I have been traveling to East Asia (and many other parts of the world) for more than 25 years and over that time one of the things that has always struck me is how intelligent the general public in countries like Japan appear to be. It’s not that there aren’t dummies in East Asia, but it always seems that the average level of education and ability to think about the world intelligently and critically is impressively widespread. I’ve often thought about why this is the case and also why the same seems more difficult to say about the U.S. The answer, I think, can be found in a comment science fiction writer Isaac Asimov made about the U.S. while being interviewed in the 1980s: “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
Asimov is right on the mark, and this cult of ignorance is the most serious national security issue facing the U.S. today. It is more important than the external threats from terrorists or the rise of a politically and economically powerful China. And a major part of the reason it is such an major issue for Americans to fix is that our immediate competitors, particularly those in Asia, have managed to create a culture in which rather than a cult of ignorance, a cult of intelligence plays a major role in shaping attitudes about the world and, thus, policies about dealing with other countries.