The Rise of Idiot America

Why the Internet might save us all.

Two days ago, I took a considerable amount of time out of my day to read an article in Esquire by Charles P. Pierce, “Greetings from Idiot America.” The article, which was published in October 2005, was long, well researched, and well written. It used lots of multi-syllable words, which I’ve grown unaccustomed to reading. It shamed me, in fact, that I had to slow down and read certain passages more than once to get the full meaning.

When I finished reading, I felt a mixture of emotions: sadness, outrage, relief. I was sad because, for the past three or four years, I’ve been thinking hard about the topics Mr. Pierce covers in his article and I agree with most of what he says. It isn’t good news. I felt outraged because what he outlines and exposes is a planned attack against knowledge and science by those seeking money or power (or both).

This paragraph sums it all up for me:

The rise of Idiot America is essentially a war on expertise. It’s not so much antimodernism or the distrust of intellectual elites that Richard Hofstadter deftly teased out of the national DNA forty years ago. Both of those things are part of it. However, the rise of Idiot America today represents — for profit mainly, but also, and more cynically, for political advantage and in the pursuit of power — the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the least are the people who best know what they’re talking about. In the new media age, everybody is a historian, or a preacher, or a scientist, or a sage. And if everyone is an expert, then nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert.

But I also felt relief — relief that there were people out there who were thinking and could see what was happening, and could put those thoughts and observations into words in a place where others could find and read them. People like Mr. Pierce. Words like this article. Places like highly respected magazines and the Internet.

What It’s All About

“Greetings from Idiot America” starts with a discussion of the Creation Museum and the scene on the day when its “charter members” each paid $149 to see exhibits that included dinosaurs wearing saddles. These people came from as far away as Canada. They came with their home-schooled children as a “field trip.” They came to view exhibits that would legitimize their belief that the Bible’s book of Genesis is an absolute fact.

I’ve never been the the Creation Museum and never plan to go. I don’t want to support it with my money — money I’ve earned through logical thinking and sharing my knowledge by writing books and articles. But John Scalzi visited it not long ago. And his written discussion and photo tour are highly recommended reading and viewing. While Mr. Pierce writes about the museum before it was completed two years ago, Mr. Scalzi brings us up to date with a complete picture of the finished product. Dinosaurs with Adam and Eve are only part of the situation.

Mr. Pierce goes on to discuss various events in recent political history that support his theory. He ticks off point after point. A thinking person can’t help but be amazed that things like this have happened in our country, in our government, in the 21st century. It becomes clear why school systems can be conned into believing that Intelligent Design might just be another valid theory — even though evolution has mountains of real evidence to back it up. Or why America has slipped from being a leader in science — when we’re more interested in Britney’s custody battles or the latest American Idol.

In his article, Mr. Pierce reminds us:

Americans of a certain age grew up with science the way an earlier generation grew up with baseball and even earlier ones grew up with politics and religion. America cured diseases. It put men on the moon. It thought its way ahead in the cold war and stayed there.

I’m in that age group. I watched Neil Armstrong step out onto the surface of the moon. I was eight years old and I didn’t fully understand the significance of what was going on. I recall watching a scene that included the leg and ladder of the lunar module sitting on the surface of the moon. The picture was black and white and not very good. We waited a long time for something to happen. There was static with the voices, along with a lot of weird, high-pitched beeping. It was boring. It was late. I wanted to go to sleep. But my mother made me and my sister sit up and watch it. It was history in the making. It was proof that America was a country of great thinkers and doers. In less than ten years, we’d accomplished the goal the late President Kennedy had set for us.

Sadly, our current president won’t set any goals for us at all.

Mr. Pierce interviewed Professor Kip Hodges at MIT:

“My earliest memory,” Hodges recalls, “is watching John Glenn go up. It was a time that, if you were involved in science or engineering — particularly science, at that time — people greatly respected you if you said you were going into those fields. And nowadays, it’s like there’s no value placed by society on a lot of the observations that are made by people in science.

“It’s more than a general dumbing down of America — the lack of self-motivated thinking: clear, creative thinking. It’s like you’re happy for other people to think for you. If you should be worried about, say, global warming, well, somebody in Washington will tell me whether or not I should be worried about global warming. So it’s like this abdication of intellectual responsibility — that America now is getting to the point that more and more people would just love to let somebody else think for them.”

Pierce goes on to say:

The rest of the world looks on in cockeyed wonder. The America of Franklin and Edison, of Fulton and Ford, of the Manhattan project and the Apollo program, the America of which Einstein wanted to be a part, seems to be enveloping itself in a curious fog behind which it’s tying itself in knots over evolution, for pity’s sake, and over the relative humanity of blastocysts versus the victims of Parkinson’s disease.

I see the truth and tragedy in this. Do you?

On Flying Spaghetti Monsters

I should probably mention here that I’ve also begun following the blog, Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (CotFSM). According to Wikipedia:

The Flying Spaghetti Monster (also known as the Spaghedeity) is the deity of a parody religion called The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and its system of beliefs, “Pastafarianism”. The religion was founded in 2005 by Oregon State University physics graduate Bobby Henderson to protest the decision by the Kansas State Board of Education to require the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to biological evolution.

In an open letter sent to the education board, Henderson professes belief in a supernatural creator called the Flying Spaghetti Monster which resembles spaghetti and meatballs. He furthermore calls for the “Pastafarian” theory of creation to be taught in science classrooms.

One of the features of the CotFSM blog is the reprinting of “love mail” and “hate mail” received by Mr. Henderson. I read a bunch of posts the other day.

The love mail is an interesting mix from atheists (which you’d expect) and religious people who “get it.” All agree that neither Intelligent Design nor Creationism should be taught in schools. In fact, they all agree that religion should not be part of a public school education at all.

The hate mail is amazing. I really can’t describe it any other way. The majority of it consists of angry tirades penned by religious fundamentalists. Some of them seem to realize that the CotFSM is a joke or parody while others apparently believe that the CotFSM has real believers — in other words, they just don’t “get it.” Either way, they’re united in their belief that supporters of the CotFSM will go to hell. (Not surprising, I guess. What else is there for “sinners”?)

But what bothers me about some of the hate mail is the complete lack of literacy. Here’s a recent example:

wow you people are crazy i pray to my LORD jesus christ that you people wake up God created man in his own image and im sorry but if you look like noodles with meatballs growin out your BUTT you need to go back to SPACE or get back in the pan where you’ll be somebodys dinner!

people will believe anything!!

i am verryyy happy i was well homeschooled becuase i would be in jail for punching a teacher in the face when she tried to tell me about this so called spagetti monsterr!

i hate to be the breaker of bad news but when you look around when u die u wont be with your master meatball you’ll be burning in the pits of HELL and i am a REAL christian and that hurts to know that so many people are gonna be in hell! over a random guy that started a joke and has nothing better to do besides make up some god for fun then see how many people are loving this idea.
God bless you wacked out meatball loving freaks!
-christy

Wow, this person is illiterate. I guess grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling are optional in the home where she was schooled.

And this is what worries me about the future of our country. As more and more people pull their kids from school in favor of home schooling or pressure their school systems to teach non-science “theories,” the average intelligence of our population drops. Christy (assuming she spelled her own name right; I’m making an educated guess on the capitalization) might be an extreme example of the problem, but she’s out there. How many others like her are building and populating Idiot America?

Read it and Weep

If you’re concerned about America and what’s been happening to it for the past decade or so, you owe it to yourself to read “Greetings from Idiot America.”

But don’t stop there. Get your thinking friends to read it. Discuss it. Blog about it. Get these issues out into the open.

It took me more than two years to stumble upon this article. Why? Could it be that I’ve been sucked into Idiot America, too?

But thanks to the Internet, it was still out there, waiting for me — and you — to find it.

4 thoughts on “The Rise of Idiot America

  1. Great Post Maria!

    This trend in praise of ignorance may also account for the rise in cases of the “Dunning-Kruger Effect” in social interactions.

    I’m sure that you’ve seen it here in Wickenburg!

  2. Humility is assuredly not a common trait amongst ignoramuses. Interestingly, being educated, or a member of local government, does not preclude one from being a card-carrying ignoramus.

  3. Oh, come now — ignorance is authenticity, at least if it eminates from a minority. Today, we are urged by many of our academic leaders to be ashamed of our Western heritage. After all, science & knowledge are merely the product of dead (or about to be dead) white males. That’s on your side of the aisle; on my side, dinosaur rodeos., yet. Fortunately, I’m along in years and won’t live to see it played out.

    GrannyJ’s last blog post..Engine appreciation

  4. Thanks for the comments.

    John, I had to look up the Dunning-Kruger Effect. (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning-Kruger_effect) I think my aunt has a serious case of that. When we lived right next to a train track, she told us that the train is louder the farther you are from it and that it was worse at her house, which was about 1/4 mile away from some tracks. Talk about thinking you’re an expert at something you know nothing about !

    Granny, the problem is, the ignorant are not a minority anymore. That’s my gripe. Ignorance is becoming a trend and one that is apparently supported by government and various — dare I say it? — religious groups. And I don’t know of any instances where we’re urged to be ashamed of Western heritage — other than our disgraceful treatment of the native Americans (who are getting back at us with their casinos). Science and knowledge is not the product of just “white males.” Haven’t you heard of Marie Curie? George Washington Carver? While “white males” are certainly more numerous in science throughout the ages, that’s only because women and minorities were held back for so long. Are you suggesting take a step back into those times? America is already slipping down the slope to a 21st Century version of the dark ages.

What do you think?