You watch the news on almost any given night and, even subtracting something for sensationalism and the 24-hour news cycle, it seems plain that my countrymen (and women) are really pretty suspect. The question, Are the American people stupid? is not an inappropriate one by any means. In this blog I will entertain the question and try to be fair but honest.
My wife was just walking around our kitchen virtually yelling. We both act like Larry David and Elayne Boosler meet for a couple of double espressos from time to time. She and I believe ourselves to be “smarter than the average bear”, informed, reasonable, etc. She exclaimed something like:
“Why do we allow so many stupid people to make choices in society that negatively affect all of us? You have to pass a test to be able to drive, but not in order to be considered a responsible parent able to bring offspring in this world, one that won’t be so distracted as to leave his child in a hot car to die. The president of our country passed no legitimate character tests or critical thinking assessments to see if he could adequately handle the job or handle the public pressure with integrity and dignity. In fact, his professional record proved just the opposite. People are not taught basic skills like how to solve real-life problems, how to plan, how to obtain and cook nutritious food, how to handle rejection and conflict in life without violence, how to balance a checkbook and not get into voluntary financial trouble, how to anticipate situations and prepare for various outcomes, how to value the honor code, whether someone is watching you or not, how to question the source of information you receive, recognize bias, and analyze the facts before drawing your own conclusions. I seriously think half the people in this country are too stupid to have the privilege of the right to vote! Why do we let these people make decisions that affect all of us and continue to let them make detrimental social, financial and violent choices that we have to spend our time, energy, money, and other resources to clean up?”
So, Are the American people stupid? Let’s look at some pro and con evidence.
- The president’s personal attorney paid a porn star to keep quiet about an affair he had with then-candidate Donald Trump – his one and only client – amounting to campaign finance violations. He took out a second mortgage on his house, and then was reimbursed by the president, he said today, when he plead guilty to multiple charges. He faces a stiff jail sentence.
- The Darwin Awards were created to honor (disgrace?) those who have died doing spectacularly stupid things. It is so named because in a society that didn’t have as many protections and “do-overs” as America does, these people would have ended their lives a long time ago. Finally, their stupidity caught up with them. Among the winners (losers?) are: “guy dies being towed in a golf cart by a garden hose”, “founding father of the U.S. dies by sticking a whalebone into his urethra”, and “man polishing gun shoots self in the face“. I mean, have you ever seen the hilarious (disturbing?) shows World’s Dumbest? or 1,000 Ways to Die? The real deal, my friend.
- Steve. That’s all I need to say. Here is the video proof. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNPxIibhcKY
- Mark Kosin points out that “For a nation that has military forces stationed in 177 different countries around the world, one would think that Americans would be especially cognizant of the larger international community.” One would be wrong.
- Check out this startling statement by Alexis C. Madrigal: “With Netflix and Amazon Prime, Facebook Video and YouTube, it’s tempting to imagine that the tech industry destroyed TV. The world is more than 25 years into the web era, after all, more than half of American households have had home Internet for 15 years, and the current smartphone paradigm began more than a decade ago. But no. Americans still watch an absolutely astounding amount of traditional television. In fact, television viewing didn’t peak until 2009-2010, when the average American household watched 8 hours and 55 minutes of TV per day.” Holy shit! Your brain simply will not become educated or stay sharp watching the boob tube for longer than the average work day!
- An alarming percentage of folks believe things that are false or stupid. According to this source:
- About one-third of the American population believe that climate change is mostly caused by “natural changes in the environment”.
- Despite this being disproved multiple times, one-fifth of Americans still believe that the Earth is the center of the universe.
- Around 25% of Americans will go as far as to say that Darwin’s theory of evolution isn’t true.
- Four out of every five Americans are sure that the government is keeping secrets from them about aliens. So far the question, Are the American people stupid? is turning out dismal….
- Very few Americans graduate from college. This means very few have critical thinking skills that are adequately developed, and their store of information is inadequate. Have you ever quizzed an American in a coffee shop about famous persons, geographical locations, or recent news? Don’t even think of asking him or her to name one Nobel laureate. You can forget about inquiring about the poet laureate of the United States; far less than 1%. I didn’t even know. Only one in three knows that water boils at a lower temperature at high altitudes.
- Want to learn about the best country to receive an education? It’s Finland.
- The following graph is heading in the right direction, but with all the money this country has and all the money spent on education, we can hardly graduate folks who can read well enough to perform satisfactorily in college, are you kidding me?
- A recently-published sociology paper indicates that Trump supporters “target minorities and women” and “favor domineering and intolerant leaders who are uninhibited about their biases.” The author of this article points out, “And yet, there’s something puzzling about that equation. If authoritarians, by definition, revere authority, why would they support an anti-establishment candidate like Trump? And why are they OK with his administration slandering bedrock American institutions as the Federal Bureau of Investigation?” Jacobs goes on to drop the bomb: “A second recently published study provides an answer: There are different strains of authoritarian thinking. And support for Trump is associated with what is arguably the most toxic type: authoritarian aggression.” So great, 1/4th of Americans are domineering, supportive of belligerent and unscrupulous demagogues, and don’t like white people losing their long-favored status. Swell.
- Most Americans are fat, lazy, and unhealthy. So confirms the USA Today.
- Have you seen the movie Idiocracy? It hurts me to my soul to watch that wonderful movie. It depicts America in like 2200, after many generations of having kids (especially the lower social class), losing our edge, becoming lazier, and growing absolutely idiotic. It makes for great entertainment, but even the director/writer Judd Apatow remarked recently how scary it is that his movie seems to be coming true twenty years after it debuted. It’s very dark stuff when the ignorant have children much faster than the rest, and jobs become automated, and politics has reached an abysmally-low level of quality and ethics.
- I get that being poor in America is dispiriting. And that Republicans have made some moves toward both gerrymandering and voter disenfranchisement. But seriously, look at this graph on voter turnout. How stupid do you have to be to be on the receiving end of the shit coming down the pike and not get your butt to the polls to try to select the lesser-of-the-two-evils? Yes, I know that our system is more of an oligarchy than a democracy, but still! Vote first, complain later. I mean, the rich are getting richer, vote in large numbers, and the non-rich outnumber the rich 10:1 or even 100:1. What gives?
- Americans are some of the most religious people in the world. This is not, by and large, good. Yes, there are some benefits (read this blog about religion), but have you talked to an evangelical Christian lately? Like, the ones who feel the rapture is coming, they are going to heaven and I’m going to hell, abortion is always wrong, Trump is a great man, and the Bible is literally true? It’s not pretty. Here is what Bill Maher said on this topic:
- “The hour is getting very late to be able to indulge in having in key decisions made by religious people. By irrationalists, by those who would steer the ship of state not by a compass, but by the equivalent of reading the entrails of a chicken.”
- Ask comedian Dennis Miller, Are the American people stupid? and you’ll probably get a couple of raised eyebrows, as in, “Yes, of course they are.” He probably thinks Americans are great since he turned politically conservative and needs to make money making Fox News fans happy. But he did say this:
- “Another reason we’re great is because we create things here, things of unique beauty, things that unconsciously interweave the American attributes of ingenuity, optimism, gluttony, and narrow-mindedness. Things like: ‘All You Can Eat’ restaurants … The Clapper … street-legal, semiautomatic grenade weapons that even the Tontons Macoute didn’t have … the temporary insanity plea … cutting-edge CD-ROM technology used for porno … deep-fried cheese … bans on toy guns … rain ponchos for dogs … Orange Julius … Orange County … beer can hats … plea bargaining … being able to plug your parents with bullets and getting acquitted [the Menendez Brothers]… indeed we’re even free over here to subscribe to 500 channels of cable only to find out that that piece of shit, William Katt’s superhero show, is on 498 of them…”
- With Russia and who knows who else tinkering with social media (which was invented to make corporations money, by the way), it’s alarming when two-thirds of Americans use social media as a news source (source). According to Pew Research, the number of Americans who read newspapers has declined in recent years.
Asking the question, Are the American people stupid? seems to generate one point for “Yes, it sure seems that way.” It’s depressing. I can’t say that my experiences at the DMV, dealing with City Hall, driving on public streets and interstates, or trying to put out a series of books attempting to promote wisdom has caused me to really doubt the answer is yes. Right now I am too depressed and too tired of typing to continue, so my positive response to the question, Are the American people stupid? will have to wait until I recover!
I will throw this your way, though. A pretty savvy guy, Michael Shermer, is a professional skeptic. He wrote a book entitled Why People Believe Weird Things. Debunks pseudoscience and such. Here is a quote, though it’s a little dense: “It is a given assumption in the skeptical movement — elevated to a maxim, really — that intelligence and education serve as an impenetrable prophylactic against the flim-flam that we assume the unintelligent and uneducated masses swallow with credulity. Indeed, at the Skeptics Society we invest considerable resources in educational materials distributed to schools and the media under the assumption that this will make a difference in our struggle against pseudoscience and superstition. These efforts do make a difference, particularly for those who are aware of the phenomena we study but have not heard a scientific explanation for them, but are the cognitive elite protected against the nonsense that passes for sense in our culture? Is flapdoodle the fodder for only fools? The answer is no. The question is, Why?”
So, in sum, Are the American people stupid? deserves an answer such as the following: Yes and no. We as a society do not particularly value critical thinking, and probably less than 10% ever take even one philosophy class. There is more religion in this country than is reasonable, and the educational system leaves a lot to be desired. We watch more sports that we read, and, as Dennis Miller put it, “Calling someone an ‘Einstein’ is considered to be somewhat of an insult!” Black kids who study and try to fit in with the general culture (e.g., get ahead in life) are labeled “white” and denigrated. The country is being led by a mad narcissist compulsive liar, and politics has been almost wholly taken over by moneyed interests who only want to feather their own nest. People love money and power and fame more than knowledge and education and wisdom. Social media is making us less happy and less fulfilled. We’re in a lot of trouble in this country, and educational standards and quality are alarming. We’d better change direction before we get where we’re going, as the Native American proverb puts it.
Here is Part II to the question, “Are the American People Stupid?, entitled “Americans Aren’t Stupid, They’re Lazy and Misled“
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