Reaping What We Sow: Dumbing Down America
The United States has a multitude of problems. These range from health care, the economy, education, foreign policy, and nearly anything else you can think of. But, why does the United States have all of these problems? The U.S. was once (not long ago) a very prosperous nation with a solid middle class, a sound education system, and an unparalleled infrastructure. Where has that gone? Technology has boomed and information is more readily available than it has ever been. We have so much data at our fingertips and yet, we are dumber than ever before.
To start, why don’t Americans vote? Yes, I know there is voter suppression, but generally, Americans can’t be burdened with the task of voting. The following data is from infoplease:
Year %Turnout of Voter Age Population
So, in 2010, 37.8% of our citizens were burdened with this responsibility. Isn’t that a great representation of the people? I think not. Yes, the years of the general elections are significantly higher, but is 57% a good turnout? In the 60’s the turnout was well above 60% in general elections and close to 50% in other elections. Do we not care? The New York Times ran an opinion blog by Gary Gutting where he conducted a mock interview with Socrates, asking him about the upcoming election. This is part of the answer “Socrates” gives when asked about leaving it up to the people…
I think letting the American people decide is no different from leaving it to chance. The vast majority of you don’t know enough about the issues or the candidates to make anything like a reliable decision. (It was the same in Athens in my day.)
Okay, “Socrates” thinks that, generally, Americans really don’t know enough about the issues or candidates to make an educated decision. Now, given the fact that we have so much information available to us, how can this be possible? Quite simply, we have been dumbed down. We have become a celebrity culture that is defined by a “me-first” attitude and a self-serving demand for instant gratification. We live in a world of make-believe where we idolize celebrities and our measure of success is our outward appearance that showcases the “things” that we buy. Daniel Boorstin, in “The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America” writes:
We risk being the first people in history to have been able to make their illusion so vivid, so persuasive, so “realistic” that they can live in them. We are the most illusioned people on earth. Yet we dare not become disillusioned, because our illusions are the very house in which we live; they are our news, our heroes, our adventure, our forms of art, our very experience.
Chris Hedges, in his book Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, discusses this phenomena in detail. Hedges states,
Our culture builds temples to celebrities the way Romans did for divine emperors, ancestors, and household gods.
That is what we worship, the celebrity. The celebrity culture is a fraud, filled with untruths. Hedges continues:
We consume countless lies daily, false promises that if we spend more money, if we buy this brand or that product, if we vote for this candidate, we will be respected, envied, powerful, loved, and protected.
Celebrity culture plunges us into a moral void. No one has any worth beyond his or her appearance, usefulness, or ability to “succeed”. The highest achievements in a celebrity culture are wealth, sexual conquest, and fame. It does not matter how these are obtained.
We care more about the dissolution of Tom and Katie’s marriage than we care about issues like the LIBOR scandal. We care more about the pennant races in baseball, the Stanley Cup, and possibly the most blatant example of celebrity culture, the Superbowl (yes, I watch it too). We care about our celebrities, but not about ourselves. What would happen if we put the energy expended in celebrity worship to use in education? We don’t do that though. Instead we pump our money into the hands of a few…those who are “better than everyone else”. C. Wright Mills, a noted social critic and theorist wrote:
The professional celebrity, male and female, is the crowning result of the star system of a society that makes a fetish of competition. In America, this system is carried to the point where a man who can knock a small white ball into a series of holes in the ground with more efficiency than anyone else thereby gains social access to the President of the United States.
It’s an example of what our society has come to and what we call sacred. We are now a society that believes in things, and not ideas. Our view of the world is so distorted that we can’t separate reality from fantasy, truth from fiction. So what is the answer? How do we wake up from this nightmare? I don’t claim to know the answers, but a good start would be turning off the television and picking up a book. We need to educate ourselves and stop believing all of the propaganda that is being fed to us. Live life in the truth and in reality, not in the land of make-believe. We need to live our lives with conviction and not be afraid to stand up for what we believe in and what is true. We need to wake up America.