The Opening of the North Korean Mind
Pyongyang Versus the Digital Underground
Advice for Young Muslims
How to Survive in an Age of Extremism and Islamophobia
The Jacksonian Revolt
American Populism and the Liberal Order
How America Lost Faith in Expertise
And Why That's a Giant Problem
Asia's Other Revisionist Power
Why U.S. Grand Strategy Unnerves China
A Vision of Trump at War
How the President Could Stumble Into Conflict
Intelligence and the Presidency
How to Get It Right
Where to Go From Here
Rebooting American Foreign Policy
The Korean Missile Crisis
Why Deterrence Is Still the Best Option
When Stalin Faced Hitler
Who Fooled Whom?
How to Counter Fake News
Technology Can Help Distinguish Fact From Fiction
Trump Takes Aim at the European Union
Why the EU Won't Unify In Response
Good Foreign Policy Is Invisible
Why Boring Is Better
The Coming Islamic Culture War
What the Middle East's Internet Boom Means for Gay Rights, and More
The Women Who Escaped ISIS
From Abused to Accused
Who Is Narendra Modi?
The Two Sides of India's Prime Minister
Democracy Is Not Dying
Seeing Through the Doom and Gloom
How a Nazi Massacre Came to Be Remembered as Its Opposite
Is Putin Losing Control of Russia's Conservative Nationalists?
What the Matilda Controversy Reveals About His Rule
China's Return to Strongman Rule
The Meaning of Xi Jinping's Power Grab
In 2014, following the Russian invasion of Crimea, The Washington Post published the results of a poll that asked Americans about whether the United States should intervene militarily in Ukraine. Only one in six could identify Ukraine on a map; the median response was off by about 1,800 miles. But this lack of knowledge did not stop people from expressing pointed views. In fact, the respondents favored intervention in direct proportion to their ignorance. Put another way, the people who thought Ukraine was located in Latin America or Australia were the most enthusiastic about using military force there.
The following year, Public Policy Polling asked a broad sample of Democratic and Republican primary voters whether they would support bombing Agrabah. Nearly a third of Republican respondents said they would, versus 13 percent who opposed the idea. Democratic preferences were roughly reversed; 36 percent were opposed, and 19 percent were in favor. Agrabah doesn’t exist. It’s the fictional country in the 1992 Disney film Aladdin. Liberals crowed that the poll showed Republicans’ aggressive tendencies. Conservatives countered that it showed Democrats’ reflexive pacifism. Experts in national security couldn’t fail to notice that 43 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Democrats polled had an actual, defined view on bombing a place in a cartoon.
Increasingly, incidents like this are the norm rather than the exception. It’s not just that people don’t know a lot about science or politics or geography. They don’t, but that’s an old problem. The bigger concern today is that Americans have reached a point where ignorance—at least regarding what is generally considered established knowledge in public policy—is seen as an actual virtue. To reject the advice of experts is to assert autonomy, a way for Americans to demonstrate their independence from nefarious elites—and insulate their increasingly fragile egos from ever being told they’re wrong.
This isn’t the same thing as the traditional American distaste for intellectuals and know-it-alls. I’m a professor, and I get
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