little knowledge about Benghazi, the Internal Revenue Service scandal, the Veterans Affairs debacle or the depth of our financial woes. In other words, they were just like a multitude of Americans who pay little attention to their news sources and are not curious enough to seek multiple sources and arm themselves with enough historical knowledge to be able to decipher truth from fiction.
Fortunately, I found that most of the people Down Under are not nearly as dogmatic in their beliefs as Americans have become. Our people on either side of the political spectrum tend to be more closed-minded, partaking only of news sources that align with their ideological beliefs and in many cases engaging in the demonization of other information sources.
This, of course, leads to intolerance and ignorance, which are associated with a whole cadre of societal problems. Frequently, that narrow-mindedness is encouraged by hyper-partisan individuals who actually call out news outlets such as the Fox News Channel for ridicule.
Such people might do well to ask themselves what would become of our country if people only heard what the government wanted them to hear. If they could be honest with themselves, I think they would have to admit that they would be uncomfortable in that setting. The mainstream media could provide a great service to the American people, as well as people around the world, by embracing their duty to be objective investigators and reporters of the news. I realize the likelihood of that occurring is small, but hope springs eternal.
Reading was emphasized so strongly among the early settlers of America that anyone who finished the second or third grade was completely literate, as is borne out in the beautiful prose that characterized the writing style and letters of the Western frontiers of America in the early 19th century. Many Southern aristocrats also exhibited impressive writing skills and understanding of the English language.
Interestingly, the same highly educated rulers forbade under enormous penalty the teaching of slaves to read. They fully understood how empowering education and knowledge are. It is likely that Frederick Douglass fled the plantation to escape the wrath of his master, who was displeased that his slave was learning to read. Slaves were supposed to be obedient and grateful for the magnanimous protection and provisions afforded them by their “wonderful” masters.
Today many people in America slavishly devote themselves to a political party without engaging in critical analysis of whether the philosophies of that party are really in sync with their true values and with the betterment of their position in society. If decades of such devotion leads to more broken families, more out-of-wedlock births, more involvement with the criminal justice system, more poverty and more dependency on government, maybe it is time to ask whether such devotion is warranted.
I was honored to be able to encourage many of the disadvantaged young people of Australia and New Zealand to take control of their own destinies through education and reading. I was thrilled by the trip sponsors’ generous financial contributions to the Carson Scholars Fund, enabling us to reach more American students and emphasize the acquisition of knowledge and the development of humanitarian qualities.
I am convinced that the dream of our Founding Fathers of a free nation filled with knowledgeable and caring people who trust in God and accept personal responsibility is still possible. Each of us has a role to play in the realization of that dream. A big part of that role is self-education. We need to read all kinds of books and articles and experience a variety of electronic media. We should not engage in self-censorship, which creates a proclivity for indoctrination. I am convinced that a well-informed American populace will not be manipulated into relinquishing a beautiful American dream for all.
• Ben S. Carson is professor emeritus of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University and author of the new book “One Nation: What We Can All Do To Save America’s Future.”