“Stupid is as Stupid Does These words uttered by Forest Gump in the movie of the same name, pretty much describes Americans, at least in the eyes of Charles P. Pierce, in his book, “Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free.”

I would like to report that Pierce is off base in his assessment, but the book's first chapter, "Dinosaurs with Saddles," makes the truth painfully clear. The author correctly shows how Americans ignore or discount expertise in favor of “gut feelings.”

This is how Idiot America engages itself. It decides, en masse, with a million key strokes and clicks of the remote control, that because there are two sides to every question, they both must be right, or at least not wrong. And the words of an obscure biologist carry no more weight on the subject of biology than do the thunderations of some turkey neck preacher out of the Church of Christ’s Own Parking Structure in Deland, Florida. Less weight, in fact, because our scientist is an “expert” and, therefore, an “elitist.”

As Pierce points out, many Americans believe that freedom of speech means their opinions count just as much as an expert’s, they don’t, yet, that doesn’t stop them from believing things that are not only preposterous but just flat wrong. Twenty percent of Americans believe the sun revolves around the earth. A large number of these people vote on issues that affect all Americans.

The theory of evolution and global warming are just two glaring examples among many that Americans allow "gut-feeling" to override expertise, according to Pierce. Whether or not Pierce is correct, he raises the correct points and in a country where 75% of high school graduates never buy another book, it is not surprising.

I have only touched on one-example brought out by Pierce, but the entire book is filled with example after example of what stupidity in America is doing to the country. I characterize the book as a reference for assumptions because it lists examples of how the “gut” overrides concrete thinking and leads to division based on quackery, fiction and rumor.

Is "Idiot America" worth the read? To the informed, it is nothing surprising and strong verification of what they already know. For the "gut instinct" people it is just further proof that as a Dover, PA pastor said, “We’ve been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of our culture.”

That sums it up nicely. Read and enjoy.

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Comment by Donald R Barbera on October 21, 2013 at 12:51pm

Laura--That's what propaganda work. Mix in some truth with the lies and some people bite every time. The old axiom "You can fool some of the people all the time, but you can't fool all the people all the time." I don't know if that's the way it was said, but you get the jist. In fact, mixing lies and bits of truth is the politicians bailiwick. Those that are more adept at manipulating half truths fool some people all the time. However, those that have the gumption to seek a second, third or fourth opinion are not so taken in.

Comment by Luara on October 17, 2013 at 6:14am


I hate arguing with conspiracy theorists - it would seem more likely useful to address the root of the conspiracy thinking, such as the lack of trust.  I had a boyfriend at one time who turned out to be a 9/11 "truther" - he only told me about his conspiracy leanings after we were already involved.  For him, I think it was about a need to say things about his parents, but displace them onto the government.  So that he could preserve family "peace". 

He also entertained thoughts that the CIA had caused almost every major assassination in the 20th century.  Lone nuts apparently are harmless :) 

If you do manage to persuade someone out of a conspiracy theory - perhaps, they'll be somewhat less likely to adopt the next conspiracy theory that comes along.  Perhaps they will soak up some of the critical thinking, have a more questioning attitude.

The BBC did a "Conspiracy Road Trip" documentary series where they took conspiracy theorists of various kinds and exposed them to evidence contradicting their beliefs.  One of the 9/11 "truthers" was deconverted!

I look for opposing viewpoints to things I read, the arguments against.  A lot of people read an argument they like, then they go no further.  It's a basic and good lesson for anyone, that this is not enough!

Comment by Luara on October 16, 2013 at 6:24pm

Joan, about the GMO's - I don't think people's worries are as wacky as the worries about vaccines.  The new organisms aren't tested like pharmaceuticals before being sold.  The rationale for that is that they aren't introducing new proteins etc. into the GMO's, it's just food proteins in novel quantities. 

But novel quantities can cause problems.  For example I read that allergens in wheat have been increased a lot by breeding, and also modern wheat has a lot more gluten.  That could be part of the reason why there are so many allergies and autoimmune problems now. 

Also people can have delayed food allergies to many food proteins.  These allergies are not at all well understood.  People with these allergies may have problems if proteins from food X that they can't eat, show up in food Y, and they haven't been told about it.  The people who make GMO's probably avoid including the top allergens - they probably wouldn't put wheat gluten in non-wheat foods - but are they going to avoid transferring ALL the allergens?  Doubtful. 

Comment by Luara on October 16, 2013 at 5:49pm

My friend who's become a bit of a crackpot, is so in a math and physics sense.  There are math and physics crackpots - they range from people who spew incoherent gibberish, to people like this guy, who knows a little bit what he's talking about - but not nearly enough. 

What he does is to have one nice idea, which he makes too much of - tries to dress it up as a Major Intellectual Work - without even knowing the basics of the subject.

For example, he noticed that he could kind of "factor" a sine function, similarly to factoring a polynomial.  So the "factors" of the sine function are 1 - x/( n *pi), where n is an integer.  He found he could estimate the value of the sine function at a point by evaluating some of these factors and multiplying them together.  

This is a good observation to make - it's the basic idea of the Weierstrass factorization theorem, which says that differentiable functions from the complex numbers to the complex numbers, can be factored, into a sometimes infinite product of linear factors (with added factors so the infinite product converges). 

However I pointed out to him that his factorization wasn't absolutely convergent - that means you can make it converge to any limit you like, just by multiplying the factors in the right order!  He only got the right result for the value of the sine function because he multiplied the factors in an order that happened to work. 

This was news to him - and it's a very basic fact of real analysis, and something he would have been exposed to in the two years of math that every undergrad at Caltech takes.  And I said, if you are going to go around trying to build theories in analysis, why don't you take class on real and complex analysis???  No interest.  How about reading a book on real and complex analysis?  No interest in that either.  He can't follow math proofs, either, and doesn't know what is involved in proving something. 

And then he tried to develop a "quantum electrodynamics of ghosts".  His concept was beautiful  - a real world and a ghost world which interacted somewhat with each other, so that the ghosts would be real to themselves, but people in the real world would only see them dimly. 

But, you couldn't call it a physics theory, because he hadn't made it consistent.  I objected that his theory didn't conserve energy-momentum - he waved that off.  That haunted houses might pump energy into the electrical grid under some circumstances and they aren't actually observed to do this :)  I told him his theory would have bizarre chemistry that is not seen in ghosts.  He came up with some verbiage about how that wouldn't be a big problem.  I showed him how his interacting real and ghost worlds, could be seen as two non-interacting worlds evolving in the same place, if you redefine the two worlds.  I told him this looked to me like a better way to come up with a "quantum electrodynamics of ghosts" that would also make sense as physics.  But he said "that's your idea" and he wasn't interested in it. 

At this point I gave up, he didn't seem to be doing anything with me.  He wasn't taking up my ideas, he wasn't hearing my criticisms, he was in his own world and wildly exaggerating the quality of his supposed QED of ghosts!

He told me he was accepted into the graduate physics program at UC Berkeley.  But he didn't go into physics, even though he said he loves physics.  He had a whole career as a chemist, and he said he doesn't even like chemistry!  Why would he do this, I asked?  and I got no real answer. 

He's obviously very bright, why does he have one nice idea - then build a lot of pretentious but rather empty stuff around it, and then present the whole foggy package to people as a personal achievement? 

So I told him that I didn't want to hear more of his "theories" - which aren't well developed enough to be real theories - that he needed to learn some math if he wants to make math theories that would be interesting to me, that I can read LOTS of speculative physics theories that are made by real physicists and really might be true!  And there's LOTS of real math around!  And he replied with a long venomous rant, trying to cut me down in this way and that.

So that's how he's a bit of a crackpot.  When I was a student I took him at his own estimation as a brilliant thinker, but decades later when I encountered him again, I could see it wasn't quite like that.

Comment by Donald R Barbera on October 16, 2013 at 5:37pm
Laura--I certainly agree with you. "Paranoia strikes deep, Into your life it will creep, It starts when you're always afraid, Step out of line, the men come and take you away--Buffalo Springfield, 1966. Conspiracy theories are this guys reality. He even mentioned something beings from outer space. I just pal along.
Comment by Donald R Barbera on October 16, 2013 at 5:20pm
Dennis--the concept of soul flies nowhere with me. If people need to feel that something drives them and call it a soul, then fine, but I think what they speak of is nothing but nature's way of guiding us to things that prolong life on this planet. Some call it ambition. Others call it determination. Whatever they call it, there is nothing that puts in the realm of the supernatural. There is no soul. However, as a musician, I know a bunch of people with a bunch of soul"
Comment by Luara on October 16, 2013 at 4:24pm

He finally saw my point

You actually persuaded someone out of a paranoid belief??? Wow. I have never done that, I would have thought it close to impossible.  But then it sounds like your friend has picked up tidbits of paranoia here and there, rather than becoming obsessed with a particular topic. 

Paranoia and conspiracy theories are fun to some people I think.  It's like sitting around and telling ghost stories, only they get to take it seriously. 

The survivalists are semi-sensible.  It's sensible to think there are hard times ahead, could be even social collapse.  I knew a survivalist, he has a place out in the country and he does all sorts of stuff to be self-sufficient, like growing food and looking into getting off the electrical grid.

Most people don't have any disaster supplies or plans, that is not sensible. 

The semi- part about the survivalists is that, as I asked this guy, if there is social collapse does he have any reasonable prospect of surviving it with the little farm and the garden?  Wouldn't the first gang with guns that comes along, take it away from him?  He acknowledged that is very likely but still he goes ahead and spends his time and money on these preparations. 

I read that there's a higher level of belief in 9/11 "trutherism" and other conspiracy theories among black people.  It seems like the black equivalent of the "birthers". 

Comment by Joan Denoo on October 16, 2013 at 2:25pm

Dennis, I agree with your assessment of ignorance guiding the "Jesus Saves" crowd and we should no longer be quiet, or patient, or tolerant of intolerable behavior. They can believe all they want and I have heard it all before and do not want to hear it again.  My approach is to be as honest as I can in denouncing nonsense, and say it out loud or write so the offenders can hear and see my position. Silence always implies agreement. Wanting to not offend another is a noble goal, however the means to that goal make a big difference. I do not offend when I present evidence, even if others call me offensive.

As to a soul, just a bunch of nonsense dreamed up by goat herders who thought something in their own minds, couldn't explain where they received the information and assumed it to be the voice of god and a threat to their "soul". I think that is what happened to Joan of Arc when she "heard" or "saw" things she didn't understand. The reality, in Joan's case was recognizing the filthy living conditions of the army, the poor nutrition, the infections caused by spreading diseases and she insisted her voices instructed her how to lead an army. The leaders saw the first French victories over the English in 100 years and could only declare, "HERESY". That killed her. Heresy is an easy peg to hang a guilty verdict on. 

Well, let's be 21st century heretics and stand up to superstition, delusions and denial. What have we got to lose? 

Comment by Michael Penn on October 16, 2013 at 1:21pm

I might add again that while out at my daughter's house this last weekend, I was listening to a 50 year old man (not particularly religious) explaining to everybody just what your soul is. He was worse than any preacher, and I told him nobody knows --not even the preachers! This old crap got started because our brains do not fully sleep even as or body sleeps and rests. This leads to man thinking that he "traveled" somewhere while sleeping, and that was the beginning of dualism. Dualism is also the beginning of bullshit about having a soul.

Since nobody wants to die, that pretty much tells the story.

Comment by Michael Penn on October 16, 2013 at 1:14pm

I know a man who has an internet blog complete with followers, and he said Obama would declare martial law way before his 2nd term. (He has no clue how racial that is, and neither do any of the other nutjobs I talk to.) This same man also thinks "they" are coming to get or guns and has missed on lots of predictions for that one as well. If we define "they" as the government, it should still take them about as long to get all the guns in this country as if took Noah to round up all the animals for the Ark.

Lots of others in the USA have now declared that "you must believe in Jesus" even if you do not believe another word of the bible. They have gotten smart enough to figure out that the book is a lie, but you must believe in Jesus just like having a safety belt in a car. Idiot America. I'm getting tired of stupid commercials on TV about "receive Jesus." It's like he is the insurance policy that everyone needs.

SO, you bury your loved ones in the ground and then lie to everybody saying they are now "up there in heaven." The funeral just ended and you saw the casket lowered down. This is about as ignorant as Hale Bop and the dead people on the floor. Really ignorant.

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