2011-10-28 / Commentary

The dumbing down of America

It’s not a criticism; It’s an observation
Mike Cox

Early in my pole climbing career, I worked with an incredibly stupid guy. He might not be the dumbest person I ever knew, but he was prouder of his condition, and more intent on remaining like that, than anyone I’ve ever encountered. This man saved most of his venom for smart aleck city dwellers who didn’t mirror his life experience. He distrusted intelligent people and fought them at every turn.

I recognized his idiocy within ten minutes of working with him. We were paired together just after I returned from training. The guy spliced a junction of wires incorrectly because he couldn’t add three digit numbers accurately and refused to accept my calculations. I was a novice employee and well beneath his level of expertise.

This guy was also a liar and lazy, which only added to his charm. In my short time as his truck partner, I nearly lost my job twice. He steadfastly refused to do any more than a minimal amount each day, and I found out later he blamed our lack of productivity on me.

He spent 30 years as a lineman; an entry level job most people advanced past within a few months. This was a blueprint for his entire life. Beliefs and opinions formed in his teens were permanently set in stone. He never wavered from his limited convictions or tried to improve his knowledge level. The old boy was devoid of intellectual curiosity.

Ten years prior President Kennedy challenged the country to travel to the moon, and our scientists and engineers responded. We were the most industrially effective country on Earth, producing quality products in worldwide demand. American students led the planet in math and science and wanted to be smart, if only to quench a thirst for knowledge. We ridiculed people like Jethro Bodine, Festus Hagen, and this guy. Then things changed.

Today, we distrust intelligent people, refuse to accept scientific fact that doesn’t correspond to our political beliefs, and have fallen behind every other developed nation in science and math. It seems knowledge is no longer important.

The internet offers the largest encyclopedia imaginable, and yet few Americans want to learn anything new. I was convinced most of us would use this unlimited knowledge to shrink the world and naively thought we would discover more about those around us and temper our attitudes to be more accepting of differing cultures.

Instead, we used the dot com age to further strengthen prejudices and find support for our most incredible hysteria. We believe or distrust facts based on how it fits in our already made up minds. Much like those who live alone for decades, devoid of anyone to offer course correction, we worry about conspiracies and devious plots by anyone not a carbon copy of our perception of ourselves.

I used to feel bad for stupid people. I assumed they would be passed by as we progressed intellectually. Instead, simpletons are the ones determining political policy and marketing strategy. Political parties, businesses, and even the entertainment industry understand there is no possibility of underestimating our intelligence level.

Too bad my old partner passed away last year. He could be running for president.

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