Once upon a time there were these white guys that came together to hash out the structures of government for a new nation. They were pretty smart. In fact, they actually really had a fear of ignorant and just plain stupid people. They also were afraid of tyrants—especially religious ones. But that’s irrelevant for this story right now.

This bunch really liked democracy, thought it was a nice idea, believed in rights and stuff. But they were smart enough to realize that in a democracy, if the majority of citizens are just plain idiots, that doesn’t really make for a very functional, beneficial government. So instead, they turned to the idea of a republic. This republic was supposed to act as a buffer against tyranny by the stupid mob.

But, said these men, if citizens of this new country are going to vote—even for representatives—they had better be at least somewhat educated so that they can make proper decisions when voting. It is, after all, a social contract, in which each person gives up some freedom to ensure that the liberties of everyone are protected by the sovereign entity to which all subscribe.

Unfortunately, all the buffers that those genius old men put up over 200 years ago have snapped under the weight of the complex nation that arose from those thirteen initial colonies. Since then, we’ve gone through events that have contorted the pretty American picture painted by the Founders’ idealism. We’ve been participated in genocide of Native Americans, Civil War, slavery, eugenics, imperialism, terrorist attacks, secret operations to exploit others, a Civil Rights Movement, assassinations, the “war on drugs,” anti-immigration policies, corporate takeover, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Instead of being an “informed” polity, Americans overdose on stupefying reports by the media. Yes, stupefying. Because the way the media (and even our classroom textbooks) report what’s going on in the world—domestic and abroad, past and present—literally makes those who read it unconscious to reality.

There is no simplified version of reality, and yet everything we are taught is served to us on a silver platter comprising out-of-context clips and quotes and a deluge of facts without anyone to critically analyze or question them.

Let’s think about how we got to this place. For centuries—indeed, since before the founding of this nation—white colonists and later Americans have been denying access to the marketplace of ideas to specific groups: women, any person of color, any non-land-owning white person, immigrants, etc. Denying access means that these groups have been denied the ability to contribute to the production of mainstream public opinion, sentimentality, ideology, and culture.

In other words, we have a long history of unquestioningly accepting whatever the “authorities” say. There have been only brief periods in our history in which people have really challenged authority, but this is not one of those eras.

Today, among hippy college kids, being outside of the “mainstream” is “cool.” But face the fact that mainstream America holds the power because of their numbers and their political clout. So if you’re under the impression that you’re cool because you think mainstream is uncool, you should realign your values: You should give a shit that mainstream tends to mean unconscious to reality. You should give a shit that being “mainstream” means being part of the majority that just floats along the political and social brook of ignorance.

Whether you sit along the edge of the river or you’re floating along in it, it’s going to continue to erode the foundations of that democratic republic those beloved old men created. And then we’re all just shit out of luck, because when everything’s flooded only those at the top will be fine. Even more, they’ll be the ones that throw you the lifeboat…or not.