Americans Hate Smart People

Susan Jacoby is preaching to the choir.

"Ms. Jacoby doesn’t expect to revolutionize the nation’s educational system or cause millions of Americans to switch off “American Idol” and pick up Schopenhauer. But she would like to start a conversation about why the United States seems particularly vulnerable to such a virulent strain of anti-intellectualism. After all, “the empire of infotainment doesn’t stop at the American border,” she said, yet students in many other countries consistently outperform American students in science, math and reading on comparative tests."

She seems smart enough to realize that writing a book about how Americans don't read books isn't going to bring any converts into the tent. Still, her attempt is admirable. A better venue would be to use the same media that has led us to accept Deal or No Deal as passable entertainment to illustrate how stupid we are. Idiocracy should be standard viewing in all classrooms.

To state some obvious claims, it would appear that Americans don't need to know math and science, since they are the richest and most comfortable people on the planet. There is a long history of anti-intellectualism, but overall the country seems to be doing all right.

Speaking of classrooms:

"In part, she lays the blame on a failing educational system. “Although people are going to school more and more years, there’s no evidence that they know more,” she said."

I would have to agree, having witnessed this. I firmly blame the 1960's. I'm on of an age where I was witness to a change in education. In elementary school (in the early 1980's) I had some teachers who were old guard, meaning that they weren't afraid to punish you for being bad or make you memorize poems or berate you for not doing homework -- in other words, 'teaching'. That generation (most of whom were British) retired and were replaced by the next, a younger group that placed emphasis on 'feelings' and 'self-respect'. Everyone had an opinion and needed to the time and space to express themselves.

This is where I think we've gone wrong, this idea that everyone opinion matters, that opinion trumps logic. If something is wrong with you car, you don't go to your doctor. (Unless of course your doctor knows a good mechanic). And yet we accept that people can offer their opinion about subjects they have no idea about and we have to listen and accept what they are saying, instead of telling pointing out that they are blowing smoke out their ass.

Social media is the love child of this idea - anyone who an Internet connection can have their opinion read by complete strangers. (And yes I am aware of using a blog to point out the utter narcissism of a blog, so don't bother pointing it out).

This accepting of everyone's opinion has also led to a culture full of sissies.

"We have become a sissy culture. I don't mean sissy in the old style of manly man vs. girly man or male vs. female or big guy vs. little guy. Sissy doesn't have anything to do in my definition with your biceps. It's got to do with your brains and your commitment and your conviction and your ability to stand up as an individual. We've become, I think, a herd of Holsteins. Soft, lazy, stupid, knee-jerk, head-bobbing, fundamentalist, high-brained, less-than-human humans now. We're becoming that way. We're not all uniformly and thoroughly sissified yet, but we're working on it. The book is to raise my hand and say this is kind of a problem and we need to think about this. I think the genius about the American experiment in democracy is to create this social environment where each and every one of us has the opportunity as individuals to achieve what we can, to be as happy as we can, to live as fulfilled a life as we can, and we're getting away from that by identifying ourselves by which pack of Holsteins we have to be members of."

If everyone is right, if everyone opinion is given equal weight, then no one is wrong. How can you stand behind your convictions when your convictions have the same value as everyone else? You can't, obviously, and this capitulation leads to a general sissfication.

In contrast, I've just finished reading The True Gen, a book about Hemingway told through a series of interviews by people who knew him. Hemingway was a great writer but a terrible human being, but he was of the type that wouldn't suffer fools gladly. He wasn't a sissy either, and there's something to be said for being able to tell people that they're wrong without having to worry about hurting their feelings.

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