Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

American Monopoly on Stupidity

Posted by Jerry on August 30, 2007

America seems to have the monopoly on stupidity. In all my years spent in America, I was never quite impressed by the intellectual or thinking abilities of the average Joe–even if they were my fellow students in college. Indeed, even the fact that the expression “average Joe” is an American invention is rather apt, I think.

I can theorize that, perhaps, this intellectual complacency comes from their comfortable position as a world super-power and their massive economy, by virtue of which, they have the power to purchase or entice brains, intelligence, and solutions to keep their culture moving forward.

Of course, I’m caricaturing, and plain ol’ dumbness is a rather ubiquituous feature among all peoples everywhere. However, in the general American population, the dumbness appears to be particularly pronounced: it is observed in practically all social and economic strata of American society, and is often celebrated by the American youth and media. To be dumb is almost “cool”; god forbid you get labeled “geek” or “nerd”! “Dumb jocks” get the hot chicks, and “smart jocks” is an oxymoron. In fact, the tyranny of stupidity can get so real that intellectually superior kids come to regard their abilities as a curse; they try so hard to suppress their talents, deliberately fail their courses, avoid speaking up in class, apologize for getting an “A” (“Oh, it was just a fluke!”), try to blow off that spark of intelligence within them so that they can get into the “cool” but dumb crowd.

I was watching the show “Beauty and the Geek” last night on TV. It’s the season that aired in America earlier that has now come into syndication in India. The show is essentially about pairing up socially inept but brilliant boys with socially adept but utterly dumb girls.

Uncannily, all the brilliant boys are also physically unattractive, but all the dumb girls are physically stunning: it’s like a strange (but artificial) law in nature that you can only have either intellectual giftedness or physical attractiveness.

Anyway, well, one of the “geeks” made the comment that he would be so willing to give up some of his intellectual abilities to be able to date such beautiful girls and be accepted by them. Meanwhile, the “beauties” made their typical, utterly stupid, remarks like people should stop eating gaseous food to curb environmental pollution.

Then you have this contestant on the prominent Miss Teen USA pageant competition making an incredibly absurd, incoherent, and non-sensical remark in answer to a question posed by a judge:

Asked why a fifth of Americans could not locate the United States on a world map, she stammered out an answer that made Paula Abdul’s worst “American Idol” moment seem like a model of cogency.

Her answer, in its entirety, was: “I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uhmmm, some people out there in our nation don’t have maps and uh, I believe that our, I, education like such as, uh, South Africa, and uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as, and I believe that they should, uhhh, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, should help South Africa, it should help the Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future, for us.” 

And with that, you are simply reassured–almost beyond a doubt–that America does have a monopoly on stupidity.

[P.S.: I simply forgot to mention President George Bush! If this post is about anyone at all, it has to be most appropriately about him!]

[h/t: Noodlefood]

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13 Responses to “American Monopoly on Stupidity”

  1. As you say, dumbness exists everywhere. I think Americans just like to showcase it, talk about it and belittle people because of it. The Miss Teen USA incident is a perfect example. She’ll live on forever on YouTube because of her poor answer to the question. No one deserves that, but these days your 15 minutes of fame could be less than flattering. Thanks for the interesting post.

  2. satyajit said

    ‘In fact, the tyranny of stupidity can get so real that intellectually superior kids come to regard their abilities as a curse; they try so hard to suppress their talents, deliberately fail their courses, avoid speaking up in class, apologize for getting an “A”’

    In fact, it is almost entirely the opposite trend that is prevalent in India. Here, I guess the opposite holds true–Indians feel the need to be smart in quest of the best career opportunties and be able to make the maximum use of their abilities as citizens of a potential economic power..on a more grassroots level, we need to be “geeky” to get through the umpteen exams to land ourselves in cushy jobs or coveted college courses.. further, intellectual ability is an indicator of social prestige..

    Reading your post, I was reminded of “mean girls” (Lindsay Lohan)..the blonde “duh” chick was was dressed as a rabbit on halloween was hilarious!

  3. Ergo said

    Satyajit,

    Ya, you’re right. Also, notice that in India, the lack of intellectual skill is mostly an indication of low-quality education or poor socio-economic background. It’s not so much that Indians glorify dumbness (as in America) as they are hampered in their intellectual development due to poor resources and infrastructure. Notice how Indians celebrate wisdom (even if mystical or mythological) in stories like Akbar and Birbal, panchatantra, etc.; Then, notice also the population-wide support and affection for a geeky-looking scientist as President of the country.

    Yea, Indians like to be intelligent.

    Mike,

    Thanks for visiting and commenting. 🙂

  4. John Enright said

    Thank goodness we’ve locked up a monopoly on something!

  5. Your observation that many Americans glorify ignorance and despise intelligence is sad, but true. Valuing education and working hard in school is derided in many schools. The false mind-body split of “jock versus egghead” is widely accepted. [On that point, I recall a study refuting such a split. It showed that physical health and strength is correlated with IQ. It should not be a surprise that smart people take care of their bodies better, and may even have better genes for strong bodies.]

    In vast swaths of America, past and present, downplaying one’s intelligence is considered a virtue. It is sad, and it takes someone from outside this country to remind Americans that it is true.

    By the way, all the Far East Asians (Japan, Korea, China) I know also tremendously value education and scholarship. That is a key reason for their tremendous success, in their own countries and in America when they emigrate here.

    Having said all that, Americans don’t have a monopoly on stupidity. They only have a near-monopoly on valuing it. That is stupid.

  6. satyajit said

    Is it as a sad complacency and a hankering after the wrong values? here, i have hordes of friends who have gone to the US for higher studies on loans that for some years at least, will pledge their salaries toward its repayment..this is because the quality of education and the array of courses offered there is unparalelled, and the subsequent careers they can take up are lucrative enough to make all the travails a bargain… so, while here we lament our brain drain, we also look at the Americans with envy and their intelligence with condescence… for instance, guys in call centers see them as complete duds who wouldn’t know how to do a thing without being guided.. such a construct, albeit skewed, is a tremendous national indicator

  7. mahendrap said

    I have long held that America’s progress is nurtured by the wave after wave of immigrants who unleash their productivity, intelligence, and entreprenuerial skills that were most likely hampered in their own home country.

    It is the earlier immigrant-descended Americans, who’re dumb. Newer immigrants and their children carry the country forward. The longer a family lives in the US, the dumber its descendants become.

    This is just my hypothetical theory. I don’t have any facts to back it up.

  8. Your hypothesis is belied by the facts. Some immigrant groups, such as Indians, do very well in the United States in comparison with native-born Americans. Others, such as Hispanics, do not perform as well by this comparative group standard.

    I have met no shortage of highly motivated, successful and intelligent Americans who can trace their roots going back many generations. I can detect no correlation between length of time being here and one’s intelligence, motivation or level of success.

    I would suggest that the defining principle of an individual’s success and the statistical average level of success of the ethnic or cultural group he belongs to, is his own individual values. Some immigrant groups, such as Indians or Asians generally, value education and hard work extremely highly, and therefore earn more in America than Caucasian native-born Americans, on average. Others, such as Hispanic immigrants, earn less, although lack of competence in English and illegal immigration status may contribute to that result, not just poor values.

    Many immigrants do well in America; some do not. Many native-born Americans do well. Many do not. Values is the determinative factor.

    I agree that immigrants are a key reason for America’s strength. Why do they keep coming here? Perhaps it is because, on balance, the dominant values of Americans as exemplified in the system of government devised by Americans, is superior to the values of the countries they come from. (This is so despite any widespread American shortcomings such as a distrust of intelligence or “book learning.”) It is America’s values and the institutions built upon those values (ironically, including our graduate schools) that lure the best, the brightest, the most motivated, educated and ambitious immigrants from around the world.

    May they keep coming here, or may the rest of the world develop into societies where it is worthwhile for their best people to stay in the countries they grew up in. As an American, I know that I win either way. In fact, I win more if the rest of the world becomes even more free and successful than America. With a small fraction of the world’s population, America produces an incredible percentage of its wealth. Imagine if China, India and the rest of the world could unleash the full potential of its billions of people. It is already beginning to happen. Then China and India can have their own immigrants, and maybe even attract the best Americans or Europeans to their shores.

  9. Ergo said

    Mahendrap,

    Galileo Blogs is right. There does not seem to be any obvious evidence that the longer a family lives in the US, the dumber their descendants become. If we are volitional beings with free will, and can potentially be self-made beings, then it is predominantly our values that determine our actions and behaviors–since values are goals and life is goal-directed action. Further, Rand pointed out that just as an individual has a sense of life, a culture can also have a dominant sense of life. In that perspective, the American sense of life is rather anti-intellectual today, and I would argue that it is so precisely because of the intellectuals in America who have created a chasm between the affairs of the intellect and the matters of reality: they have locked themselves up in their Ivory towers and seek to impose theoretical strutures on reality, rather than let reality mold their theories.

    Incidentally, this is the operational mechanism behind Socialism and why most academics/intellectuals are socialists.

  10. mahendrap said

    I forgot to mention that I was referring to Asian immigrants primarily – and that is what your comments also seem to support.

    Regarding length of time spent and declining intelligence – there is no evidence. But if the dominant values of American culture continue to glorify stupidity, wouldn’t there be an impact on the individual’s values over the long term? Note that I’m still maintaining this as a hypothesis, as there is no evidence – our perspectives and viewpoints will be based on our personal experiences only.

    Another factor interesting to note is that the immigrants I’m referring to do not represent the average, or general public of their native countries. Rather, they’re the exceptional layer, who have taken great academic and economic (in most cases) effort to outshine their peers and have landed in the US. I’m focusing on legal Asian immigrants, unlike illegal ones who’ve trafficked across the border.

  11. Ergo has accurately described the specific nature of the anti-intellectualism prevalent in America. Americans are not so much anti-intelligence. They are anti-intellectual. That is because of the ideas they are taught in school: socialism, capitalism is evil, reality is unknowable, etc. Americans encounter this and mistakenly throw out the whole realm of ideas in order to be *practical*. Of course, as Ayn Rand has pointed out, a pragmatist, in his attempt to be “practical” by rejecting the realm of ideas, ends up passively absorbing the dominant ideas of the culture he is in. That dominant idea is altruism.

    Add these two elements together, altruism and pragmatism, and you get that monstrosity called conservatism. Conservatives are anti-intellectual, and accept a grab-bag of random ideas. That the base of those ideas is altruism cannot be doubted. Observe how today’s conservatives have morphed into “Big Government conservatives.” The differences between conservatives and so-called liberals in terms of the governmental policies they advocate are now minimal.

    Back to how Americans view the mind. While so many Americans are anti-intellectual, I would argue that they do respect intelligence, in particular the type of intelligence that is able to get things done. Americans admire do-ers, achievers and businesspeople (yes, despite lots of anti-business rhetoric). America’s can-do attitude is still very much alive, and is a big motivator of this country’s economic success.

    Of course, if America is to turn around, Americans need to reclaim the intellectual part of their natures, recognizing that there is a realm of ideas that is fully consistent with practicality and getting things done. In fact, without that intellectual support, America’s ability to get things done will become increasingly compromised.

    Needless to say, that realm of ideas is Objectivism.

  12. jgrab1 said

    > Incidentally, this is the operational mechanism behind Socialism
    > and why most academics/intellectuals are socialists.

    Proof?

  13. Upandhi said

    Great post. I totally agree with it. Since I was a kid growing up in America I admired so much the first Asians I met. They seemed to have such a high work/study ethic. As someone else pointed out, it isn’t only an Indian thing, but a characteristic which seems rather common across Asia. Still, America is such a successful country and its culture carries an incredibly strong lure around the world.

    Clearly, there are enough smart Americans–and they are not all immigrants (e.g. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs)–to put it at the forefront in so many fields. While there is a lack of broad appeal to being highly educated and hard-working, and more than enough space for the average American to be as comfortably dumb as he or she wants, there is at the same time ample room and opportunity for those with talent and ambition to go and get it.

    In India, I suppose, everyone is after the educational holy grail, but that creates its own problems. It means those who aren’t inherently designed for that squander their efforts nonetheless and never have the opportunity to pursue what might be other strengths. In the broad scheme of things it is just as important to have the 1000 average Joe’s driving delivery trucks as it is to have 10 engineers designing rocket ships. Why does America have so many great athletes,rap artists, dancers, movie producers…? It is because a kid who is inclined toward these things won’t be pushed toward becoming an engineer, doctor or lawyer.

    90% of people are inherently lazy, and America is OK with that. But that still leaves the 10% to head to the top of whatever they are driven toward.

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