Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Reality Deficits

A couple of months ago, on Morning Edition, there was a professor who specialized in Pakistani history talking about why so many Pakistanis have such crazy ideas about the United States (for example, that the U.S. funds the Taliban). She said it was due to a "reality deficit."

Reality deficit! The term struck me immediately. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Now, I don't want to imply that every boneheaded belief is due to ignorance. For example, I suspect that most Young Earthers are well aware of the preponderance of evidence regarding the true age of the Earth. They aren't boneheaded because of a deficit of reality. They're just boneheaded because they choose to be.

On the other hand, I think there's a constant stream of evidence that the boneheaded ideas of many so-called Tea Party members and many religious conservatives can be chalked up to reality deficits. Some good examples are the many so-called Tea Partiers that I've heard claiming that Obama should be impeached for violating the Constitution, or that the Constitution states that Christianity is the official religion of the U.S., but who, when questioned, admit that they have never actually read the Constitution. This ignorance creates a knowledge vacuum -- aka a reality deficit -- that can be filled in or made up by any talking head or radio jockey saying pretty much whatever he wants. You see, the real value of the idea of reality deficits, as expressed by that Pakistani professor, isn't just that people are ignorant. No, the real insight goes a step further: It's how this missing reality leaves a gap into which obviously wrong ideas can be easily poured.

So much attention these days is being directed at budget deficits. In my humble opinion, those aren't the deficits that should really be scaring us.

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