R Amerikuns Getin Dummer?
You tell me — I was a spelling champion in junior high. Sometimes it feels as if being educated and smart is a curse, when everywhere I look there’s so much ignorance and downright stupidity. I begin to wonder if U.S.A. stands for Unbelievably Stupid Americans. One third of us believe the sun revolves around the Earth. Half cannot name the three branches of government (corporate, banking, and war).
It can be difficult sometimes to tell ignorance from stupidity, but they are two distinct conditions. Ignorance is merely a lack of education, and can be cured by it. Stupidity is terminal, though, and terminal. I can illustrate the point with a 2014 Gallup poll, which showed 42% of Americans believing the creationist view that the world is 6000 years old, and that man was created fully formed by God. When you check the numbers against education, though, you find that of those who went only through high school, 69% held that view. Among college graduates the number was 23%.
This past July 4th, NPR tweeted the entire Declaration of Independence, in 140 character segments. Many people were outraged. There’s a passage that says when a government has become abusive, “it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it.” One man tweeted that NPR was trying to foment a revolution. There are many accusations against King George that sound eerily familiar: “He has refused his Assent to Laws,” or “He has obstructed the Administration of Justice.” And how about this one: “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the Ruler of a free People.” I mean, Zap! It’s easy to understand the reactions of a certain orangutan’s supporters, none of whom have ever bothered to read the document itself. That’s ignorance, and it’s curable. The problem has always been that the patient must want to be cured.
A PPP poll (Public Policy Polling) in August of 2016 found that 31% of Trump supporters were in favor of building a wall along the Atlantic Ocean to keep Muslims from entering the U.S. from the Middle East, as if they were coming by boat. That’s stupidity, plain and simple.
With all the Republican hysteria about voter fraud (it’s their go-to excuse for voter suppression laws), there was only one person who was caught double voting in the 2016 election. She was a Trump supporter from Kansas, I think, and said she did it because she believed Trump’s constant rhetoric about the election being rigged. Stupid with a capital S.
If I had a farm, I’d be willing to bet it, that people who text while driving are totally confident that they are smart enough to be able to manage it. It’s the same with those who eat, shave, apply makeup, or even read while driving. For longer drives, there are plenty of movie channels. These people are stupid, and by our continuing to allow them to endanger the lives of everyone else, shows what a stupid country we are.
Last year Hollywood released a whopping 63 movies based on comic book characters. Why? Because they make lots of money. That to me is an obvious sign that Hollywood doesn’t think we can process anything more demanding. How many films came out based on Shakespeare characters? None come to mind. What’s the most popular TV fare? “Reality” shows, sports, and guys beating the crap out of each other. It’s like living in that movie “Idiocracy.” A guy is transported 500 years into the future, where everybody is stupid. The President of the United States is a former World Wrestling star. Then I see the 2007 video of Trump fake body slamming WWE President Vince McMahon, then fake punching him again and again.
If you don’t think Americans are getting dumber by the minute, consider who they elected last November. This is a man who has never shown a bit of compassion or empathy for anyone in his life. Anyone who believes he gives a rat’s ass about any of them is just stupid.
Okay, I didn’t tell you before, but that’s why they call it a pop quiz.
- What day do we celebrate the 4th of July?
- What color is the White House?
- Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?
- If humans didn’t evolve from apes, then how do you explain Louie Gohmert?
For those who got any of these questions wrong, I offer these easy directions for boiling water: 1. Put water in pan. 2. Put pan on heat. 3. Turn heat on high. 4. Do not watch. The 4th direction is crucial to the operation.
Have you heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect? These researchers found that the more incompetent one is, the more their confidence in their competence. That’s because they lack the competence to evaluate their incompetence. In other words, they’re too stupid to be able to figure out how stupid they are. It’s an epidemic worse than typhoid. Even our own President is afflicted by the virus. He is incurious, doesn’t read, doesn’t appear to be interested in learning anything new, and cannot form a complete sentence. But maybe that’s it. I love H.L. Mencken’s quote: “People deserve the government they get, and they deserve to get it good and hard.” Donald Trump is the embodiment of American stupidity and ignorance. He perfectly illustrates the Dunning-Kruger effect; he actually believes he’s the smartest one in the room, any room, despite what is painfully obvious to anyone with a functioning cerebral cortex.
Speaking of the brain, another new study was just published on the effects of poverty, in Scientific American, Jul. 12, 2017, by Carina Storrs: “How Poverty Affects the Brain.” She talks primarily about the importance of adequate nutrition during a child’s first few years. Those who were trapped in poverty not only had stunted growth, but scored lower in cognitive functions. With Republicans’ hatred of the poor driving cuts to social safety net programs, as well as deregulating environmental protections, they’re unwittingly (or is it wittingly?) creating more and more Fox News viewers.
Then there’s an article I stumbled on while doing research on something else. Good ol’ serendipity. It was titled “Low-Effort Thought Promotes Political Conservatism” (Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2012). Their data suggested that “when effortful deliberate thought is disengaged, endorsement of conservative ideology increases,” and that Right-wing political beliefs arise from a need to manage uncertainty and perceived threat. I remembered a conversation I had with my brother exactly 50 years ago, in 1967. We were talking about “Star Trek,” the new science fiction series on TV. While it had some good ideas, we both agreed it was pretty clunky. I asked him why there isn’t good science fiction on TV and he said, “Because it makes people think, and people don’t like to think.”
On top of that we have the Republicans’ antipathy to education, as evidenced by Betsy De Vos — who has never set foot in a public school — to head the Department of Education. They want a dumbed-down electorate, stupid or ignorant enough to keep buying their bullshit, even though it has never, ever helped them a bit. Just as I was writing this, a new Pew poll came out on the subject. 58% of Republicans believed college had a negative effect, and 36% said it was positive. For Democrats the number was 72% favorable and 19%