I recently offended some people, quite unintentionally, with my modest suggestion that perhaps it wasn’t in the best interests of the nation to hand over so much decision-making power to people who aren’t informed about the issues and their own system of government. (Responses ranged from “thoughtful disagreement” to what I believe is referred to as a “galloping hissy fit.”) Honestly, I was a bit shocked by the reaction – when I penned those remarks it hardly occurred to me that I was saying something controversial. On the other hand, it seemed to me that I was merely stating common sense.
Since that post I’ve been ruminating about the assumption embedded in the premise – that a goodly number of Americans aren’t intelligent enough to be safely entrusted with the vote. In order to bring a little more depth to this debate I thought I’d do some research to discover whether or not the nation’s citizens are under-informed, and if so, to what degree. I thought about pulling together a laundry list of reports comparing US students to their counterparts in other nations, but that seemed too easy (and not entirely satisfying).
Instead, I decided to present some interesting poll results. After all, you can’t really assess the intellect of the average man in the street by perusing a lot of egg-headed numbers on book-learning. Likewise, it’s not fair to evaluate their media consumption habits, because a lot of what looks at a glance to be trivial is in fact in the public interest.
Here’s what I discovered.
Over a third of the population believes in ghosts and UFOs. This is around the same number who believe invading Iraq was a good idea.
A smaller but still substantial 23 percent say they have actually seen a ghost or believe they have been in one’s presence, with the most likely candidates for such visits including single people, Catholics and those who never attend religious services. By 31 percent to 18 percent, more liberals than conservatives report seeing a specter.
Nearly half of Americans either believe evolution is untrue or have no opinion. Two-thirds believe in “creationism,” the idea “that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.” (Which, I think, means that some people simultaneously believe in creationism and evolution.) “34% of college graduates surveyed believe that ‘the Biblical account of creation’ is a fact” and 62% of voters say they wouldnâ€™t vote for an atheist candidate.
One in three Americans still believe that Saddam Hussein had something to do with the attacks on the World Trade Center.
64% of those polled by CBS News and the New York Times say they “have concerns about losing civil liberties as a result of anti-terrorism measures put in place by President Bush.” However, 53% approve of warrantless spying “in order to reduce the threat of terrorism.” If that seems inconsistent, consider the LA Times/Bloomberg poll showing that only 43% approve of Bush’s performance as president, but a majority think his policies have made the nation more secure.
Then there’s my favorite: nearly half of all Americans believe the Bill of Rights affords “too much freedom.” I should probably watch my tongue here since “a majority of Americans have said they would restrict public remarks that might offend people of other faiths or races.” Some of the specific findings of the AJR report are just delicious:
- More than 40 percent of those polled said newspapers should not be allowed to freely criticize the U.S. military’s strategy and performance.
- Roughly half of those surveyed said the American press has been too aggressive in asking government officials for information about the war on terrorism.
- More than four in 10 said they would limit the academic freedom of professors and bar criticism of government military policy.
- About half of those surveyed said government should be able to monitor religious groups in the interest of national security, even if that means infringing upon religious freedom.
- More than four in 10 said the government should have greater power to monitor the activities of Muslims living in the United States than it does other religious groups.
A separate poll done by Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center in 2002 showed that “over 20 percent of the respondents felt newspapers should not be allowed to publish without some type of government approval.” (Note to America: we had that already. It was called “Pravda.”)
I linger on this last bit to make a point. Some of my critics on those earlier posts were rather bright-eyed about their defense of the rights and autonomy and general goodness of the noble ordinary citizen, and I’d merely ask why I should endure such abuse for suggesting that their freedoms should be curbed when they themselves are convinced they have too much freedom as it is?
In any case, a portrait is painted for your consideration. And again I should note, in parting, that each of these fine people has a vote that counts as much as yours.
God Bless America!
As a dues-paying member of Easter Bunny Believers for Creationistic Politics, I object, sir!
Nice, BS. Very nice.
Now it is 2012 and we are wondering if americans are smart enough again . I was proud of americans in the last election . Smart enough to know tax breaks for the rich does not equal jobs for americans .
You said people were offended by your earlier post? How can that be? It sounded like truth to me.
The short answer is no. Of course, then there’d be no one to make fun of.
PS: I submit the following:
I’m Still Living in Al Bundy’s America
By WALTER MOSLEY
AL BUNDY is my hero. He’s a working-class loser who’s
defeated by life but refuses to lay down and die. He is
stupid but wily. Deeply dissatisfied with family,
fatherhood and his work as a shoe salesman, he’s still
proud of his name and the pitiful patch of earth he calls
home. His favorite room is the toilet and his pet peeve is
He weeps watching old westerns like “Hondo” and “Shane.”
His favorite television show is “Psycho-Dad.” His cultural
life is limited to Strippers of the World night at the
nudie bar. He’s wished for death so often that once the
Grim Reaper herself visited for an evening.
Al Bundy, the maladjusted father of the brilliantly vulgar
sitcom “Married . . . With Children,” is working-class
America with all of its ignorance, misogyny and resentment.
His wife doesn’t love him, his children don’t respect him,
the neighbors would celebrate his demise.
From the first day I watched “Married . . . With Children,”
I was enchanted. It was the one show that didn’t feel the
need to redeem the working-class American with middle-class
pretensions. What man married for 20 years rushes home to
have sex with his wife? And where else on television are
all of those Americans who distrust foreigners, the federal
government, the law and anyone with a smile on his face?
And those families whose daughters sneak in boys in the
dead of night? When Al was given the choice of sending his
son to visit the president or enrolling his daughter in a
sleazy beauty contest to win a year’s supply of Weenie
Tots, it was a no-brainer.
Tonight Al reappears on Fox, the network that carried his
show from 1987 to 1997. A “Married . . . With Children”
reunion is being shown at 9 p.m. (8 Central), to accompany
the 300th episode of “The Simpsons,” the other irreverent
flagship comedy from the early days of Fox. I can hardly
Al Bundy is my hero because he knows that there is no hope.
He’s my hero because he is only interested in what he
cannot possess. He’s my hero because he ogles beautiful
women but is helpless at striking up a conversation with
them. He’s my hero because he’s flat broke, like most of us
are, and always will be.
But there’s more to it than the pessimistic and scornful
tone of Al’s life. There’s also something redemptive in the
way that he comes home every night, driving the same old
Dodge that he’s driven since high school. There’s something
in the way that he survives in spite of his misguided
notions and lack of love.
Every night Al walks in, hangs up his insubstantial wind
breaker and says, “A fat woman came into the shoe store
today . . .” No one is listening. No one cares about his
day or his complaints. There’s no dinner on the table. The
dog won’t even bring him his slippers. This is the show’s
comment on the sad reality of American life.
Al sleeps with Peggy’s knee on his spine and her hands at
his throat, but he would never think of leaving. She is
unloved, unsatisfied and humiliated by her husband, but she
sits at home every night waiting to ignore him. The
children, grown by now, are disgusted by their parents. But
like so many children of America’s working poor, even they
can’t find a way out of the house.
It’s often said that television sitcoms are designed to
help us escape our problems. I’ve always had trouble with
that idea. How can I escape if the trap I’m in is a mystery
to me? Before “Married . . . With Children” came along,
most sitcoms just made me laugh. I never identified with
the problems. What I wanted was a show to help me
understand the hopelessness that so many Americans, and I,
Peg and Al, Bud and Kelly explicated the world that I knew,
that I’ve lived in for most of my life. Al coming home to
an empty refrigerator is me coming home to our president’s
state of the union address. His willingness to fight for
the paltry scrap of dignity he has managed to maintain
gives me hope that I too will be able to stand tall.
Walter Mosley is the author of 16 books, most recently
“Six Easy Pieces” (Atria Books) and “What Next: A Memoir
Toward World Peace” (Black Classic Press).
Hey, I totally believe in ghosts and UFOs, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. As Warren Ellis once wrote, “The world’s not only stranger than we imagine, it’s stranger than we can imagine.”
Obsessive rationality is, in its way, as crazy as irrationality. People who cling so hard to so-called “normal” beliefs and “mainstream” thinking can often be as easy to deceive and control as people who think that the black helicopters are coming for them. More so, actually–the rationalists never believe it’ll happen to them, while the paranoids are already ready with the tinfoil helmets and underground armed bunkers. 🙂
(Which, I think, means that some people simultaneously believe in creationism and evolution)
Bonesparkle, you’re an incurable optimist. They didn’t understand the question.
Back to Entertainment Tonight.
I once saw a Gallup poll of citizens who were asked to name the president, vice president, their governor, both senators,and their local congressman. Well below 30% of the people passed the test.
I knew it. I just knew the Bill of Rights is un-American to many Americans. Thanks, Dr. BS, for rooting out that American Journalism Review article.
That’s where Republicans and corporations make their big mistake. If they’d just let Americans have a little more money, we wouldn’t squawk if the government took away even more of our freedoms than it already has.
But they not only want all the power, they want all the money. To reiterate, if they left a little more money for us, they could take away more of our freedom. Simple analysis, but I think I’m right.
The rich and the ruling class have that self-destructive streak though, and they’re as unable to moderate their worst impulses as the rest of us.
As I always say, to most Americans, the only thing more important to them than their credit report is their credibility. They fear being shunned by the tribe more than anything.
Ye Goode Doctor,
Prithee, what then do Americans base their votes on?
When a person tells me that they have a poor credit record, what they’re really saying is, “My word is no good.”
Well Bonesparkle, all I can say is that I have always taught my children to pursue an argument as a way to gain understanding. At some point, either the other person will agree with you, you will agree with her, you will both realize that you need more data to come to a conclusion, or you will reach some underlying, values-based issue that will let both of you know that you will never agree.
It seems to me that the values-based issue here is whether full citizenship is a right of the governed, or whether it must be earned. Surely, there are arguments for both sides, but I believe, barring further evidence, that the arguments are, essentially, values based.
If one believes that government exists to serve the governed, then the governed must have a say in appointing their governors. If one believes that government exists to control the governed, then many other forms of government become possible, and even desirable.
If that 40% gets to be about 67% or so, they can change the Bill of Rights. I wouldn’t like that, but that’s the way it works.
I think that’s a little harsh, Jeff. I’ve never failed to repay any debt I incurred, but I was seriously ill for a period of two years and, I have to tell you, I came close. And that was AFTER I had protected myself with disability insurance (and that’s another story, entirely).
Some people break their word easily. Others do so only when absolutely forced to do so by an inability to pay.
Russ and Jeff,
Don’t get me started on credit reports. That so much of a person’s life can be tied to a record that is ridiculously error-prone, hard to correct, and was unaccessible to the general public until ten years ago is ludicrous.
The credit bureaus that gather and resell this data are some of the most corrupt businesses in the world. They will share your credit report with banks and lenders for pennies, but until 2005, you had to pay much more to view your own records. The only reason free credit reports are available today is due to intense pressure from consumers, activists, and legislators.
Identity theft and fraud can ruin a person’s economic and financial history without their even realizing it. You can say that a person’s “word is no good” if they have bad credit, but what if someone took their name and ran up debts using their information? Their word is ruined, and they have to live with the consequences.
The overemphasis on credit reports and credit scores is just like schools being forced to “teach to the test” in order to comply with No Child Left Behind, or employers who still want to know about your GPA even if you’ve been out of college for ten years. It’s a massive societal pressure to reduce a human experience to raw numbers, and making judgments accordingly. It doesn’t matter what kind of a person you are, what your personality is, or how you interact with others–all that matters are the numbers next to your name.
Sorry for the tangent, but this is a sore spot of mine and one which I have explored in depth for many years now.
I think the fundamental issue here is that you’re arguing – very intelligently, of course – for a philosophy. I, on the other hand, am the eternal pragmatist. I’m plotting a post, which I hope to get completed in the coming days, that will explain why I think philosophies (at least the ones we’ve tried) fail so consistently.
If you insist on the need for values/philosophy-based government, then it’s not going to be difficult to paint me as something of a fascist, I imagine. However, if you’re less concerned with political dogma and more concerned with evolving something that WORKS, I think my positions become a lot more reasonable.
Mmm. I suppose you could say that you’re raising the old question, “Does the end justify the means.” And the answer, as always, is another question: “What end and what means?”
Some issues cannot be answered by the question “What works?” Perhaps an even more interesting question is, “What works for whom?” Having citizenship be earned might work (or it might not), but I suspect it would work best for those who vote. Already, we have a society in which the elderly, who also happen to have the most wealth as a group, get the highest level of benefits from the rest of us. Why? They get to vote. Do children get to vote? No. Do we transfer as many funds to them as we do to the elderly? No.
In the end, I think this is always going to be a values-based question because what works for one will not work so well for another.
Mmm. I suppose you could say that youâ€™re raising the old question, â€œDoes the end justify the means.â€ And the answer, as always, is another question: â€œWhat end and what means?â€
I wasn’t raising a question – for me, it’s all about the ends, so you can take that as an assertion of my ethics.
Some issues cannot be answered by the question â€œWhat works?â€ Perhaps an even more interesting question is, â€œWhat works for whom?â€
In theory, sure, but I think I’m already on the record here. This began with a commenter who interpreted my remarks as complaints about a problem and insisted that I offer solutions. I didn’t say there was a problem, but for the heck of it I played along and have attempted to generate some ideas that would benefit the mass of the American citizenry (or, as they prefer to be called, “consumers”). His concern seemed to be for “the people” as opposed to the elites, so that’s the frame I’m trying to work in.
I personally don’t care one way or another. As I noted in the original post, the American system seems to be working precisely as designed, and I’m hardly the champion of the little man.
America as you have known it is dead. You people just haven’t figured it out yet.
Here’s another one: over a third of Americans still believe the 9/11 terrorists came from Canada.
How STUPID is that?
All the folks who think America has “too much freedom” should be lined up and shot.
Congress was also taking about the idea that they should pick the president of U.S., that it was never meant for the citizens to do make this decision.
There has been a lot of talk in the direction of creating a dictatorial government since Cheney and Bush “stole” our elections by vote fraud and destroyed the constitution.(If they didn’t want the question of them stealing the elections they should have revealed the voting records of American citizens, instead of hiding and destroying them, and deleting and misplacing voter registrations)
Seems like the Senate and House of Representatives are willing to support Bush & Cheney’s policies and actions in his quest for a dictatorial government, spying and the censorship of citizens..
It is time for Americans to unite as a country and take our government back from the elite, instead to bitching to one another about it.
Vote With Guns.
Cast Your Bullet.
what we need is reform of government into a modern parliamentary system. There’d be more representation, coalitions would have to be formed, we could have a ‘vote of no confidence’ instead of impeachment.
“I think thatâ€™s a little harsh, Jeff. Iâ€™ve never failed to repay any debt I incurred, but I was seriously ill for a period of two years and, I have to tell you, I came close. And that was AFTER I had protected myself with disability insurance (and thatâ€™s another story, entirely).”
I see where my writing might come across as harsh, but it wasn’t meant to be. I understand that sickness can affect one’s ability to pay their bills on time. Creditors are usually very understanding when they are kept in the loop about one’s sickness, as long as you keep paying, even “just a little.”
I was referring to the people who don’t pay their bills on time, incurr debt, then blow it off. There are a lot of people who get overextended, then ignore the debt, or really slow pay. These are the deadbeats I was referring to.
I should have clarified my position better.
Never thought of that before. There’s much to learn from you.
Two things (possibly three):
Pragmatism is a value; or rather, an element of a set of values, or it could even be the governing element of a philosophy, if that’s the word you prefer. JS and BS are, in fact, whacking differing values back and forth at each other, in a very readable and civil manner. Nitpicky, maybe, but agreeing on a common set of terms makes for a better match in my book. So, for example, let’s not start bandying “dogma” about as a synonym, stated or implied, for “values” – until it’s earned. Or perhaps you feel it was.
And BS, you may have already addressed this, but if your next post is about the failure of any philosophy as the basis of a working government, it would be helpful to have your definitions of “philosophy” (do you mean general pie-in-the-sky thinking or something more specific?) and “working” (for whomever) at the outset. I’d like to be perfectly clear as to your meaning before undertaking any type of hissy fit, galloping or otherwise.
Looking forward to it…
Welcome to the USSA!
Very nice read.. I might have to start coming here more often.
Couple of points, though.
While it may seem a reasonable question to ponder whom should have a “right” to vote, it seems clear to me that the ultimate answer explains it well. That being, the Founding Fathers opined that letting any kind of test be applied to determine who can vote immediately opens the entire system to fraud and corruption. Granted, we don’t have a perfect system as it is, but the entire premise of the Poll Tax was to keep those “too poor to be worthy of a vote” from voting, right? Putting an “intelligence” test, or “currant events” test in place would only serve to do the same thing, in the end.
It would seem to me that the single most important thing to be done as a society is to institutionalize the concept of truth. That is, force some overriding authority that demands only truth be spoken on public airwaves. One of the biggest problems we have in this country is that Corporate America is allowed to lie to us, and that has now trickled down into political campaigns. Some states have determined that “lying in a political ad is free speech”..?! So, it’s not just that the voting public isn’t aware, or concerned, apparently those of us paying attention need some guiding as well! When Corporations are allowed to buy Politicians lock stock and barrel, then those politicians are allowed to blatantly lie about each other, it becomes clear (at least to me) what the chain is, and what needs to be done to fix it.
Good luck fixing it.
The ruling elite have set us on a path to a One World Government. It’s been in the works since 1913 when the Federal Reserve Bank was back-allied into being. Since then, it’s been one long deception after another.. Presidents have died over it, people disappear over it, nations go to war over it, genocides are committed over it.. The list goes on and on. Interestingly, one of the things missing from your “public interest” sub-link (and perhaps it was from the timing, I didn’t pay attention to the dates) is how Shrubby signed the North American Union agreement with Canada and Mexico. Most Americans probably don’t understand that the dollar is going to be replaced with the Amero.. interestingly, our dollar is worth about as much as the Canadian dollar.. hmm.. and the Federal Reserve Bank is in charge of determining the value of the dollar?
And to UFOs and Ghosts.. UFOs are Unidentified Flying Objects. That means anyone that has seen something flying in the sky and wasn’t 100% positive of what they saw, observed a UFO.. right? Secondly, being that Evolution works like it does, it’s absurd to think there “can’t” be other life in the Universe. Logically, that implies it’s “possible” that other life not only exists, but could well have the technology required to visit our planet at will.. right? I think your article about “public interest” versus “interest to the public” forgot one thing.. the times when the public might find it interesting, but the ruling elite says, usually in the form of “national security”, we don’t think it’s in the publics interest to know about this.. Such as the mass sightings of lights in AZ? I’ve not done any research into it, but it would seem that the religious leaders as well as those pandering to the religious types would want to hush hush the media should there be “confirmed sightings” of such things, right? After all… aliens means the entire Christian dogma has to be questioned, and we don’t want that!
Ghosts fall under the same guise.. It’s possible that our energy can persist after we die.. we have no way to know for sure. Those that think they have seen a ghost may either be hallucinating or their brains may be playing tricks on them, or they are open to the idea and their brains DON’T deny what they see (that is, denial is a massively powerful tool the brain uses to avoid shutting down or changing engrams). I think denial may be one of the biggest assisters to the usurping of this country. People don’t want to take in new information, they deny anything that’s counter to what they think they know. Denial, closed minded, what have you.. It’s part of human nature and it’s being exploited to the benefit of the ruling elite.
Which is why the solution to the uneducated (or, as you put it, stupid) public isn’t to prevent them from voting.. it’s to educate them.. and change the way they look at the world. There is a HUGE anti-intellectual movement in this country, driven by the ruling elite who send their kids to the best schools possible. The media is the spearhead, just a tool. And at this point, I don’t see any way to reverse course. We’ll all be chipped in 10 to 15 years (see RFID chip and Arron Russo’s “America: Freedom to Fascism” and “Zeitgeist” for more info)
Thank you for a thoughtful and informed reply. I agree with a great of what you say. But there’s one point of fact that needs addressing:
the Founding Fathers opined that letting any kind of test be applied to determine who can vote immediately opens the entire system to fraud and corruption.
The Founding Fathers restricted the vote to white, male landowners. So let’s not lose sight of the reality of the context here.
I recon I missed that bit in the Constitution where it ascribed “white male landowners” as being the only ones allowed to vote. Though, granted, women didn’t vote, nor did slaves.. leaving pretty much only white male landowners. Yet the wording of the Constitution, the behaviors of the Founding Fathers (abolishing slavery, for example), and the actions of the nation since then all move to indicate that the “intent” is for a nation of free persons where everyone gets a say in how things run.
The idea of any kind of test to allow someone to vote is counter to any notion of freedoms for anyone, let alone everyone. Those making (and grading) the tests decide everything. That is, those who now are making sure all the inflows of information are being controlled.. the ones that can (and probably will, very soon) cut off the internet from going outside the U.S., the ones that own all the media outlets and control who can start new ones.. THEY are the ones making the tests, and they are the ones that will ask even -you- questions you can’t answer. That means that not only with the “stupid” or “disinterested” public not be voting, neither will you or I.
I really would like to see some support for the statement that the Founding Fathers “restricted” the vote.. I’ve honestly never heard that before (aside from knowing how things were historically). It would make sense that slaves didn’t vote, and since blacks were slaves and not free men initially.. but where was the law/rules stating a women couldn’t vote? I thought a huge part of Women’s Suffrage was based on the fact that there was no institutionalized restriction, only the status quo, that prevented women from voting..? Perhaps I don’t know enough about that to have an opinion, I don’t know..
From what I’ve seen in the Wiki (and it’s a mess), it looks like women were voting on “technicalities” at times, based on land ownership. It also seems it was mostly a State’s issue, not a Federal issue. But, like I said, this is an area I don’t know much about.
Having grown up in a very anti-intellectual area, I can assure you that it had nothing to do with the ruling elite. Historically, many cultures have had anti-intellectual strains. The US is just one of them and, frankly, it makes sense. Given the huge natural resources of the US and the fact that one could become wealthy just by hard work and luck, “book larnin'” probably didn’t seem all that useful to a lot of folks.
I recall former astronaut Allen Bean saying when asked if he saw any UFO’s on his mission answering, ” we don’t call them that”. It seems arrogant in my opinion to believe that advanced life forms can only exist in our galaxy and only in ways that we define.
I see no connections between having the experience of witnessing things that defy conventional explanations and being informed on important issues.
I think all cultures have anti-intellectual strains.
Could be. Any time I hear the word “all” though, I get suspicious. And I would assert strongly that some cultures are far more anti-intellectual than others.
The words are indeed pretty, but let’s look instead to what was DONE instead of what was merely SAID. Women weren’t allowed to vote until the 20th Century and blacks weren’t allowed to vote because they were essentially cattle, right?
If you want a little source material here’s an on-point bit noting some unrest in Rhode Island as late as 1842:
Long time no hear. Keeping toasty down there?
I think a lot of people have the “Founding Fathers” all wrong. First off, they were hardly united in their opinions, even though we talk about them as if they were. Secondly, the US of America was envisioned as something much closer to the European Union than what we have today. Most importantly, the first ten amendments to the Constitution (the Bill of Rights) were supposed to apply to the federal government, not the governments of the states. This is why Massachusets and (if I recall correctly) Connecticut had established religions into the 19th century. The First Amendment of the US Constitution didn’t apply to them, and wouldn’t apply (even theoretically) until after ratification of the 14th Amendment that gave equal protection under US law to all citizens.
Voting eligibility was left up to the states.
I live in a state that has large populations of people who belong in those opinion statistics, but I have to say that, while it may be easier to find information, it’s a whole lot easier to find misinformation. Now I am not saying that it is an excuse for the ignorant to continue being ignorant. But there is a lot to be said for competing news media outlets. I think part of the problem is the word media, because it implies entertainment, and entertainment implies a action or a product that is rated by its entertaining value. Even discerning citizens can be confused with the options. It’s only exacerbated when people are apathetic.
So what about competitive news outlets? How can they be trusted when they’re trying to peddle their wares?
some interesting points raised here
personally until governments give the right to use a vote of no confidence based on thorough research or lack of if the candidate has supressed all information about them
i hear that little was known of obama’s background before presidency
governments don’t work because they are manipulated by those with the money and the influence
lately governments appear to act without any consideration to the people they say they serve
it leaves the question do we need governing
doesn’t sound like a free world to me