Some time in the 1980s while I was teaching high school English in rural upstate South Carolina, my home town, a student turned in an essay about Pink Floyd, a group my students knew I liked.
The student’s essay raved about Pink Floyd — as a person, not a group. The irony of this, of course, was totally lost on the student. 
Throughout my 30-plus years teaching, I have encountered dozens of smug, cavalier know-nothings like that student. Too uninformed to even be able to conceive that their ignorance is entirely transparent.
Know-nothings often surround themselves with know-nothings, and the resulting echo chamber is truly stunning. They find themselves clever, and cool; they are ultimately self-perpetuating, and self-sustaining.
Young males often fall into this trap as a pursuit of coolness to hide their insecurities; young women are drawn to feigned know-nothingness as a ploy to attract guys, also a defense against insecurity.
Many if not most grow out of the know-nothing-as-cool/attractive phase.
But enough don’t that the know-nothings have now elected the master of know-nothing president, and that know-nothing president has surrounded himself with know-nothings to run the country.
The great irony of the culture of know-nothingness is that these people are compelled to appear knowledgable while having no capacity for knowledge.
The evidence is easy to confirm:
- Trump completely oblivious to who Frederick Douglass is.
- SOE Betsy DeVos’s Tweet misspelling W.E.B. Du Bois, and then misspelling again in the apology.
- Trump’s inauguration poster using “to” for “too.”
- The GOP Tweeting a false quote attributed to Lincoln.
These examples from our political elites have their roots in right-wing radio where Rush Limbaugh often holds forth quoting Shakespeare’s “brevity is the soul of wit” (clueless that this is the comment of a buffoon, not a pearl of wisdom) and repeatedly calling Ayn Rand “Anne.”
Here are the remnants of know-nothings to add to the culture of lies and the flippant serial plagiarism that characterize Trump and company.
And as a result of this flurry of know-nothingness, post-truth, and fake news, many have begun to turn to literature, from George Orwell to Margaret Atwood.
While I appreciate the focus on dystopian science fiction that addresses the power of manipulating words, facts, and truth — see Orwell and Atwood — many are glossing over the importance of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which dramatizes the normalizing of the know-nothing culture that now controls our country.
I highly recommend Amusing Ourselves to Death: Huxley vs Orwell, a careful side-by-side graphic comparison of the work by these two authors from Neil Postman who argued in favor of Huxley’s warnings being more apt.
Huxley, the graphic notes, envisioned a people distracted by pleasure, reality TV replacing the urge to read or to seek knowledge.
Huxley recognized the bankruptcy of over-stimulated consumers, bathed in the glow of screen after screen and the incessant access to information.
Huxley feared how truth and fake news would blur in the collective consciousness of a people who just want to have fun — orgy-porgy.
Huxley drew on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, titling his novel in a way that is ominous and satirical since Miranda is deluded by her idealism: “How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,/ That has such people in’t!”
Imagine, then, that the know-nothing student in my class trying to curry favor without making any real effort had been the son of a racist millionaire who left him a huge inheritance and a cushy leg up on a career as a huckster.
He could have been well on his way to the presidency.