I have not read the Patient Protection And Affordable Care Act.
I’d be more ashamed of myself if I weren’t quite certain that I’m not even close to being alone. It would be an overly generous estimate to say that 1 in 1000 people have read it in full. In fact, I’d be willing to wager that less than 1 in 100 people have even read the entirety of the 42 page, 12,967 word Wikipedia synopsis, let alone the 906 pages that make up the full document. For anyone interested in something to help them fall asleep, here is the full Patient Protection And Affordable Care Act in PDF form. After after having simply scanned it, frankly, I’d be surprised if even 20% of our elected officials have read this document in its entirety.
We are easily fooled.
During the last election, critics desiring to claim that the law was overly complex were able to say the document was 2400 pages long without anyone so much as raising an eyebrow. The number was repeated over and over again in letters to editors and even openly displayed on political websites. The fact that this number is wrong and that the real number is 906 is of little consequence. I would think 906 pages is large enough to argue it’s complexity, but apparently not. And the unsuspecting American population just nods their heads up and down, accepting these lies as truth.
I have watched, over and over again these past few days, my friends and family members argue with great passion the good or evil of “Obamacare.” I have read the vitriolic strings knowing full well that most of my friends have never read a non-partisan breakdown of the law, that they have not taken the time to read anything in depth in order to form their own opinion. In fact, I know that most of them are simply reacting to headlines and well crafted soundbites. Democrats and Republicans alike are simply parrots of the media outlets that confirm their own biases.
It appears to me that what we have come to value in our country is the appearance of knowledge, not actual knowledge. Our elected officials know we aren’t really doing our research. They understand that if they say “Affordable Health Care Act” they will get one reaction from the population, and if they say “Obamacare” they will get a completely different reaction. We’re putty in their hands. Skits like this one illustrate just how silly we look sometimes.
Most of the time I’m reading these arguments and I feel like I’m watching two wannabe music experts argue about whether Stairway To Heaven is the greatest rock song in history, when it’s clear that neither of them have actually listened to it. One of them appears to have read a review in Rolling Stone magazine and the other a sermon by Jerry Falwell. It’s sometimes humorous. It’s more often sad.
I keep hoping that a version of Will Hunting will appear in one of these streams, lay down a verbal beating and say, “do you have any thoughts of your own on this matter?” The scene in the Harvard bar, where Matt Damon’s character schools the grad student on the evolution of market economies in the Southern colonies is one of my favorites.
I stay out of most of these conversations mainly because I recognize my own ignorance. I’ve not done my homework. All I have is media soundbites. I’m not a fan of arguing from a position of disinformation. And often, that is the position in which I find myself. I can make any number of excuses for why. That’s not relevant. The first step toward correcting this problem on a large scale is to recognize that the meaning of being informed has shifted dramatically. And then do something about it.
“[The Media] is altering the meaning of ‘being informed’ by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation,” Neil Postman wrote. “Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information – misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information – information that creates the illusion of knowing something, but which in fact leads one away from knowing.”
If you think this is relegated to the political news, you’re wrong. I get the same feeling reading the ongoing debates over listing syndication in the real estate industry. It’s painfully obvious when a comment stream is dominated by people parroting the soundbites of their real estate media outlet of choice. The scale is smaller, but the results are the same.
It’s long past time for us to come to value knowing something over the illusion of knowing something.
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