Are you one of the many Americans who is growing stupider with every moment that passes?

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    Feb 19, 2008 3:17 AM GMT
    Both the NY Times and Salon.com have recently run reviews of Susan Jacoby's new book, "The Age of American Unreason." Jacoby maintains that religious fundamentalism and the odd belief that opinion is as "true" as actual fact have inaugurated a new epoch of American stupidity.

    The NY Times article (http://tinyurl.com/3y7ckg) opens with this anecdote:

    "A popular video on YouTube shows Kellie Pickler, the adorable platinum blonde from “American Idol,” appearing on the Fox game show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” during celebrity week. Selected from a third-grade geography curriculum, the $25,000 question asked: “Budapest is the capital of what European country?”

    "Ms. Pickler threw up both hands and looked at the large blackboard perplexed. “I thought Europe was a country,” she said. Playing it safe, she chose to copy the answer offered by one of the genuine fifth graders: Hungary. “Hungry?” she said, eyes widening in disbelief. “That’s a country? I’ve heard of Turkey. But Hungry? I’ve never heard of it.”


    The Salon piece (http://tinyurl.com/ywxg82) says this:

    "The chief manifestations of this newly virulent irrationality are the rise of fundamentalist religion and the flourishing of junk science and other forms of what Jacoby calls "junk thought." The mentally enfeebled American public can now be easily manipulated by flimsy symbolism, whether it's George W. Bush's bumbling, accented speaking style (labeling him as a "regular guy" despite his highly privileged background) or the successful campaign by right-wing ideologues to smear liberals as snooty "elites." Unable to grasp even the basic principles of statistics or the scientific method, Americans gullibly buy into a cornucopia of bogus notions, from recovered memory syndrome to intelligent design to the anti-vaccination movement."

    Have you noticed the epidemic of stupidity?


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    Feb 19, 2008 3:23 AM GMT

    abso-freakin-lutely

    that said, it is why this country is in the state it is in -- starting w/ stupidity and ignorance from the top
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    Feb 19, 2008 3:40 AM GMT
    B787 said
    abso-freakin-lutely

    that said, it is why this country is in the state it is in -- starting w/ stupidity and ignorance from the top


    Amen.. I only have two words.. George Bush

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    Feb 19, 2008 3:56 AM GMT
    It was the movie Forrest Gump that made me realize that stupidity was not merely on the rise but was actually being transformed into an admirable measure of normality.

    bush_ducttape2.jpg
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    Feb 19, 2008 3:59 AM GMT
    No, I don't buy that America is more stupid now than it has been. People demand from an all too willing media to give them the sort of shows that run on MTV2 or quiz shows with questions taken from a third-grade geography text. There isn't more stupidity it is just more visible.

    To make it sound grand, it is the democratization of stupidity.
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    Feb 19, 2008 4:04 AM GMT
    Didn't you mean more stupidericon_question.gif
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    Feb 19, 2008 4:16 AM GMT
    I think that there's just a larger number of stupid people because of our huge population growth over the years. It's not so much that we've grown more insipid than ever - overall. It's that we've got more airheads, bimbos, and yes-men than we've ever had before. Whom else would be responsible for Bush being in office, and for Britney being so relevant in the news.

    It doesn't help that the youtube generation is hopeless about it's future and just sitting with it's hands under it's ass. If anyone going to prove this current up and coming generation a great one, it should start with it's media, and it's most simplist spokesperson. Damn Pickler and her bubblegum airhead persona. She should only be on television during drug awareness campaign, and not on as an example of what being easy and stupid can get you. Silly bitch.
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    Feb 19, 2008 4:19 AM GMT
    MunchingZombie saidNo, I don't buy that America is more stupid now than it has been. People demand from an all too willing media to give them the sort of shows that run on MTV2 or quiz shows with questions taken from a third-grade geography text. There isn't more stupidity it is just more visible.

    To make it sound grand, it is the democratization of stupidity.

    I'm not so sure. I have a bunch of friends on college faculties and they all complain constantly about the ever worsening writing skills they see in freshman classes -- to say nothing of a broad lack of critical thinking. Also, my understanding is that American public school students are falling farther behind their European peers in several areas.

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    Feb 19, 2008 4:22 AM GMT
    Not stupider, but much lazier.

    Being informed takes mental work. Memory is to a large extent something that can be trained, but students are taught to pride themselves on learning only what's necessary to pass the test, and on the speed at which they subsequently forget the facts they've stuffed themselves with. I was a teacher for three years, I saw this firsthand.

    When a student asked me "will this be on the test?", my answer was invariably, "yes." What I really meant was, "learn something, you lazy fuck."
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    Feb 19, 2008 4:35 AM GMT
    jprichva saidWhat I really meant was, "learn something, you lazy fuck."


    Or think ahead...
    Anticipate...
    Project what will happen...
    What are the possible outcomes of this scenario...

    I've had it with bright people who've parroted the text, but can't apply the metaphor.
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    Feb 19, 2008 4:38 AM GMT
    American Idol, Perez Hilton, Fergie, Britney, Paris, FOX News, Dubya and many others are all causes and/or symptoms of the continuing dumbification of America.
    Dumb people
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    Feb 19, 2008 4:51 AM GMT
    jprichva saidNot stupider, but much lazier.

    Being informed takes mental work. Memory is to a large extent something that can be trained, but students are taught to pride themselves on learning only what's necessary to pass the test, and on the speed at which they subsequently forget the facts they've stuffed themselves with. I was a teacher for three years, I saw this firsthand.

    When a student asked me "will this be on the test?", my answer was invariably, "yes." What I really meant was, "learn something, you lazy fuck."


    Out of curiosity, how does your observation of increased laziness preclude the possibility of increased stupidity?

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    Feb 19, 2008 4:57 AM GMT
    I don't know if it's that Americans are more stupid or that the more stupid Americans are so proudly owning it! I am reminded of a few things:

    I was at a job a few years ago in which the subject of Tennessee came up and mention of the state capital. I said, of course, that it was Nashville. A room of college educated people argued with me about this. They countered that with the country music industry there it was unlikely that capital would also be there, and that different people thought it was Memphis, Knoxville or Chattanooga. The climax came when one woman said, "Dave, we all agree that it isn't Nashville, so clearly it isn't!" An Atlas later they were seeking to disband the meeting quickly!

    That someone thinks a fact can be "outvoted!" Sheesh!

    Second, I remember a David Letterman joke:

    The Average Japanese Kid--made the highest score on his math test.
    The Average American Kid--beat up the kid who made the highest score on his math test.

    Again, it seems that people want a badge for being "down to earth" or "relatable" because they strive to know more about the world. They see people who are smart and well-read as putting on airs or pretending to be what they are not.

    In the 2000 election a poll revealed that 90% (!!) of the people thought Gore was smarter, but 80% thought Bush was "more Presidential."

    I've had acquaintances dismiss Bush's inability to communicate by saying "just because he doesn't know the best grammar or pronunciation doesn't mean he's stupid." To which I countered, "If you see an overweight guy you know that he isn't running two miles a day; if you hear a guy who can't pronounce nuclear then you know he isn't the brightest bulb on the tree." icon_lol.gif
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    Feb 19, 2008 5:17 AM GMT
    Let us not forget this recent example of radiant intellect.

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    Feb 19, 2008 5:20 AM GMT
    Is the total amount of stupidity increasing, or do we just have more efficient means for spreading stupidity around? It could be that through use of tabloids, televisions broadcasts, and the internet, the background stupidity levels are homogenized sufficiently to choke out the always-rare islands of intelligence that once existed.

    Scoring a set of college essays is indeed a frightening task. However, remember that universities were more elitist in the past. There used to be significant matriculation requirements. Now, anybody who can fill out a student loan application (or have one filled out for them) can get in. But on the other hand, I recently browsed through a bundle of my great-grandmother's correspondence. None of those people had more than a high school education, and sometimes less, but they could all write coherent, grammatically correct letters. Most college graduates today cannot. Hmmm.

    (Aside: It's somewhat amusing that many right-wing stupidities are bemoaned here, but nobody mentions any left-wing stupidities. It's not as if there are any fewer of them.)

    In any case, Jasper Fforde examines the issue in depth in his recent novel, "Thursday Next: First Among Sequels." Due to some inexplicably rational acts of Parliament, the British Stupidity Surplus is soaring. Only an act of supreme idiocy can relieve the imbalance. There is much debate about the best way to go about this. I highly recommend reviewing this document, but it probably won't make a lot of sense unless you first read the previous three books in the series.

    Oh... silly me. "Read."
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    Feb 19, 2008 5:21 AM GMT
    Jacoby's book is equally hard on the left wing, Mindgarden.
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    Feb 19, 2008 5:25 AM GMT
    What we need is more strategury in our education system and a stronger department of defense according to some
  • art_smass

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    Feb 19, 2008 5:29 AM GMT
    I'm Canadian -- phew!
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    Feb 19, 2008 5:31 AM GMT
    My parents and their siblings, cousins, extended families and friends all read and owned books, had at least a basic knowledge of classical music, sometimes listened to Toscanini conduct the NBC Symphony on prime-time radio, and aspired to learn. They were lower-middle to middle class. Granting that this is a different world, American popular culture has got to be at one of its lowest levels. What do we do about this?
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    Feb 19, 2008 5:35 AM GMT
    Maybe part of the problem here is my use of the word "stupidity" when what is actually being described is a kind of willful abandonment of rationality. I'm not talking about "stupid" in the sense of mental retardation.

    As Jacoby points out and as others are, I think, saying, part of the problem is the existence of top-down stupidity now (like George Bush). A majority of Americans now believe creationism should be taught in the public schools. A rational school board would refuse, but one that believes religious opinion is as valid as evidence-based theory won't object.

    In that this makes the, um, slack-jawed face of stupidity more evident, I suppose you could argue that it's mainly an increase in visibility. But if you constantly reiterate the notion that opinion and fact are equal in value, don't you cultivate more stupidity?

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    Feb 19, 2008 5:50 AM GMT
    For further information, review Mike Judge's documentary movie, "Idiocracy."

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0387808/

    Note that while this movie wasn't exactly "suppressed," Fox released it in only a couple of cities, and didn't even print up posters.

    I highly recommend it. It will make you feel better.
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    Feb 19, 2008 5:51 AM GMT
    I don't know that humans are any more or less irrational than they used to be, but certainly their irrationality is more on display when more stuff can be verified, analyzed and proved -- but I guess all that shows is that humans are by nature probably irrational and not always necessarily interested in knowing what is rational. Probably also one the flip side of tolerance there is also certain tendancy to relativism -- that everyone's belief or opinion is as good as everyone elses.

    What does amuse me is that the middle class, and particularly upper middle class in this country is obsessed, more than ever before, with getting their children into the best schools, and getting that best grades possible -- and are willing to spend almost any amount on that. Also many of the kids seem to be required to do much more than when I was in school -- between classes and the extra-curricular activities that seem required these days. At the same time, it seems like what they value is success -- what school you get into and what job you get -- and not actually learning for the sake of learning, or god forbid, appearing intelligent, as that would be downright uncool.
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    Feb 19, 2008 6:01 AM GMT
    All American's are not stupid just the one's that run the Country!

    Next time vote for Micky Mouse he may do better?
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    Feb 19, 2008 6:13 AM GMT
    280 million dollars aid to Tanzania if that's not stupid what is when you are in a Recession and the monies will never get to the poor anyway?
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    Feb 19, 2008 6:17 AM GMT
    Neil Postman is a fantastic author. He wrote books like Amusing ourselves to Death or Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology that talk about this issue. But he had been writing from the 70's. I guess there has always been plenty to bemoan with regard to America's national intelligence.