Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
Martin Luther King Jr.
We live in the age of smart phones and stupid people. An age when it’s okay to be really really ordinary, think nothing of it or anything else and be famous, if even for an instant on some reality tv show.
The digital revolution has brought boundless access to information and entertainment choices, but the lowest common denominator – or your kitchen – rules.
There’s no end to the flow of stupid. Instead of educating ourselves via the Internet, most people simply use it to validate what they already suspect, heard rumoured, wish or believe to be true. Most perplexing is that supposedly more sophisticated news consumers also do a damn good job of filtering out what they don’t want to hear.
We’re lucky in New Zealand because our Prime Minister, John Key knows what stuff matters to us. That means we can predetermine what we need to know and never know what we don’t. Snapper quotas matter. Expanded powers of our foreign intelligence spy agency to spy on New Zealanders and our surveillance of friends and allies for trade purposes do not – in fact should not, John says, reminding us of the nothing to hide nothing to fear axiom so loved by secretive governments worldwide.
As the arbiter of public taste, John Key, is the perfect man of our times, so loved for being so ordinary and so revered for being so rich following his so impressive career as a forex dealer. He knows that right thinking New Zillanders don’t really value quality new and current affairs and won’t miss the advocacy journalism of the only quality current affairs show, Campbell Live, on free to air tv. Waiting for me to grab the remote will be a soap, a banal homegrown comedy or perhaps a rip snorting reality tv show endorsed by reality tv queen and arbiter of bad taste, Julie Christie, who also happens to be an executive director at the station seeking to axe Campbell Live. Shock, horror, probe!
But wait John Key, in his role as media commentator, not just a sound bite, has some awesome insights and a new take on the role of the fourth estate.
“Well, its [Campbell Live’s] role in life is not to hold the government to account. It’s to entertain its viewers and basically to follow news stories,” says John. (We call him John because we’re cosy, informal here and mates).
And here’s the cruncher: “Look in the end we live in a world where it’s largely about commercial returns of what is a private station. It’s not funded by the government, it’s not subject to anything. It’s got a bunch of shareholders it needs to make a return to.”
Thank goodness for choices about how, where and when we view television – or even if we view it – and we can of course subscribe to paid news or cable news or get sponsored news that has paid for its space and was formerly known as advertising.
But I digress. It’s ironic.
In an age when enlightenment should be blazing and personal empowerment and knowledge leading us to new zeniths, we’ve joined what science fiction writer Isaac Asimov described as a cult of ignorance, best viewed from club sofa on a giant digital screen where reality comes in 3D.
“The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge’.”
Anti-intellectualism is a trademark of totalitarian regimes — like the military junta in1960s Argentina or the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, where people could be killed for wearing glasses, a sign, apparently, of intellect, and of governments who curb debate, dissent and questions using outmoded internal security laws allowing detention without trial.
Clearly that’s not our fate. We’re a democracy. We must make sure we can pa rticipate in it. But as one American pundit cautions “a misinformed and anti-intellectual citizenry is a politically docile and vulnerable citizenry. And that’s dangerous to the freedoms we all want to preserve and protect.”
And there is creep.
Since 2001, the U.S. government has engaged in an ever-widening programme of spying on its own—and foreign— citizens, tapping phones, intercepting emails and texts, and monitoring social media to track the movements, activities and connections of millions. Still, many Americans seem less concerned with the massive violations of their privacy in the name of the War on Terror, than imposing Taliban-like standards on the lives of others. Oh good, New Zealand is right up there with the play.
And there are creeps.
Take George W Bush, described by journalist Christopher Hitchens “as a man who is unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things”.
President Bush’s political success, in part, came from his position as the candidate with whom more Americans wanted to have a beer than any other and showed he was more like you and me — that is, more average. Sound like someone you know?
To be successful politically, to avoid being called smug, aloof, elitist, or out-of-touch, you have to pretend you’re not educated, smart, or qualified to run the country. And our elected leaders are brilliant at this. John Key knows it’s the ticket to success and he shares many of the same traits, particularly his jokey blokey behaviour and mauling of language to prove to anyone that ever doubted that he is just a “normal guy”.
And there are creeping tendencies, subtle, insidious and aimed at soothing any progression from the comfortable confines of dumb and dumber – the use of casual, colloquial matey language – which diminishes and implicitly denies the seriousness of whatever issue is being debated and trivialises big decisions like sending ‘boys’ off to war or spying on your mates.
That inarticulate legacy, says American columnist Jonathon Gatehouse, author of America Dumbs Down, didn’t end with George W. Bush and Sarah Palin, who have moved millions with their mangled language. He says the U.S. is being overrun by a wave of anti-science, anti-intellectual thinking and asks: Has the most powerful nation on Earth lost its mind?
“Barack Obama, the most cerebral and eloquent American leader in a generation, regularly plays the same card, droppin’ his Gs and dialling down his vocabulary to Hee Haw standards. His ability to convincingly play a hayseed was instrumental in his 2012 campaign against the patrician Mitt Romney; in one of their televised debates the President referenced “folks” 17 times.”
We don’t have to worry about that though. We’ve got John whose speech could never be described as crisp and its content substantial e.g. “I have quite a strong sense of wanting to sort of, wanting to help others. I’m not claiming I’m a saint, but I have a genuine, genuine belief in trying to help others.”
You don’t have to be an intellectual or a cynic to see that the “rise of the idiot” is good for profit and good for political advantage but not good for the pursuit of knowledge.
And the youth generation, better known as “The Dumbest Generation” is alive and well, dumbing down 24/7 on a diet of “aversion to reading anything of substance and an addiction to digital “crap” via social media”. Go to: http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/gallery/dumbestgeneration/ or read Mark Bauerlein’s book.
“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 are talking about. In the new media age, everybody is an expert,” says journalist Charles Pierce, author of Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free.
So are we reaching a point of maximum dumbness as has been claimed? Let me leave it to the reliable online news source, Daily Mash
Researchers at the Institute for Studies have warned that it will soon be impossible to dumb down news and entertainment media any further.
Professor Henry Brubaker said: “Most television is about cooking, the paranormal or poor people having arguments. The news is just opinions punctuated with pictures of ‘extreme weather’.
“The only books being published are ghost-written celebrity biographies or thrillers about serial killers called things like ‘The Face Collector’. Apart from that people just read lists of ’10 facts about muscle growth’ off websites.
“The problem is that although our culture cannot get any stupider, human intelligence may continue on its downward trajectory.
“The result will be a world in which nobody understands anything. Even a film about The Rock driving a jeep into explosions will leave viewers confused and angry at its pretentiousness.”
However TV channel boss Mary Fisher said: “Don’t worry, I’ve just commissioned Jamie & Jimmy’s Paranormal Antiques Auction Sex News.
“And I’m confident we can go even lower. We must keep striving to find new depths of idiocy.”