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Rural idiocy is a phrase coined by Karl Marx to describe the attitude of 19th century peasants that included hidebound conservatism, parochialism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia, ignorance, distrust, economic risk aversion and the inability to cooperate with others in collective endeavors. He was convinced that such attitudes prevented peasants from acting as a revolutionary class.

The modern usage describes a related phenomenon. Contemporary rural idiocy appears in small towns whose residents' encounters with the outside world are largely mediated by television or radio. As a consequence their social and political attitudes are shaped by a misperception of their relative importance in the world and by televised images and soundbytes of the threatening Other. The ethnic or racial Other usually reflects the threatening images offered in electronic mass media, especially television.

The attitudes and mistrust of strangers also exhibit themselves in urban areas, where self imposed isolation from the local community in favor of television and other forms of electronic media become the primary means that people use to gather information about their fellow man. If the routine of life (home, work, home, work) limits people's interaction with social circles and expanded circles of family and friends, these people are not able to judge others beyond the criteria established by the representatives of humanity that exist on a two dimensional screen.

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