mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Are Americans anti-intellectual?

Via this FW thread comes this NY Times article about an author who has recently written a book claiming that Americans are anti-intellectual - that they are both dumb and proud of it, and getting dumber and bringing everyone else down.

The evidence she sites in the article include anecdotes about an American Idol contestant who didn't know Hungary was a country and two people at a bar who didn't know anything about Pearl Harbor. She also sites some stats, like 2/3 of Americans want creationism taught in school along with evolution.

Of course, the Pearl Harbor anecdote only makes sense because most people know how off-base the two barfly's answer was. It's an interesting debate if American's lack of knowledge about geography means they are dumb, or just bad at geography - imho, it's totally possible to understand the conflict in the middle east but not be able to find the UAE on a map.

Yes, there is no shortage of things you can point to as anti-intellectual - reality TV and NASCAR and colleges teaching classes on porn and underwater basket weaving. As far as pop culture, it's always been, well, popular culture. It's not like TV and movies used to be nothing but documentaries and opera. People don't like to be serious all the time, and sometimes it's nice to escape reality. But the fact that the History channel and Discovery and TLC and PBS all exist alongside sitcoms and sports and mtv suggest that some people like to expand their knowledge, even when they don't have to.

As far as the dumbing down of college, it's partly because more people are going to college, and they are going there mainly to help their career future, not just to learn, or because they don't want to get a job.

I think part of the reason that people might not know certain facts is because the amount of knowledge, and our access to it, have expanded fantastically in recent decades, especially in the areas of science and technology. People might not know as much about geography or history because they've spent their time learning computer programing or the like.

And while you will occasionally find someone who knows everything about everything, many people are good in one area and not in another. I decent with certain parts of technology, can write decently, and try to stay up to date on current events. I often have trouble doing math without using my fingers, and I can't spell for the life of me - luckily, Firefox has a built in spell check, or you probably wouldn't be able to understand this post.

And that's another reason that people may not know as many random facts - they don't need to memorize them, but instead can use technology to access them as needed. I may not be able to find Kazakhstan on a map, but give me 30 seconds with google, and I can pull it up.


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