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← Dumb and Dumber: Are Americans Hostile to Knowledge?

Dumb and Dumber: Are Americans Hostile to Knowledge? - Comments

Tomcat's Avatar Comment 1 by Tomcat

Well, when you're the most important country in the world, who cares about if you know anything about the other ones?

Or that's the idea. I think what's more astounding is that "eggheads" often can explain to you all about physics and evolution, but they don't "know" how to talk to people at a party...

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 07:50:00 UTC | #121075

Oromasdes1978's Avatar Comment 2 by Oromasdes1978

I think this is somewhat unfair, I know several people from my own green and pleasant land who cannot locate the difference twixt their arse and elbow!

Interesting study though, I wonder what would happen if they did the same in England, has anyone heard of such an investigation?


Fri, 15 Feb 2008 07:57:00 UTC | #121081

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 3 by Quetzalcoatl

and anti-rationalism ("the idea that there is no such things as evidence or fact, just opinion")

I've read arguments like this made by religious believers.

On the whole though, America's a big place, and there will no doubt be plenty of smart people there. This article seems a little unfair.

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 08:02:00 UTC | #121085

Epinephrine's Avatar Comment 4 by Epinephrine

Sounds like a good book; people are amazingly ignorant. Granted, I cant tell you who an actor is on sight, nor what roles he played or what movies won prizes, so I'm guilty of ignorance too, but I'd like to think the things that I do follow are a little more important than following football trades (or whatever people discuss) and awards ceremonies.

Maybe I'm the ignorant one...

@Quetzalcoatl -

Sure, America is big, and there are smart folks there too, but stupidity is almost appreciated. As long as you have kids pulling low grades because they don't want to be uncool, schools offering huge celebrations for athletic achievement but scarcely any recognition for academic achievement, and media continually portraying science, math, and education as boring, repressed and laughable you'll have problems getting people interested in learning.

The grossly unfair portrayal of science (and mathematics, or learning in general) as nerdy, uncool, mostly pointless and arrogant isn't going to help matters. Thankfully there are some interesting shows nowadays with a science edge that aren't portraying all scientists in a poor light. As much as I can't stand watching CSI, since the science is absurd and drives me up the wall, it portrays a very scientific field in an interesting and even attractive manner. I'll say bravo to that.

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 08:12:00 UTC | #121091

tybowen's Avatar Comment 5 by tybowen

Having recently graduated from high school (2005) I would like to say that the real problem is not "electronic distraction" but rather seems to be the effort to not hurt anyone's feelings or pride. When teachers are not allowed to fail a student because it would make them feel bad or are not allowed to teach a subject (evolution) because it might offend some people. This all lead to the inflation of grades and lowering of expectations.

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 08:14:00 UTC | #121092

bentleyd's Avatar Comment 6 by bentleyd

Here's the referenced YouTube video:

Keep in mind that the "contestants" on these types of shows are intentionally selected based on their "lack" of intelligence for the purpose of ridicule. This genre of television show is similar to Jerry Springer, who displays the dregs of society for public amusement.

As an American, I cringe when this kind of crap from Hollywood is exported overseas. This nonsense is what gives us a bad reputation.

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 08:14:00 UTC | #121094

Roland_F's Avatar Comment 7 by Roland_F

In my office there are from time to time this mails circulated when another manifestation of unbelievable knowledge gaps of US citizens were recorded.
The reporter shows a map of Australia and Tasmania titled North and South Korea and most US citizens does not recognize this.
And the angry reply from a Texas cowboy to some commenter from Sydney is then that the persons from the UK (so Sydney is in the UK !) are themselves stupid.
And the president G.W.B. was surprised that there are also many black people living in Brazil and he does not remember which country he was visiting in Europe before (Slovakia)

Yes according to the holy Bible eating from the tree of knowledge is a very bad sin and blessed are the poor in spirit as theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 08:22:00 UTC | #121098

Mango's Avatar Comment 9 by Mango

My girlfriend is a graduate student in America and I chide her every time I see her on a ridiculous gossip webpage. She's simply a woman of her times -- she has an innate intelligence but is swept up in the rot of popular culture.

Intellectuals, and intellectualism, are not American values. There are too many distractions for people to turn to to avoid thinking. Thinking and intellectual self-improvement are hard work, and most people avoid it.

Look at the American presidential race. The talking heads on TV say something like, "Obama won South Carolina with 90% of the black vote." The next level of analysis, such as why people cast their precious vote on the basis of a phenotype, might as well be string theory.

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 08:24:00 UTC | #121101

Epinephrine's Avatar Comment 8 by Epinephrine

- bentleyd,

Wow, that clip is BAD...

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 08:24:00 UTC | #121100

memphis matt's Avatar Comment 10 by memphis matt

It's about time someone - other than the usual conservatives such as bloom and hofstadter- wrote a book on this topic. I can tell you from personal experience (as a lifelong Tennesseean) that america is full of "intelligent" but vacuous people who can make a decent grade in even graduate level courses, but who have very few interests other than American Idol and Desperate Housewives. These are the same people who can, say, pass the bar exam with ease and still reject evolution. Maybe it's also like this in UK, but i haven't spent much time over there.

Here in the US, we have a serious problem in education. You can be functionally illiterate and still graduate from high school. Because "everybody has to graduate" from high school and "go to college", college degrees are now basically worthless. I know many graduates of legitimate 4-year universities who are basically retarded and who have absolutely nothing interesting to say. You really have no chance of getting a high-end job without a post-graduate (law, medical, Masters, or PhD) degree. And as i just said, there is no guarantee that even a good post-grad degree will make you a well-rounded or interesting person.

I think the real problem is not that people are literally stupid, but rather that they lack curiosity and genuine interest in the world around them. At least in America, this type of ignorance is quietly and systematically encouraged. I don't know why this is, but it is true.

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 08:37:00 UTC | #121105

annabanana's Avatar Comment 11 by annabanana

I hate this kind of pessimism. I don't think it does any good to continually lament the present times in such a way. I'm not sure if this is a good analogy or not, but it reminds me of this study I read about that people who think that "everything gives you cancer" don't bother to live healthy lives and thus end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. From the article, it seems that the book is just a long-winded bitch-fest. If you aren't going to offer some sort of solution or be part of a solution, then shut up.

I would also like to add that collective human knowledge and technology have advanced rather quickly over the last century or so. Is it really that big of a surprise that some people are going to have a hard time keeping up?

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 08:40:00 UTC | #121108

elfinabout's Avatar Comment 12 by elfinabout

The current American "condition" is progressing exactly as intended by those at the top.

Informed, knowledgeable people are difficult to control. They are aware of their rights, able to spot abuses of it and have the annoying tendency to react unfavourably if taken advantage of.

If you want to be able to use your population for your own purposes - to have a virtually unlimited supply of cheap labour and willing army recruits to keep the wars (and hence the military-industrial complex) going, you do the following:

Keep them stuffed with cheap, addictive junk food that temporarily satiates them but has little nutritional value needed for complex thought or general fitness - this keeps them tame;

Force upon them an unrelenting, homogenous media barrage controlled by a select few individuals that tells them over and over and over that they are in imminent danger from unspecified and undefinable external agents - this keeps them scared and lets you remove their rights in the name of "security";

Keep them working their arses off 12 hours a day to keep a roof over their heads and pay for all medical assistance - this stops them having too much free time to relax and think;

Make exams easier, dumb down science or ignore it completely, and encourage anti-scientific, religious thinking. Make rationality and critical thinking seem elitist or pointless. This promotes credulity to the point that they believe without question the vast majority of what the aforementioned media channels tell them;

Encourage segregation and suspicion of all cultural groups that do not fit within one narrow set of parameters. Make vague associations between countries/colours and terrorism, etc., and reinforce them constantly - this keeps the embers hot and allows you to mobilise vast numbers of people to your cause in deeply emotionally-charged ways at the drop of a hat.

Americans - take a step back, and maybe have a look at some of Herman Goerings' writings - the methods he employed on the German people before they marched en-masse on Europe. The parallels are astonishing...

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 08:44:00 UTC | #121110

rod-the-farmer's Avatar Comment 13 by rod-the-farmer

This Kellie Pickler video is truly depressing. I am not alone in saying I have met a number of people who supposedly have a university degree, but could not find their posterior with both hands in the dark. But this air-head blonde is truly an embarrassment. I know National Geographic is trying to do something about this sort of abysmal ignorance. But I feel it will be like bailing out the ocean. WAY too much to get done in the lifetime of a human. If you gently confront these people, they just shrug their shoulders and say "Well, I never was very good at ----pick a subject---." (cringe)

Maybe we need to promote reading - a LOT more.

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 08:49:00 UTC | #121112

aquilacane's Avatar Comment 14 by aquilacane

It won't be long before I can bus cheap American labour over the border into my Canadian factories. Pay them crap and make them sleep in freezing cold rooms with no water or facilities.

And they will like it, or starve!

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 08:49:00 UTC | #121113

annabanana's Avatar Comment 15 by annabanana

elfinabout, maybe calm down with the conspiracy theories?

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 08:52:00 UTC | #121118

sidfaiwu's Avatar Comment 16 by sidfaiwu

As long as you have enough people and enough time, anyone can collect a bunch of anecdotes of stupidity. The few actual stats offered in the article are about very specific pieces of information.

"only 23 percent of those with some college could locate Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel on a map."

What percentage could identify 3 of the 4? The book does sound a bit like a "kids these days" complaint book. The population is really quite diverse. There are large groups of young people who highly value intelligence, creativity, and high culture. They just get none of the press.

That being said, I do notice some anti-intellectual attitudes in America. It's especially bad for females who seem to be given the message that smart = unattractive.

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 08:52:00 UTC | #121119

annabanana's Avatar Comment 17 by annabanana

sidfaiwu, as an American, I've never been under the impression that smart=unattractive. As a matter of fact, I've always had the impression that it was a double whammy! Of course, that's just anecdote.

Although, I will say that most people seem to assume that I'm young, naive, and stupid when they first lay eyes on me. Oh, the plights of being attractive.

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 09:01:00 UTC | #121128

Mango's Avatar Comment 18 by Mango

comment 11 annabanana If you aren't going to offer some sort of solution or be part of a solution, then shut up.

We are not told from the article whether her analysis of the situation includes prescriptions for change. Regardless, what's wrong with an indictment of a cultural situation that delves into the depth and ubiquity of a perceived problem and leaves the answers for another book? Certainly her work has value either way and your rude off-the-cuff dismissal seems out of line.

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 09:14:00 UTC | #121132

al-rawandi's Avatar Comment 19 by al-rawandi

Well lets look at how many people live in England...


Let's say 50% are smart.


In the US total population


Let's say 10% are smart


That means even if you have 5 times as many smart people in England, we still have more smart people.

So percentages be damned.

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 09:16:00 UTC | #121133

elfinabout's Avatar Comment 20 by elfinabout


Throwing the phrase "conspiracy theory" at someone who points out something patently obvious but undesirable is exactly the reaction those in control want you to have - carefully fostered over the last few decades via very careful media manipulation.

If you are _actually_ under the impression that this is _not_ happening, and you think that the American administration has your best interests at heart, then I'm afraid that however informed you may consider yourself, you are one of the many and I'm afraid I must suggest you are quite naieve.
This situation is painfully, sadly obvious to most people living outside the US.

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 09:21:00 UTC | #121134

digitalia's Avatar Comment 21 by digitalia

sidfaiwu and annabanana - good points, both of you. i think there just appears to be more of a DIVIDE of intellectualism in this day and age. and shows like this just pander to the same side of us that can't seem to look away from a car accident.


Fri, 15 Feb 2008 09:27:00 UTC | #121135

ordeneus's Avatar Comment 22 by ordeneus

@ #127412, why? You dispute this obviously? I think elfinabout is probably a lot closer to the mark than you obviously do.

Whetever one ascribes to the motives of it, it's hard not to deduce that those in charge of mass media are indeed trying to dumb down the populace. Stupidity is celebrated, the masses are distracted with sports or American Idol, or whatever.

Manufacturing Consent anyone?

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 09:33:00 UTC | #121138

Monosilabbiq's Avatar Comment 23 by Monosilabbiq

It sounds to me as if a few more Universities need a Professorship in the Public Understanding of Science.

Despite the gloom I can say that the Americans I met at my British university knew a lot more about their own country than I did about mine. They were proud of America and wanted to know everything about it. It would have helped if someone had equally inspired them to learn about the rest of the world. They certainly showed no lack of ability to absorb/retain information.

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 09:34:00 UTC | #121139

mesomodel's Avatar Comment 24 by mesomodel

There was a related discussion on the failures of the American education system on a previous thread.

I'm not optimistic things are going to get better.

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 09:37:00 UTC | #121140

Geoff's Avatar Comment 25 by Geoff

I can assure you that there is a high percentage of uneducated schoolchildren in the UK; I'm in the middle of marking mountains of GCSE mock exam papers at present!

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 09:38:00 UTC | #121141

annabanana's Avatar Comment 26 by annabanana

Mango, this comment suggests to me that she doesn't really do anything but complain in her book:

Ms. Jacoby, whose book came out on Tuesday, doesn't zero in on a particular technology or emotion, but rather on what she feels is a generalized hostility to knowledge.

Not to mention, I said "from the article..." and in case you didn't catch the subtleness of that phrase, that means I have yet to evaluate the book for myself, but judging from the synopsis of it in the article, it seems that she is offering no sort of solutions. I maintain my opinion that general pessimism is not helpful. Optimism and the thought that you can actually make a difference usually leads to a difference being made. Lamenting is just that; lamenting for the sake of it. "Woe as me, everyone's stupid." This wasn't a rude, off-the-cuff dismissal. I actually do tend to think about what I say, believe it or not.

elfinabout, you have an outsider's point of view; I have an insider's point of view. I'm not contending that you don't have some valid points, but I think you've taken it a bit far. Your assertions are presented as if they are fact and you call them "patently obvious" when this is only speculation. You also make it sound as if Americans are forced to do the things you are suggesting. Last time I checked there were a good many people who eat only organic, whole foods, worked out a lot, and were reasonably educated. So, I have a problem with your sweeping generalizations.

EDIT: If I had a dollar for every time I'd gotten called naive on this site...

I genuinely wonder what the response to my comments would be like if my avatar were something genderless or even a picture of a guy...

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 09:44:00 UTC | #121145

al-rawandi's Avatar Comment 27 by al-rawandi


I share your pessimism about the future. Hopefully someone with power gets it.

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 09:49:00 UTC | #121150

Jonathan Dore's Avatar Comment 28 by Jonathan Dore

Obviously Americans are not, as a group, distributed any differently along the IQ bell-curve from anyone else. But as epinephrine notes above, there is a particular strand of American cultural attitudes that has made the unfortunate equation of inarticulacy with sincerity, and of articulacy with duplicity. (You can see this, for instance, in the common casting of the well-spoken, often aristocratic Englishman as the villain in movies, from the voice of Shere Khan in Disney's "Jungle Book" to just about anything involving Mel Gibson -- this surely has deep cultural roots, probably going back to the War of Independence.)

Since inarticulacy can also disguise idiocy, this has had the even more unfortunate result of allowing lack of intelligence to seem virtuous, and when lack of intelligence is combined with malevolence (step forward, Shrub), this can make a pretty lethal combination.

Once again I emphasize that this is merely one strand in American thought, and by no means characterizes all, or even most, Americans; nor is it remotely confined to Americans. But if anyone doubts that there is a broadly national, and not just personal, element to this thinking, I invite them to try to imagine someone even remotely like Bush being elected chief executive in, say, France, Britain, Norway or Denmark ...

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 09:56:00 UTC | #121156

mesomodel's Avatar Comment 29 by mesomodel


OT: I looked up "Homunculi headed robot".
Wouldn't such a robot require the ability to learn from inputs (like the brain) in order to work continuously? Future decisions and actions are guided by past outcomes.

EDIT: We can continue the discussion on the "Danish Cartoonist" thread, if you'd like.

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 09:58:00 UTC | #121157

MPhil's Avatar Comment 30 by MPhil

Have a look at this and despair: excerpt:

-"Which country should we invade next in the war on terror?"
-"Uh... France."
-"Why would you say 'France'"?
-"Well, err, because there's some friction going on between France and the United States."

Fri, 15 Feb 2008 10:00:00 UTC | #121158