Monday, July 2, 2012

America The Stupid, Part 3

By Manifesto Joe

I will preface by saying that I don't think Americans are inherently more stupid than any other nationality. Stupidity is something that seems to know no boundaries of nation or group. Daily reading of the international pages of newspapers offers ample evidence of that.

But American stupidity seems less forgivable than that found in other places, because of affluence. And, ironically, it appears that much domestic ignorance is rooted in that very affluence.

Oh, there's certainly a sizable underclass in America. Somebody born to a crack whore for a mother, and who doesn't know who his or her father is, probably doesn't stand much of a chance, decent public schools or not. Income inequality is probably a big factor. And, I can't say that I grew up affluent, at least not by American standards.

But, the middle-class Americans I have known grew up largely taking plenty for granted that can't be taken so elsewhere. Among those things seem to be even the most modest intellectual achievements. Middle-class Americans often grow up complacent, with computer games and Smartphones, generally believing that there will always be "brains" out there who will manage to devise such things. Never mind where they came from. Affluence seems to furnish a path to intellectual laziness.

As Exhibit C, I will offer the findings of Newsweek, which gave 1,000 Americans the U.S. citizenship test. Candidates for citizenship are given a random list of 10 questions from among 100 included in the full test, and they have to get six of them right to pass.

Some 38% of Americans who took that test failed, including 29% who couldn't name the current vice president, and 73% who couldn't correctly say why we fought the Cold War.

I took the test with a sample of 20 questions, and got 18 of them right. I suppose that's very good, but as a career journalist with over three decades of experience, I should have gotten them all. What did I miss? I guessed that there were 26 constitutional amendments, rather than 27, and I named power to regulate interstate commerce as one of the original powers that the Constitution gives the federal government (that didn't come until later).

Here's a link to an article on the subject, and you can also take a version of the test here.

The big problem here is that a lot of those among the 38% who fail are voters. Are these people you want making civic decisions? I'll leave you to ponder that question.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.


Anonymous said...

If you look at history, mankind is not always moving forward and progressing. Sometimes, throughout history, there have been periods where we regressed. The Dark Ages is a good example.
I believe that we may well be in a sort of new Dark Ages now. We live in an era where education standards are falling. Superstition and ignorance are on the rise while logic, reason and science are in decline.
A candidate like Sarah Palin would have been laughed at in the 1960s.
Say what you want to about a 1960s Far Right figure like Barry Goldwater---but he was no idiot. By contrast, Palin is astonishingly stupid.
Today, Palin is a hero to tens of millions, who idolize her.
And as America's decline continues, the Dark Ages we live in now will continue to worsen.

Manifesto Joe said...

It may be that I just wasn't noticing back then, but it seems like a long and steep downward slide in American intelligence and competence started in the late 1970s. It seems like I can routinely expect corporate employees to screw up a given task about half the time, usually through failure to communicate or that some simple task just wasn't performed at all. It's hard to see how some of these people can even keep their jobs. In the particular line of work I'm in, if I did my job the way they do theirs, I wouldn't last a week. But they collect their paychecks for years. Not that most of them are well-paid or well-treated, but it shouldn't surprise them that at some point their companies lose business. This, along with all the vastly overpaid execs, is epidemic in Corporate America today.

Manifesto Joe said...

I have noticed since this post that the Constitution does contain what is generally referred to as "the commerce clause." So although I did not list one of the test's basic answers, I may have been technically correct on this one, and so actually scored 19 of 20 correct. The power to regulate interstate commerce was rarely used early, but then was strengthened by an act of Congress in 1887.