My grandfather was a genuine hillbilly, a blacksmith from Giles County, Tenn., who moved to Texas to raise a family. He played a fiddle and chewed tobacco and was functionally illiterate.
You might imagine he was suspicious of anyone with an education, but that was not the case. He married a kind woman who raised chickens in the back yard, threw down some scrumptious Sunday dinners and tutored calculus on the side.
Add Rambo — that was his name not a mathematical formula — may have been uneducated, but he valued intelligence. He loved telling the trick of the “blacksmith’s gambit” for anyone too stingy to pay his price for shoeing a horse. He would tell them he could charge by the nail: a penny for the first one, double that for the second and double that for the next, and so on.
There were 8 nails to each shoe. The total for that little bargain works out to this: 2^n-1 which totals $42,949,672.95 rounded up to $43 million.
No one ever took him up on it.
I tell this little anecdote to illustrate how someone as simple as a blacksmith can value knowledge. Those were the days.
Today, our country has somehow fallen into a cult of ignorance, where stupidity and patently false information is revered as long as it is delivered by a convincing spokesperson. And as someone who has been in advertising for a good deal of my life, I can assure you that the right personality could sell refrigerators to Inuit (Eskimo is considered a derogatory term today).
Leading this charge backward into ignorance is the Republican Party, which has discovered that a stupid electorate is a pliable electorate. Not only have they fed our country a steady diet of lies, half-truths and hokum, they have used their spokespeople, like Fox News, to give stupidity a cache.
It is not unusual to see televised sound bite interviews with people agreeing proudly with complete fabrications as though they were truths that were passed on from on high.
“Climate change deniers” and “sovereign citizens” are only the tip of the stupidity iceberg, and now we are faced with folks believing that their “religious liberty” is at stake if they are not free to discriminate and bully anyone they want, as long as they can justify it with “strongly held religious beliefs.”
These are the same folks who read the Bible like it was a single book and who want “less government” unless it concerns LGBTQ people, then more government is OK.
Those are the hard core believers in this cult. But they have developed hangers-on who, by virtue of their intellectual incuriosity, are vulnerable to every fake news story on Facebook or Twitter. What we have is a growing population of people that are proudly basing their decisions on utter lies.
Is it any wonder Donald Trump has struck a chord? He speaks to the ignorant with authority and because he says it with such a bombastic style, they nod in approval. The idea that “he speaks his mind” makes him virtuous, even if he is spouting nonsense and bigotry, proves my point.
At a recent caucus, Republican voters were asked if they approved of repealing slavery and 20 percent did not! This should send shivers down the spine of anyone with a high school education.
The stupid are rallying and if the rest of us do nothing, they will triumph. The Age of Enlightenment is in serious danger of becoming a dim memory.
What can we do? Well, perhaps we should do what my grandfather told me when I was a kid: “Vote! And if your hand ever touches that Republican lever it will catch fire” (his words not mine)!•
Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and board member for the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2016.