[EDITORIAL NOTE: If you have written any blog posts on political issues this week, be sure to get links to me by Friday for the Sunday Election Issues post. If you're wondering what I'm talking about, see this post.]
For the past week or so, I have been tinkering with a post about the stupidity of the American public. It hadn’t quite gelled, but then I woke early this morning to these two comments on Crabby Old Lady’s post from yesterday:
From mythster of Rotten Apple:
“I've been listening to some sound bites from ‘middle aged women’ in Charlotte, N.C. that were running on Public Radio a couple of hours ago and I am not going to try to quote any of these people verbatim but in essence, they've decided to vote the McCain/Palin ticket because Palin's a woman and she knows what it's like to be a woman. That's her credentials. What more do you need?
“I remember when people were very concerned about the fact that the ‘media’ (i.e. TV) was broadcasting material aimed at a twelve year old audience. Now we know that they were programming way over their audience's heads.
“The majority of America's ‘adults’ are under-educated, unmotivated and blissfully happy in their ignorance.”
And this from joni:
“I think it's hard to underestimate the "voter I.Q." of the American public. Most people dislike the way our country is headed, yet so many of them will automatically vote for the party that created all these messes and would dig us in deeper.
“An otherwise intelligent woman told me that she couldn't vote for Obama "because of abortion. One of our friends says he despairs because he knows so many knee-jerk single-issue voters. They refuse to look at anything else.”
There was also an email from Melinda Applegate with a link to a story from the Chronicle of Higher Education by Thomas H. Benton titled On Stupidity. A couple of excerpts:
“The anti-intellectual legacy [Hofstadter] described has often been used by the political right — since at least the McCarthy era — to label any complication of the usual pieties of patriotism, religion, and capitalism as subversive, dangerous, and un-American. And, one might add, the left has its own mirror-image dogmas.”
“For academics on the political left, the last eight years represent the sleep of reason producing the monsters of our time: suburban McMansions, gas-guzzling Hummers, pop evangelicalism, the triple-bacon cheeseburger, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader?, creation science, waterboarding, environmental apocalypse, Miley Cyrus, and the Iraq War — all presided over by that twice-elected, self-satisfied, inarticulate avatar of American incuriosity and hubris: he who shall not be named.”
Benton is one of those “academics on the political left” and he goes on to quote a number of books from writers who are alarmed at the declining knowledge of Americans:
“Just How Stupid Are We?: Facing the Truth About the American Voter (2008), by Richard Shenkman, argues that the dumbing down of our political culture is linked to the decline of organized labor and local party politics, which kept members informed on matters of substance. Building on arguments put forward in books such as What's the Matter With Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (2004), by Thomas Frank, Shenkman shows how the political right has been able to don the populist mantle even as it pursues policies that thwart the economic and social interests of the average voter.
“Meanwhile, the political left is unable to argue that those average Americans are in some way responsible for their own exploitation because they are too shallow and misinformed — too stupid — to recognize their own interests.” [emphasis added]
I think of this nearly every day as TV news broadcasts a bunch of fully-grown adults shouting “Drill, baby, drill” at John McCain/Sarah Palin speeches when all reputable experts in America tell us that not a drop of that oil will reach pumps for 15 or 20 years and will not lower the price.
Benton, whose job as he sees it is to “combat ignorance and foster the skills and knowledge needed to produce intelligent, ethical, and productive citizens,” lists some of the qualities of his students:
- Primarily focused on their own emotions — on the primacy of their "feelings" — rather than on analysis supported by evidence.
- Uncertain what constitutes reliable evidence, thus tending to use the most easily found sources uncritically.
- Convinced that no opinion is worth more than another: All views are equal.
- Uncertain about academic honesty and what constitutes plagiarism. (I recently had a student defend herself by claiming that her paper was more than 50 percent original, so she should receive that much credit, at least.)
- Unable to follow or make a sustained argument.
- Uncertain about spelling and punctuation (and skeptical that such skills matter).
- Hostile to anything that is not directly relevant to their career goals, which are vaguely understood.
- Increasingly interested in the social and athletic above the academic, while "needing" to receive very high grades.
- Not really embarrassed at their lack of knowledge and skills.
- Certain that any academic failure is the fault of the professor rather than the student.
I first noticed some of these qualities in young graduates I worked with as long ago as the 1980s, so we now have at least one generation of adults – voters – of the sort mythster and joni describe. And, I would venture, some well-known, high-level politicians too. There is reason to despair.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Morgana Sage writes of the sadness When Old Dogs Die.]