I am sadly convinced that we are on the verge of a new dark age fueled by an ignorance and paranoia that contributed to the fertile ground that allowed a Dylann Roof to thrive. When academia and the educated are demonized, it provides a space for witlessness to be placed on equal footing with rigorous scholarship. Equal time, in a perverted understanding of fairness, is given to views that are based on paranoia and sheer stupidity. This is obvious when we accept at face value the claims of those who deny climate change or the holocaust or the moon landing, or those who argue that more guns means safety and fewer deaths in spite of the overwhelming empirical evidence to the contrary. These outrageous views are symptomatic of a society that chooses darkness over enlightenment for the selfish cause of advancing their own self-interest or an outdated ideology attempting to hold on to a supremacy within society that is being challenged.
Such individuals are the intellectual progenies of the last Dark Age where superstitions, backed by the church, insisted that the sun revolved around the earth, or that illnesses were caused by demons rather than germs. And yet, with all of our education and access to information, we cling to paranoia and ignorance because we prefer the chains brought about by fear rather than a truth that can set us free. And what makes this situation worse is how politicians, pandering for votes, encourage fear and ignorance in order to get elected.
An example is the current fear that somehow the United States is preparing to invade Texas (news alert: Texas is already a state and thus part of the United States so it can’t be invaded). This past Wednesday, on July 15th, the U.S. army began a two-month scheduled training exercise (called Jade Helm) across the Southwestern United States. Immediately, right-wring pundits took to the airwaves to insist that guns were going to be confiscated, Obama was going to round up and detain opponents at concentration camps, the U.S. Constitution was going to be suspended, and Obama was going to declare himself president for life. As funny as these dire predictions may sound, whites took them seriously, buying more guns and ammo (to the joy of the NRA) and mobilizing to defend themselves from themselves – the U.S.
What makes this tragic is that politicians, rather then alleviating paranoia, poured gasoline on the embers of distrust. The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott (R) contributed to the suspicion when he ordered the Texas State Guard to “continuously monitor” Jade Helm to reassure Texans that “their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed.” By the way, for the record, if the United States wanted to declare war on Texas, I sincerely doubt that whites clinging to their rifles would be any match against the most militarily powerful empire the world has ever known – a military force that costs, by 2012, $711 billion, representing about 41 percent of the world’s total military spending or equal to the next 14 countries combined.
Yes, perpetuating fear and ignorance helps politicians get reelected and allows the NRA to become more entrenched in American society. But here is the real irony. Whites are not under attack. Whites represents the majority of those who occupy Wall Street, corporate Boardrooms, Congress, Courts, Police Departments; and control the largest share of U.S. wealth and income. What the celebration of ignorance does produce are many more Dylann Roofs who become a threat to society, specifically communities of color. Since 9/11, almost twice as many people have been killed on U.S. soil by white supremacists and antigovernment supporters (48) than by self-proclaimed Muslim jihadists (26). Whites may fear Muslims, but communities of color fear armed whites. Roof was not a Muslim but an antigovernment white racist whose views are encouraged by politicians, protected by gun lobbyists, and celebrated by antigovernment fanatics. According to Dr. Kurzman, whose study will be published by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security and the Police Executive Research Forum, “Law enforcement agencies around the country have told us the threat from Muslim extremists is not as great as the threat from right-wing extremists.”
Roof responded with violence because the education he received taught him that whites were under attack, that they lost their country, that they needed to take back their county, and that the threat are the “colors” – rapist Mexicans crossing the borders or oversexed black bucks living off welfare. Roof’s worldview is, unfortunately shared by many of our politicians, some of whom are currently presidential candidates.
But before we rush to deem academia as the savior of humanity who can deliver us from the Dylann Roofs in our country, it is crucial to recognize that intellectual, in many cases, abandoned their responsible to raise consciousness in exchange for secured tenured positions or accolades from their peers. If what we need is straight talk from those who spend a lifetime studying and contemplating, academia becomes complicit with the education of Dylann Roof when it engages in mental masturbation, confusing obtuseness for brilliance. As an academic, I at times am hopeless when I see colleagues who look down at those of us who obtained our academic credentials from a community college rather than some Ivy League institution. While I agree that the task of an academic is to better understand how the world works, it is just as important to work to understand how to better the world.
If we in the academy refuse to get off our pedestals and don’t begin to walk in solidarity with flesh and blood individuals, speaking their language by making our complex thoughts accessible, and walking in solidarity (not paternalistically leading) toward a more just society, then more Dylann Roofs will arise to find an intellectual home among those who choose violence, guns, and religion to explain their bitterness over the lost of their secure place within white supremacy.
 China ($143B), Russia ($71.9B), United Kingdom ($62.7B) , France ($62.5B) Japan ($59.3B), Saudi Arabia ($48.2B), India ($46.8B), Germany ($46.7B), Brazil ($35.4B), Italy ($34.5B), South Korea ($30.8B), Australia (26.7B), Canada (24.7B), and Turkey (17.9B) totals at $711.1 billion.