Dumb it Down?
The infamous and incredible comedian George Carlin once said: “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.” He was talking about his fellow American citizens. T.V. host, comedian, and lizard man, Bill Maher often comments on the average American’s level of intelligence or says, “People are dumb.” I used to cringe when I heard these men utter such words. I thought it was an unfair sweeping indictment of the U.S. population.
In my thirties, I have had a change of heart. I realize that there is much truth in comedy. In 2016, we saw the devolution of our civic society and the rise of a reality T.V. star and real-life human troll-doll (with the hair to match): Donald Trump, the Republican Nominee for President of the United States. The Democratic Party’s side isn’t above the silliness. Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton recently sat down with R&B star Mary J. Blige to do a serious interview about politics and race relations in America. It’s as bad as it sounds (No disrespect to Ms. Blige). Talk about reaching for that youth vote (Clinton should have sat down with Young Thug).
Meanwhile, President Obama invited all his favorite rappers to the White House last year for a summit about mass incarceration in the United States. I guess Michelle Alexander and Bryan Stevenson were too busy for the President? Instead, the likes of Rick Ross, DJ Khaled, and Nikki Minaj were in attendance. I love hip-hop, but I don’t think Lil’ Wayne should advise elected officials on social policy issues.
We Don’t Need No Education
In education, America ranks somewhere in the middle. Countries like Singapore, Finland, Canada, and Japan consistently outperform our students. The American education system needs much improvement, and we should look at high-performing countries for best practices. We should also do something about the outrageous cost of college and trade schools. At present, the USA is not #1. No matter how loud people chant USA! USA! USA! When it comes to education, we’re more like # 52.
After leading the world for decades in 25-34 year olds with university degrees, the U.S. is now in 12th place. The World Economic Forum ranked the U.S. at 52nd among 139 nations in the quality of its university math and science instruction in 2010. Nearly 50% of all graduate students in the sciences in the U.S. are foreigners, most of who are returning to their home countries
Regarding civics, most Americans lag far behind their immigrant peers who’ve recently obtained U.S. citizenship.
In other words, all of this shows that the world’s oldest democracy is in serious trouble. U.S. politicians are continually attacking liberal arts education to focus solely on science and math (which hasn’t increased our educational performance in the last few decades). Civics and U.S. constitutional courses in elementary and high school levels are all but gone from the school curriculum. These fundamental courses about U.S. history and government have been abandoned for standardized tests and common core. This is a terrible trend and is especially troubling when many of our fellow citizens don’t know the basics about U.S. history and government. This election cycle shows that for democracy, the end is nigh. Just check out these data points:
- 71% of Americans failed the civics knowledge test.
- 51% of Americans could not name the three branches of government.
- The average score for college seniors on the civics knowledge test was 54.2% (an “F” by any standard).
- The average student’s test score improved only 3.8 points from freshman to senior year.
- Freshmen at Cornell, Yale, Princeton, and Duke scored better than seniors on the civics knowledge test.
- 79% of elected officials that took the civics knowledge quiz did not know the Bill of Rights expressly prohibits the government from establishing a religion.
- 30% of officeholders did not know that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are the inalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence.
- 27% of politicians could not name even one right or freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.
- 43% did not know the purpose of the Electoral College.
- 39% of lawmakers believe the power of declaring war belongs to the President.
- The average score for college professors who took the civics knowledge quiz was 55%.
These data points and stats should always be taken with a grain of salt. Still, millions of Americans believe a man who speaks with all the sophistication of a 5-year-old (kidding…to all the five-year-olds out there, you’re smarter than Trump) should be the President. Millions of Americans know more about the Kardashian family than the function of the three branches of the U.S. government. It seems we’re headed to a bad place as a nation.
The Rise of the Vicious and Confident Idiot
This is a chicken and egg question. Is the media to blame for the dumbing down of our culture? Or is it the demand of the people to be entertained at all times that has effectively dumbed it down? Even when it comes to important information about the politics and history of this country, the popularity of shows: like Drunk History, The Daily Show, and Real Time with Bill Maher provides further proof that people get most of their news from comedy shows. There’s truth in comedy, but this is taking it too far. Especially when reputable news outlets like the Washington Post, New York Times, NPR, and PBS struggle to stay afloat and maintain viewership and readership.
It would be one thing if people weren’t intellectually engaged. The saying goes, no one knows everything, but everyone knows something. In America, however, a particular brand of stupid has gripped the nation. The vicious idiot! Donald Trump embodies this perfectly. He’s loud, insensitive, angry, and rude. He thinks he’s smarter than everyone else and is not at all intellectually curious. That’s important if you want to lead people, let alone an entire nation.
We’re creating a world of dummies. Angry dummies who feel they have the right, the authority and the need not only to comment on everything, but to make sure their voice is heard above the rest, and to drag down any opposing views through personal attacks, loud repetition and confrontation.
This is true of many of our fellow citizens; if you don’t believe me, look no further than Yahoo, YouTube, Facebook, and The New York Times Online comment sections. Especially when those articles are on hot-button issues like race, politics, and even freaking climate change.
On Twitter, I’ve been called a monkey, asshole, and coon just for stating #BlackLivesMatter and posting articles highlighting America’s race problem regarding the murder of black people. Grown men were gleefully celebrating the murder of a little black boy in Ohio on social media, then damning me for recognizing his humanity. Colin Kaepernick and journalist Shaun King have even received death threats just for commenting on our country’s failure to uphold the Declaration of Independence’s statement, “That all men are created equal.” (It should be updated for modern times and changed to “all people are created equal.”) Reality T.V., celebrity gossip culture, and Infotainment have swept the nation. I believe America has always had an anti-intellectual slant throughout our nation’s history.
We’ve progressed a lot over the past 240 years, but 2016 has shown that many people think ignorance is bliss. This is truer if it hinders their perceived privilege. Stupidity mixed with mean-spiritedness has regressed us as a nation. The rights of people of color, immigrants, women, LGBTQ, children, and the disabled are being stepped on in the name of ‘Murican values. When stupidity and hate collide, bad things are bound to happen.
I hope there are enough people in this country who feel we can do better and be better human beings. It will be a long and hard fight to win. However, we need to educate others and ourselves more than ever about civics, politics, and the world. They say freedom isn’t free. I contend that you have no freedom if you’re not free in your own mind. If we don’t change course, fascism and jingoism will be handed to all of us with a coke and a smile. This is Trump’s vision of his America. Those who care about freedom and democracy must continue the fight against willful and hateful ignorance.